Sunday, November 17, 2019
Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost
The First Temple that was built in ancient Jerusalem in 1000 BCE by King Solomon. It was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, when they sacked the city. It was eventually replaced with the Second Temple in 516 BCE after the Jews returned to Jerusalem from their exile and captivity in Babylon.
The Second Temple period lasted for six hundred years, beginning in the late sixth century BCE. The Romans destroyed much of the city, including the Second Temple in 70 CE.
According to Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived during that time, 1.1 million people died in Jerusalem, mainly as a result of the violence and the famine that ensued. Many who died were observant Jews who had travelled to the city to celebrate Passover. Once inside the city, they were not permitted to leave. While the number of people who were actually killed may vary, it would not be an understatement to say many may have felt that the world was coming to an end.
It is against this historical backdrop that Jesus was questioned by the disciples and others one day about what he had told them. The Temple, he said would be destroyed – “ . . . not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (Luke 21:6).
When Luke wrote his account of that day, it is likely it was written late in the first century, after siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Some biblical scholars have surmised that “the earliest readers of this text had likely seen the devastation Jesus envision[ed] in ʻthe days to come’” (Luke 21:6).
Like those who were listening to Jesus and those who later listened to Luke, they all could have easily imagined that disaster was near at hand. There is no question for them that something was going to happen.
When Jesus warns of a coming disaster they ask him “when this will be, and what will be the sign . . . ” (Luke 21:7). In a way, they are not surprised or put-off by his warning.
Yvette Schock, a Lutheran pastor and chaplain at a retirement community in Spokane, Washington shared her observation when it comes to any thought we may have about the world coming to an end. “I think there are people in every time and place for whom the days [for the world] to come [to an end] is always now,” she writes (“Living by the Word,” Christian Century, November 6, 2009, page 18).
I thought as much when I was a young adult fifty years ago. I suspect whether one is a Christian or not, the prospect of the world coming to an end always seemed to be on horizon.
We will point to weather-related catastrophes as more and more floods, epidemics, tornadoes, typhoons, hurricanes, heat waves and record-breaking cold weather wreak havoc across the world. From 1932-1933 it is said that as many as 7 million people in Ukraine and Kazakhstan died because of a famine. In the years that followed, other catastrophic famines occurred some due to drought.
We will also point to wars and armed conflicts as other signs that the world is coming to an end. In 1939, 3 million Poles died at the hands of the Nazis. Over the duration of World War II, two-thirds of the Jewish population or 6 million Jews died. During that same war, over 13 million others died throughout Europe.
In 1965, 3 million died in Indonesia. In 1971, at least 3 million died in East Pakistan. Three million more people died in Kampuchea in 1975 and 1 million died in Rwandan in 1994.
And over the centuries, millions more have died in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbian Syrmia, Ireland, China, Sudan, Iraq, East Timor, Burundi, Libya, Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Crimea, Guatemala, India, the U.S., Australia, Myanmar, Chile, Syria, and New Zealand. Wars and rumors of war continue.
When Jesus tells the disciples and others - “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” – we would be inclined consider his words apropos to our day and time and conclude it would be a good time for Jesus to return. But his first response to them – and to us – are words of caution.
Be wary, he warns, of false prophets. They are a threat that the Bible points out time and time again (Op. cit.). Pastor Schock reminds us that false prophets sometimes “offer easy answers and false hope. Sometimes they accuse falsely, claiming to know the cause of the present crisis.” She adds, “Often it is the people from over there, people who are not us” who are causing things to fall apart (Op. cit).
Jesus warns that false prophets might claim to know the end of a story that is still unfolding. Books have been written and will be written. Films have been made and will be made. Charts with timelines, events and dates have been drawn up and will be drawn up. Jesus warns his followers, ʻDo not go after them.’”
Then he offers words of comfort acknowledging that messengers will be sent in times of trouble: “Do not be terrified” (Luke 21:9). He makes a promise that those who follow him will have an opportunity to testify with words and a wisdom that none will be able to ignore or deny.
On average, at least 100 Americans are shot and killed each day in the United States. Among the most recent victims was a family of six in San Diego, California. Law enforcement authorities reported yesterday that, following a bitter divorce, a man shot and killed his wife and 3-year-old. He also shot his three other children before turning the gun on himself.
Two of the other three children later died at an area hospital. Readers following the story online expressed their sorrow and grief, anger and frustration. One person was certain of one thing, “The devil is busy in this world coming to an end and I can’t wait until Jesus comes.”
Inasmuch as it may seem that the world is “going to hell-in-a-handbasket,” I am not about to wait around for Jesus to come back. There is much that we can do in the meantime to bring hope where there is despair; to bring healing where there is suffering; to bring wholeness where there is brokenness.
Where there are those who would build walls, we will build bridges. Where there are those who may wish to tear down, we will build up.
Pastor Schock points out, “Jesus’ answer to his listener’s questions is not simple. It is not a checklist or a road map to help them navigate the days to come. It gives license neither for blind optimism – [Jesus is coming soon] – or doomsday preparations – [It is already too late.] But it does contain a promise: the faithful will be called to witness; when they are, God will be present and at work. In the midst of every kind of trouble, they will be called to witness because they will see what God is building” (Op. cit.).
Hana e! Hana e! Hana mau no kākou! Ihiolo nā mana kuʻe o ka pō, i hoʻonani ʻia aʻe la ka inoa o Iesū. To the work, to the work, there is labor for all for the kingdom of darkness and error shall fall and the name of Jehovah exalted shall be. ʻOli pu kiaʻi mau, i hiki mai ka Haku e! Let us hope, let us watch and labor until the Master comes. Thanks be to God. Amen.