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Sermon for Ordinary 33

Nation will rise against Nation -  Luke Chapter 21

The Reverend Charles Royden

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down." "Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?" He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am he,' and, `The time is near.' Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away." Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. "But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.

In my first church there was tower, not a particularly high tower but when I first climbed it and stood on the top I came down fairly quickly. After a while I began to get used to it. I was not great at heights, and I still avoid going up ladders. So, yesterday I had an opportunity to be very brave because Sam kindly invited me to go for a ride in his helicopter. This was going to be a challenge. Before the event I went to listen to Penny Mallory at the Bedford High School Prize giving day. All the girls were receiving prizes and she was the speaker. She is described on her CV as a motivational speaker and that was just what I needed.

She challenged the girls to go to new heights, good stuff, to overcome being average, to conquer limitations, to achieve and succeed. All of this was good for me. She said that if we said we would fail or if we said we would succeed, both things were true. It was up to us to believe and make things happen. If we believed we could do something then we would. This was the power of positive thinking.

She was a racing driver and she had won the Formula 1 rally driving competition. In doing so she had conquered her fear. So this was coming from somebody who knew the smell of fear, who had been the only woman in a man’s world, who had driven Ford Focus rally cars. These cars were such that if you took your foot off the clutch at the wrong moment the whole engine would explode, not because they were Ford escorts, but because the engines were so big with 350 horse power.

As motivational speakers went she was good, as good as I have heard after many years of these things. She started well, big challenges would come along she said, opportunities would present themselves, - ‘go for it.’>

There are those Christians who think that in these situations God is speaking to them. If I had been one of those Christians I would have been getting very motivated, I would have smelled aviation fuel beckoning me to the helicopter. However, she went on to say that in the face of challenges, we had to use our adrenalin to go in the right direction, she said ‘we should choose fight, not flight.’

If I was one of those Christians I might have called Sam and told him that flight was off!

She continued with her talk and I started to get psyched up again, she spoke about how we have to visualise ourselves achieving our goals and what it would be like. We had to believe and set out to make things happen. I was starting to believe again, it was all going well, then she spoiled it, she quoted from someone who was obviously her guru, he had told her

'We are not called to live a long life, we are called to live a good one.’

I wanted a long life thank you. But it got worse, who had told her this? Answer - Colin Macrae, that’s right the racing driver who was killed last week in a helicopter crash! This could have time to run. If I could have imagined that God spoke to us in this kind way I would have still been running.

So motivational speakers, do we need them and is Jesus in our lesson this morning being a motivational speaker ?  Some people need motivation and there will always be jobs for personal trainers, life style coaches and people who write books telling us how to be successful, happy and fulfilled. In some ways Jesus in Luke 21 is a bit like a motivational speaker.

He starts off speaking about all manner of terrible things going on in the world. Of course what he was referring to was the destruction of the Jewish Temple a time of great tribulation when the might of Rome came crushing down upon the Jewish people. It was also a  terrifying time for Christians, they were persecuted and killed.

Some people have taken these words and applied them to the concept of a terrible time that will happen in the future. Every generation tends to think that things are worse now than ever before, and Christians in every generation have used this passage to predict the imminent end of the world, 'the end times.'  The world, thank God is not worse now than then - of course not. Jesus lived in a time when people were nailed to crosses for upsetting the occupying Roman force. Jesus and those early Christians knew hardships and injustices which we can barely imagine. Jesus knew that a time would come quickly when Christians would be killed because they were betrayed by their own families.

As we approach Advent, the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, it is a time when we also remind ourselves that Jesus has promised that he will return. However this is not what Jesus is speaking about in this passage. He is teaching about to something which happened in AD70 when Roman soldiers destroyed the great symbol of Jewishness, the Temple.

Nevertheless, there are lessons which we can learn from reading Luke this morning. We too like those first Christians can face difficult times, not going in helicopters obviously, and that turned out to be brilliant fun with Sam flying as smooth a silk. We face all manner of real difficulties,  we deal with losses and endings each day. We can all experience the loss of someone close to us, ill health can strike us down, a marriage might break up or we might loose a job. When such terrible time afflict us, then  we all find them hard to face. Yet in times of testing Jesus gives his instruction to us that we must live during without panic.

These are not just the words of a motivational speaker. Jesus tells his followers that there is no need to worry, this is not because we need positive thinking, rather because he will be with us. We will encounter strife, but at such times Jesus calls us to trust and stand firm. Jesus calls us to have endurance and trust that he abides with us. When times of testing come, Jesus promises to give us the strength that we need. This is not a case of enduring through thick and thin and pushing ourselves along, this is a reminder that we are never alone.