Sermon for Ordinary 33 Year C
The Reverend Canon Charles Royden
Sermon Sunday 17 November Luke 21
Mr Cameron has been in Sri Lanka this week and he has been caught up in all sorts of controversy. The country has faced huge internal conflicts and massacres yet of course in our political system the debate is all about whether he should have gone or not ! The big story which our prime minister is trying to get across is to focus upon the events which have taken place in that country where tens of thousands of people have been killed. The Tamil Tigers who were a particularly cruel group of terrorists were conquered by an equally cruel onslaught by government troops. Now after the event as Mr Cameron visits areas where the fighting was severe, he sees families where many have been killed, some have disappeared, others have been brutally tortured. The country has very visible pains and scars from the years of fighting. You can see the ongoing torment on the faces of people across the country in the news reports.
I mention this because when Luke wrote his Gospel he wrote it to people who were in a position similar to those folks in Sri Lanka. There had been a bloodthirsty uprising by the Jews who had killed many Roman soldiers, then Rome had responded with huge military force and brutally killed fighters and innocent civilians alike. The people then were traumatised in exactly the same way as those poor people in Sri Lanka today. There would have been families who hadn't a clue whether other family members were dead or alive or shipped off as slaves.
It was to traumatised Christians in the aftermath of the First Jewish War that Luke wrote his Gospel recounting the words of Jesus that we read today.
As you walk through the Forum in Rome and past columns and monuments you come to a splendid arch, The Arch of Titus. It is was built in AD82 by the Emperor Domitian following the death of his older brother Titus. It was a triumphal arch, used as the model for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, to celebrate the achievements in war accomplished by Titus, including the Siege of Jerusalem in AD70. See the Golden Candlabra or Menorah lifted high, with other seized sacred objects such as the golden trumpets. The first Jewish-Roman War or The Great Revolt had started in AD66. The occupation by Rome brought heavy taxation and initial rebellion was punished by Rome with the killing of 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem. The Jewish rebels struck back and a full scale war erupted which continued for the next four years. The fortress of Jerusalem remained until Titus brought about its fall in AD70 and the last bastion of Masada fell three years later. The fall of Jerusalem was catastrophic, the historian Jospehus tells us that so many were killed their blood flowed through the streets and extinguished the fires, a graphic picture. Josephus claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege, of which a majority were Jewish, and that 97,000 were captured and enslaved.
"The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination”
It is important to remember these events because they help us to understand the apocalyptic words in the Gospels. The Gospel of Luke which we read today was written a decade or so after these most horrific events. The Gospel was written for a community of Christians who had lived through these terrible events which had led to this conquest.
It is against that background that we read the Gospel of Luke and try to understand how Luke told the people of the words of Jesus, words which should have encouraged them in this time of trial. It was written for a persecuted Christian minority under the subjugation of Rome. They were told not lose hope, trust in Jesus, and see how his life prepared them for the situation in which they found themselves. These words are not meant to help us interpret our future, they were spoken by Jesus to help the disciples prepare for the future catastrophe they would see in their lifetime. They were written down by Luke after the event itself to help his readers understand what had already taken place.
Putting these words of Jesus into their historical context explains their meaning, and that reveals important truths which stand the passage of time. These words were true for those who would be caught up in the apocalypse of Jerusalem, but of course they are true for each one of us. For example, Jesus doesn’t pretend that being a follower will in anyway provide protection from the terrible suffering and persecution that will come, he is brutally honest and truthful. Nevertheless Jesus shows complete confidence in the future. Jesus paints a picture for his disciples of chaos, all around them, life and nature in upheaval, they will not be in control, they will be subject to exactly the same vagaries of life as everybody else, and yet they are to remain calm because this is expected and God is in control.
The temple had been pulled down a decade of more but Luke reminds his readers of how grand the Temple once was, how the disciples had wandered around and marvelled at the beauty and magnificence around them. Then he tells the readers that Jesus had warned that it would be destroyed. The stones had been broken down dismantled by the conquering Romans to plunder the gold that had melted between them in the fires. Anybody who had listened to the teaching of Jesus would not have been caught off guard when the temple was destroyed and the Roman army came and killed all in their way.
Now today our temples can be torn down too, things which we have come to expect will be there forever, things which we take for granted can disappear. It might be through death or the loss of a job, divorce or anything. We can also become overwhelmed with issues when we look at what is going on around us. We could become completely consumed by global warming, wars and terrorists, cancer or whatever. We might even grow weary and despondent with the church thinking that it is not changing fast enough, or not dealing with its issues.
Whatever it is which rattles us, disturbs us, threatens our faith. Jesus says not to worry, not a hair on your head will perish (verse 18). Jesus tells his followers not to live their lives in fear but to get on with things.
Jesus does not want his followers wallowing in self pity, he wants them to move on.
Listen to his words
‘by your endurance you will gain your souls’ v19
Jesus is saying to those disciples that no matter what happens the Christian life is about perseverance, they must keeping going, living out the ways that he has shown them in the face of whatever life throws at them. That is what he is saying to us today. Keep the faith, keep living out that daily commitment no matter what is going on around you.
The Christians life is about fortitude in the face of whatever crisis, whatever injustice life throws at you. The world around us is confusing, not as confusing perhaps as for those first early Christians who had lived through a terrible bloodbath and they were still living in an occupied country, but nevertheless the world is confusing. We see suffering all around us and it makes no sense whatsoever, but in the face of that confusion Jesus calls for faith and endurance and trust in God.
That is what the Gospel is about today, Jesus encouraging his followers to hold fast to the faith no matter what chaos was going on around them. Jesus is not speaking about the end of the world, he is speaking about events which were to take place in the lifetime of some of his hearers, and Luke recounts them after they have taken place, interpreting the events whuich have taken place.
When Jesus says 'not a hair on your head will perish' he is not suggesting that Christians will be spared the trauma of events. Clealry they will not, the Christians were martyred in their thousands and even Jesus himself suffered. If you think that by becoming a Christian you will not go bald then think again ! The Christian is a part of the world just as much as everybody else. Wars just are, and everybody who gets in the way suffers, they are part of life, along with the earthquakes, and typhoons and eclipses, and famines.
Perhaps the big difference for us is that unlike the readers of Luke’s Gospel we hear far more now than ever before about what is taking place across the world. We see the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines, we see their suffering more than any generation before us. So too the propensity for us to be overwhelmed by the chaos is more than ever before.
When life feels fragile we need to remind ourselves of the words of Jesus
Luke 12:7 The hairs on our head are numbered
For some people life can be very wearying, just likethose who read the pages of Luke's Gospel who would have been traumatised by events. Misfortune is not fair and lightning does seem to strike the same place twice. Perhaps that is why in our epistle reading today the words come to us of encouragement
'brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right' 2 Thess 3:13
Staying the course can be difficult, we can all become disillusioned, cynical and feel like giving up at times. Today we are encouraged by Jesus to keep keeping on. We can be tempted to withdraw into ourselves, seek a more self focussed existence, but we are encouraged to look at the example of Jesus who for the sake of others endured even the cross.
We keep the faith and we hear Jesus assurance that even though it is tough, even though we might want to give up, that God will not give up on us. The quality of Christians is that they persevere, they don’t weary of doing the right thing.
What does it mean to keep on in the Christian life, not to weary. Well the passgae from Thessalonians is helpful. The believers are encouraged to remember that being a Christians means that you mind your
I leave you with some words from a service from the United Methodost Church in Canda. They sum it all up
"We are not alone. We live in God's world. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us."