Based on Luke 21:5-19
How often do you get to hear in church that the arrogant and evil people will be burnt up root and branch and so be erased from all history and have no legacy? I’m curious. Did anyone come to mind for you when you heard those words from Malachi? Paul weighs in with words as fitting for Stalinists as for full-out capitalists: “anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” And then we hear Jesus instructing us: don’t strategize your defense; just depend on inspiration from me. All this from a set again of apocalyptic texts expecting God to rain down judgment on the evil and reward on the righteous at any moment. It makes a Christ follower wonder. “Okay I don’t have to plan ahead, but I’m supposed to work harder? I am asked to make a commitment, but if history is to end soon, committing to what? Or, as a college dorm student (probably a male) would ask, “Do I need ever to change my bedsheets?”
Its okay. You do not need so to wonder. The usual responses like I just referenced to texts like these come from reading the texts too literally and not from reading them seriously enough. The context for all the lessons is that because the times are urgent, faithful commitment is more urgent still. As is often the case, “out of this world” language is necessary to confront unconscionable situations. So what are the situations? Malachi virtually speaks as a star witness before an official inquiry; he is a faithful career priest who brings God’s word totally against the fake leaders of the temple who conduct backdoor shenanigans to serve their selfish needs. His is a formal complaint against a malevolent system in which he could seem like a lone voice of spiritual and moral integrity.
Paul writes to a house church wherein some abuse both the eucharist and the congregation’s version of a “food bank” by taking without contributing. Under the rationale that Jesus is coming again right soon, they say they don’t need to work for Christ’s cause anyway. It’s a ruse for their essential laziness, however. And Paul calls it out. He does so not by calling them selfish welfare kings and queens. He does so by reminding them that they know and are to do what’s right. And what is right? All throughout his letters to Thessalonica he says so: that relationship with Jesus Christ in the truth and light of grace and peace is to govern all one’s life, and to leave judgment to Jesus who simply by speaking truth will destroy all lies and all evil. Now there’s a word! And it brings us closer to the really big point. Complacency in the end times, which is to say, complacency in the Christian life of graciousness and truthfulness at any time, is just not right.
There is nothing complacent, of course, in Jesus’ words for his true disciples. He warns that temporary physical structures, even the Temple, will turn to rubble. Liars misusing his name will lead many astray. Nations and kingdoms will conflict. Earthquakes and famines and plagues and more will assault. It is interesting that Jesus ties so-called “smaller” human misbehaviors—like lies and the lying liars who tell them—with cataclysmic events. Many hear and believe his words as warning of the imminent end of history, but dismiss their own sinfulness as irrelevant. And we say, “Yeah. Tell us something new.”
We’ve had two thousand years of liars in Jesus’ name now along with earthquakes and floods and human atrocities that not even Jesus predicted. Celebrities still get converted and then hosted by prosperity preachers in Jesus’ name. Fascism did not end with the holocaust; hate speech blooms again under the guise of free speech; corruption still masquerades as anti-corruption. Teenagers still ask why its necessary to make one’s bed, much more to change the sheets. So what’s the point of apocalyptic language when every day of every minute throughout all human history is apocalypse? Should that mean that apocalypse is normalized? Does history argue for complacency as the “reasonable” response? I do believe that’s where Luke’s audience was tempted when he quoted to them Jesus’ words.
Jesus was not advising his disciples to be reasonable. Luke was not encouraging his congregation to be reasonable. Both, with Paul, and Malachi, argued against complacency and for trust: trust in the God who as ever before would stand with them, even in them. The commitment of trust is what they joyfully proclaimed indeed. And why trust? Why take hard times as well as good times as “opportunities to testify” in word and deed to God’s goodness and justice?
The answer is quite simple and staggeringly unreasonable. Jesus answered, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” How would he do that? He would do that only by being the Risen One. As the great testifier, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, made clear, his own writings could not be rightly read if Jesus Christ were only a concept. Bonhoeffer’s words are prophetic and inspiring, however, on the premise that Christ is alive and is Lord. That builds on Kierkegaard’s criticism of complacent Christianity: that harder than converting a non-Christian into a Christian is converting a Christian into a Christian.
We are given words to speak and deeds to do because Jesus is Risen and Jesus is Lord. That very fact for us makes of this time and every time a time not for complacency but for commitment. The Gospel is gift above all gifts; Jesus is alive over and above and in spite of the challenges and terrors around! We are loved by the eternal one and so need not and will not fear! We already know betrayal and hate and will strive to do neither. But we will do what is right because Jesus Christ is alive and Lord. We will die, maybe even from the hateful liars against us. But we will not perish, not one hair of the head! We will do right because faith knows the challenges and does what is right anyway.
And so we are not complacent. Not today! Not ever! “We build a house!” Not of stone and steel, but on the surest foundation and the strongest of beams: the fruits of the Spirit of the Risen Lord, fruits of graciousness, of affirming welcome, of outreaching love, of all the actions of care for each other and the broadest community of diverse wonderful essentially beautiful people who need in this Body of Christ A Healing Place. For no better reason than because Christ lives and rules, we commit to sharing his love courageously in “A Canticle of Commitment.”
A Canticle of Commitment
Gracious God, you have given us a precious community of faith,
Inspire our growth and make keen our vision for ministry.
Here you have bathed us in the waters of Holy Baptism.
Here you offer us healed and purposeful lives.
Here you feed us with your own being.
From here in us you send your liveliness into your beloved world.
In and with us and for us and for the world, Christ is alive.
And so how can we not give of ourselves, of you, for the work of your church?
Beautiful, gracious author and goal of life, your generosity is beyond our imagining!
So, good God, quicken the generosity we can imagine from our own hearts and hands.
Lord, again, into your hands we commit ourselves.
From all that we have, we commit generously to building your house, to doing your ministry,
So that we may be known as your people, your followers, your lovers;
And that thereby we might be known as your Healing Place.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX
November 17, 2019