Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
While some people were speaking about
how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
Jesus said, “All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Then they asked him,
“Teacher, when will this happen?
And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
“See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.”
Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
One of the benefits of the liberal arts education that I received is that I am chock full of literary knowledge that on occasion comes in quite handy. Usually, I delve into my pool of literary references when I’m helping the kids with their homework or watching Jeopardy or like today, when I wish to illustrate a point. While studying English literature here at USF, I stumbled across a Russian poet by the name of Ivan Krylov who penned a fable titled An Inquisitive Man. Briefly, this fable tells of the conversation between two men. The first of which describes his recent trip to the museum of natural history. As he expressed in great detail the minutest detail of the smallest of exhibits, the second man asked about the elephant. Embarrassed, the first man confesses that he, in fact, never noticed the elephant in the museum. This is the origin of the often used phrase “the elephant in the room.” This idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk that no one wants to discuss. As I see it today, the elephant, the problem that no one wants to talk about is division.
In today’s gospel, Jesus foretells of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem; an event that takes place some 40 years after his death and resurrection. In response to this, the disciples ask Jesus when will this happen and what signs could they recognize to know that the time has come. Jesus goes on to paint a rather bleak and dark image of turmoil and destruction. He mentions wars, insurrections, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famines, and plagues. We are given an impression of utter ruin and death.
Today, we have a devastation that is literally tearing apart the fabric of our society. There is a great tension across every religious, racial, political, and socio economic line. For many, the focus is only on what makes us different. For many, the idea of seeking common ground is not even a remote possibility. In many cases, dialog and community have been replaced with hostility and conflict. In talking with folks recently, anxiety and friction seem to dominate our conversations. Dark times indeed.
When scripture speaks of end times, it is usually synonymous with the second coming of Jesus. The coming of Jesus is what I’d like to focus on for a moment.
Jesus says that destruction and conflict will mark the time when the temple at Jerusalem will lie in ruin. And indeed it came to pass. The Roman emperor, Nero dispatched an Army in 70 AD to swiftly deal with the Jewish-Roman war that had taken place. The building that was the temple was destroyed. However, the church was still very much intact. Christ’s church could not be contained by any one building.
The church is a community of believers who represent the mystical body of Jesus here and now. 2,000 years ago, Jesus’ physical body walked the earth. Today, as a community, with the presence of Christ within and among us, we make up the body of Jesus. The second coming of Jesus, in this mystical form is what should be our focus.
In today’s gospel Jesus goes on to say that all of the darkness and devastation will lead to the giving of testimony. Of this, Jesus says, “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”
This is where we are today. Our words and actions should reflect the spirit of Christ within us. After all, being a part of the body of Christ today, we are compelled to act as Jesus would act. This alone should mean that we look to bridge the divides that separate us. We can do this by seeking common ground with those whose opinions differ from our own. We can be Christ like by looking to establish dialog and community. We can choose to resist the temptation to engage in conflict and discord. We can rise above all our differences and disagreements so as to choose love and peace above all else.
In a few moments, our assembly here, which is as diverse as our greater community, will come forward as one to receive Christ in the form of the Eucharist. This coming together in this fashion is what it means to be church. Spreading the presence of Christ beyond the walls of this building should always remain our calling.