The Rev. Larry Koger
First Lutheran Church-San Diego
November 13, 2016
Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
“We Will Survive”
November has been an interesting month. Following a drought of 108 years, the Cubs won the World Series. The hot Santa Ana winds have been hanging on a little longer this year than I remember in years past. And then something else happened. Oh, yeah, the election. Donald Trump was elected to be the next President of the United States. Then we have our gospel reading with apocalyptic overtones. I can’t help but wonder, is there a message for us here? At times like these some of us really try to find the right words, to say the right thing
The morning following the election, Pacifica Synod Bishop Andy Taylor wrote, “We have just completed another election cycle, which was among the most divisive I have witnessed in 40 years of voting for a U.S. President. The people have spoken, but have delivered a divided decision. Donald Trump won the electoral vote and will become our next President, while Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote (at least it appears that way as of 9:15 am Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday morning) but will lose in the Electoral College. Clearly we are a divided country. This division is mirrored in our congregations. Some people in our congregations are jubilant, believing that change was necessary; while others are mournful, concerned about what will happen to immigrants, refugees, and Muslims, to name a few. Others are angry at a political system that delivered two candidates that were distasteful to many.”
Bishop Taylor wrote more, but I want to stop there for now and ask you a question. Have you ever wished that you had the right words to share your values and your faith with someone else? Some of you, I’m sure, share your faith with ease. Others, maybe a little less assured, fearful of saying the wrong thing. And yet, our Lord has words of encouragement for would-be witnesses in our lesson. He says that when we are called to proclaim our faith, he will provide the words we are to use. On the other hand, when those words don’t seem to come, we may wonder if this promise is for us.
What was going on when Jesus said these words in this lesson? This discussion took place the last week of his life. In a few days, Jesus would die on the cross. Of course, his disciples knew nothing of that. He had finally made it to Jerusalem where he had been welcomed that Sunday as the king of Israel when people shouted Hosannas and put palm branches in his path. And in Jerusalem, the disciples looked at the magnificent temple, and praised it to Jesus. The temple was big for the people of Jesus’ day. It was not just a place to go to worship and pray and offer sacrifices. It was indeed the visible sign of the presence of the invisible God with his chosen people. So the disciples assumed that Jesus, as God’s chosen Messiah or king, would revere and defend the temple.
Instead, what he said must have shocked them. They are told that the visible sign of the presence of the invisible God would be torn down, with not one stone left upon another. The disciples wonder when these things will take place. Jesus’ words were meant then, as now, to remind us that the world will someday come to an end, and that until it does, Christians may be called to suffer for the faith.
But little did the disciples know many of them would witness the destruction that Jesus foretold. In the year 70, just about 40 years after Jesus spoke these words, the temple was destroyed by the Romans. Rome was tired of the trouble they had with those who believed in Jewish Messiahs, and persecuted Christians for being enemies of the state. Faithful Jews, devastated at the loss of the temple and of Jerusalem, came to see Christians not as brothers and sisters but as idolaters who had brought God’s wrath upon Israel. Christians were persecuted on all sides. These words of Jesus were remembered in this context, and brought hope to people who were dragged to authorities in Israel and in the greater Roman Empire.
For the promise of this lesson is that the disciples would be given the words they needed to speak, that God would give them the wisdom they needed to say the right thing. How was this wisdom given them? It was given through the presence of the Holy Spirit, the invisible God himself, within believers. How did the presence of the invisible God move from inside the temple to inside believers? By the death of Christ. For on the cross, Jesus took on our sins, and all that would separate us from God and God from us, and put to death their power forever. And when he rose from the dead, he rose to pour his Holy Spirit into us. Now, when people want to go where the invisible God is, they do not need to go to the temple, to the Holy of holies. In fact, the Bible tells us that the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the world was torn in two, from top to bottom, when Christ died. Through the death of Christ, God made himself present in the world. And he makes himself present through us, his people. Through our words, God gives himself to the world. And God does so even, maybe especially, when we feel like we don’t have the right words to say.
In our lesson, it sounds like, armed with the right words, nothing bad will happen to the disciples, right? You know what happened? Many of them were killed for their words of faith in Christ, others were imprisoned. If we based the effectiveness of their testimony on their success at avoiding death or suffering, we’d call them failures. But Christian faith did not survive because every disciple survived. Christian faith survived because God spoke through the disciples and that word has brought faith in God’s presence, strength to meet each day’s challenges, hope for a better future, and courage to face each tomorrow. We survive because God survives and lives within us. And even if we, like the disciples, were to die for the confession of faith, God will still be alive and at work among his people, giving courage, strength and hope and, yes, the right words to help share the good news of Jesus Christ with others who desperately need to hear those words.
We live in a country and in a world that desperately needs to hear those words. On the heels of such an historic election, how are we as Christian Lutherans to respond? Bishop Taylor writes, “We are called to remember we are simultaneously citizens of the United States and members of the Reign of God. We are to live as U.S. citizens by putting into action our faith in the God who made and redeemed people of every land. How do we do this? By loving God and loving our neighbor. Please note that when Jesus calls us to love, he is not speaking about emotions, but about actions. Love is a verb, not a noun. We are called to love people we may not like, whose politics we may not agree with, and whose views of America’s future may differ strongly from our own.
“How are we to love our neighbor as Christ calls us to do? We are to listen calmly and try to understand our neighbor’s point of view. We are particularly to care for those who would be forgotten or oppressed. We are called to love the immigrant, the refugee, the poor, and to work for their good. We are to stand against injustice of any sort. We are to seek not victory for ourselves, or vindication of our own points of view, but the common good. We are to keep in mind Christ Jesus who, as noted in Philippians 2, emptied himself and took the form of a servant in order to live a life of love.”
Bishop Taylor points out, “Such a life of love does not mean a denial of differing political views. It does mean that we recognize that God may be speaking through one with whom we disagree and we should listen for God’s voice in these discussions. But we are also to speak in ways that do not insist on our own viewpoint, but instead insist on what is right, just, and good for our neighbor. Through such political speech, God will guide us forward.
“So what do we do today? I’d encourage us all to pray for wisdom and guidance for President-elect Trump, for President Obama as he prepares to leave office, and for all who have been elected to positions of leadership yesterday. We are to grant respect to the office of those elected, especially when we respectfully and forcefully disagree on policy issues. And we are to pray for the good of our neighbor, our country, and our world. May God bless us at this time of change, and help us to love others as God loves us.”
And so Bishop Taylor reminds us that God continues to go to work. He brings faith, courage, strength and hope to us through the sharing of his word. His word comes to us in Holy Communion and Holy Baptism, through the bread and wine and water. The word comes in the words we say to each other, encouraging one another in our walk in faith. The Word comes through Christ himself, present with us, making us the visible sign of the invisible God who is alive and at work in the world today. What do we do now? Where do we go from here? We remember and trust that God is at work in and through us making us visible signs of the invisible God. All thanks be to God for giving us this word. And let us trust the promise that he will give us the words we need to share his goodness with a world in need. Amen.