This sermon was preached on Nov. 17, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:
Malachi 4: 1-2a
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Luke 21: 5-19
Children’s sermon: Gather the children and have some different kinds of signs printed off. Ask what the signs say. Why are there signs all around us? Some are safety, some want us to buy things, some are confusing, some are scary, some are old and aren’t relevant anymore. But there are signs all around us. Signs are not only words on a board and a stick, but can be actions or words of people, or some people see signs around us of what God might be trying to tell us. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes, it’s not-so it’s very difficult to know. But Jesus tells us that signs aren’t always what they seem to be and so not to get too concerned-pay attention, but don’t worry too much. That when life seems scary or sad, or hard or confusing, look for signs of God’s love, because signs of God’s love and care are already all around us. AND we are to be signs of God’s love in the world with the words we say, with our actions, with our whole lives. We are a sign from God to the world! If you had to wear a sign about God’s love, what would it say? I have this poster board and some materials for you to make a sign to share about God’s love in the world. Let’s pray:
There are signs everywhere and we like to try and interpret them or to make sense of them. As I talked with the children, signs are a common part of our lives and most of them are easy to understand, such as traffic signs, which door to use at a restaurant, where the exits or restrooms might be in a building. But then there are signs that we’re not sure about. The stock market going up and down, nations invading nations, genocide, unpredictable weather causing floods, fires, droughts, and crop failures, buildings crumbling, our own health changes (what does that new ache mean?), off-hand comments from a supervisor or colleague that make you take notice, changes in your child’s behavior, changes in your parent’s behavior, is it a sign of something serious? Is it a sign of ominous things to come? Or a sign that life will get better? Which is it? I need to plan! I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, if “A” happens then will “B”? What’s a sign that I can make sense of and trust?
This wondering leads us to put our faith in objects and institutions that we feel will help us to interpret all the other signs. We want to find what will never change and never crumble. Our trouble comes when we choose objects and ideas that indeed inevitably will and have to change because they always have been changing, albeit perhaps so slowly that we don’t notice. This was the case with the disciples in our Luke text today. They had just witnessed the faith of the widow placing all that she had into the temple treasury-despite her poverty-a testimony of her trust in God. The very next thing the disciples did, where we pick up the story today, was to comment on how the temple was so beautifully adorned from all the gifts dedicated to God. The temple was a sure and steadfast sign, a testimony, of God’s presence and sovereignty and seemed so stalwart that nothing could ever destroy it. But Jesus, probably shaking his head a bit, says, all of this, what you think is a sign of God’s reign, is not. It all can and will come down. These would be concerning words for the listeners, for what they were hearing, questioned the very presence of God in the world. The belief in Jesus’ time was that the Temple is where God was so the Temple coming down would be a huge cause for concern and planning. When will this happen? What are the signs?
Jesus acknowledges that life is unpredictable. Jesus doesn’t try and sweep under the rug the realities of war, famine, health crisis, discrimination, human suffering, human impacts on creation, even the destruction of the temple, which would herald an end to the Israelite/Jewish tradition as they knew it. Jesus says yes, those things will happen and we will need to face them head on. But they are not a sign of the end, they are not a sign of God’s disfavor with us or creation, these hard realities are a sign that our testimony, our witness of God’s presence and love in all times and in all places is more important than ever. When death and destruction seem to have won the day, this is when testimony to God’s promise of life matters most.
Bearing testimony is not a common topic for conversation or a sermon in the Lutheran church, which is interesting because it’s the very foundation of our denomination. Martin Luther bore witness to God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness in a social and political climate that was antithetical and hostile to his testimony of the word of God. He didn’t do it perfectly, let’s be clear, he also did and said some things that were harmful and hurtful to our Jewish siblings and to those in poverty during the peasants uprising, but Luther didn’t back down from doing what he knew was right-bearing witness to God’s love for all and freeing people from the worldview that hardships and difficulties in your life are signs of God’s punishment and you have to earn God’s favor with your actions. Luther’s very life became one of bearing witness to God’s grace and mercy in the world for all people. Luther’s testimony meant that church hierarchies and political systems were in jeopardy, status quo was no longer an option. It was doom and gloom for those in power and authority and out of self-preservation the powers and principalities condemned Luther’s witness. But despite fear, Luther held fast to the promises of God. He understood that things would look bleak before real transformation could occur. Luther trusted in God’s ongoing creative work of redemption, that God was always doing a new thing in people and in institutions and that God would never leave him.
We get so caught up in trying to interpret the threatening signs in the world that we forget, that like Luther, we too are signs for God’s transformational work in the world. How we live, how we treat each other, how we sing a new song in every time and in every place as the psalmist writes, bears witness to signs of God’s love for the entirety of creation. Ominous happenings in the world, the toppling of institutions, wars, diseases, hardships are never about God’s wrath, or punishment, they are part of life in a broken creation where the full reign of God has not yet been revealed. Jesus reminds us that we aren’t to be frightened and isolate ourselves or think that we’re too insignificant or unimportant to make a difference. As the people of God, we don’t live in idleness, we live boldly proclaiming to all, including powers and principalities the good news with whatever words of wisdom God gives us. And more than only words, God will also give us the actions of wisdom we need for this proclamation. Wise words and actions can bring down stone by stone unjust systems that discriminate against some while privileging others. Wise words and actions from God feed the hungry, ensure clean water for all communities, meet the needs of youth in our neighborhoods, offers safe, loving and affirming community for people of all genders, sexual orientations, race, color, socio-economic status, ability and health. With God’s wisdom, we won’t grow weary in doing what is right, of what builds up and cares for our neighbor despite risks to ourselves. Let us make up our minds to let our lives will sing a new song of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness through Jesus Christ. Jesus time and again witnessed to God’s love, reconciliation and healing of humanity and creation with more than words but with his actions and on the cross with his very life. Jesus, God in our midst, is a sign of what radical love can do. Jesus’ love transforms religious and political systems, creation and our lives today and every day, so that there will indeed be the Day of the Lord, a day when no one is oppressed, marginalized or discriminated against. A day when God’s justice rolls down like waters, a day when all people are protected, cared for and not one hair on anyone’s head is harmed, a day when all that divides us comes down stone by stone, and a day when every life will be a testimony, a sign, of God’s healing, love, and transformation of all hearts, minds, souls and the world through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.