Sunday, November 17, 2019
Texts: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
In the name of Jesus. AMEN.
Perhaps you have heard this quote attributed to President Abraham Lincoln: “I have been driven many times upon my knees [in prayer] by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
The quote points to those times when the changes and chances of life have overwhelmed us, when our knowledge, and that of others, have failed us. In those times, Abraham Lincoln’s quote reminds us of the importance of prayer. In the words of that old favorite hymn: “Oh what pain we often forfeit; oh what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
Our Gospel reading today describes a time and placed when all seems lost. Our gospel reading this morning, from the 21st Chapter of Luke is chilling. Perhaps it describes what Lincoln experienced in the bleak days of the civil war when the country was at war with itself, family member against family member, strife, anger, and spilled blood filling the country.
In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of a time of war, insurrection, nation rising against nation … a time for earthquakes, famines, plagues … a time when the faithful are arrested and persecuted, betrayed even by parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, and handed over to authorities to be put to death.
A time when everything has failed. Families are places of betrayal, churches are a places of accusation, bedrock civic institutions have collapsed and disappeared, he planet itself violently killing people in deadly natural disasters.
In those times prayer is always appropriate and important. And, in today’s gospel reading, we learn about something else about such times. In addition to prayer, another response of the faithful in such times of loss and devastation is testimony.
Said Jesus (Luke 21:12-13) … “They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
In the context of these verses we may hear testify as a verb, as something we do. But, it’s important to note, that when the original Greek word translated in today’s reading as “testify” is used earlier in Luke, it is used as a noun.
In Luke 5:14 … the testimony of lepers healed by Jesus was an offering – the same healing offering given by others who had experienced healing.
In Luke 9:5 … the testimony of the rejected disciples, was to shake off the dust from their feet as they left the town.
And, in both cases, Jesus directed the testimony. Jesus instructed the lepers to give the offering and the disciples to shake off the dust from their feet.
What is our testimony times when all has collapsed? What is our witness to the hope within us, when we have nowhere else to turn? What is our testimony when we stand accused, when we are the ones betrayed by friends, when our hopes and dreams have failed us, and when life itself seems to be wrenched away?
Reading our Second Reading this morning – from Second Thessalonians … the Word offers us a couple possible ways to bear testimonty in those times when all seem lost.
Based on 2 Thessalonians 3:12 – our testimony might be that we “do our work quietly and be self-sufficient.” Perhaps our testimony is that we would take care of ourselves, so that we can be present to others in the vocation of daily life – the testimony of quiet work as an attentive spouse, productive employee, loving parent and grandparent, thoughtful neighbor, wise citizen.
In these loud and divisive times with forces pulling us apart – perhaps our testimony is our humble, patient, and painstaking work stitching and sewing together the fabric of society, of our church, our families, of our communities.
Based 2 Thessalonians 3:13 – maybe our testimony is that we would not “be weary in doing what is right.” Perhaps our testimony is showing up, again and again, showing up to those in power, like that persistent widow we read about a few weeks back who showed up day, after day, after day, demanding justice, insisting all people be treated with the dignity and included fully into the resources of the planet.
Maybe our testimony is showing up, again and again, like the good Samaritan, to love across social constraints, to love even in the face of rejection and betrayal, showing up in health, mercy, and grace,
Maybe our testimony is shaped by the words of the Prayer of the Day this morning in which we prayed: O God … embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal.” Perhaps our testimony is that we would spend our money, our time, our resources, not on that which is temporary, but pour them instead into that which is lasting, enduring, and eternal.
While others yell and scream and mock and do what they can to sow suspicion, discord, and strife, our testimony as disciples of Jesus, in a time such as this, is the testimony of quiet lives of loving service. Our testimony, our witness to the living God alive in us, our patient, quiet, humble, loving, generous service to one another and to the world.
And, Jesus also said this about testimony …
Luke 21:14-15 … “Make up your minds NOT to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” The testimony we are called to provide includes both that which we are specifically commanded to do, AND, to allow space in which Jesus can speak.
When our wisdom and understanding is exhausted by all we experience in life, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, speaks wisdom and understanding.
When our natural instinct is to defend ourselves, to prepare our defense with cunning arguments, air-tight logic, and powerful punches – the Word of God, Jesus Christ, invites us to make Jesus our defense, to place our trust in the protection and safety of faith in Christ.
When we in our sin we prepare to fight back, defend our honor, and get revenge – the Word of God, Jesus Christ, speaks restraint, turning us from our selves, and turning us to faith in the words of mercy, healing, and peace spoken to us by Jesus and spoken through us with obedient lips.
Explicit in this instruction is the promise that Jesus Christ will show up. When all seems lost, when those closest to us have betrayed us, when the world seems to be coming apart everywhere we look, Jesus, the living Son of God, speaks life – Jesus, the living Son of God, speaks words and wisdom that overwhelm and overpower everything, and everyone, else.
Friends in Christ, the Good News today, the hope in which we offer our testimony is Jesus Christ, the testimony of God.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is God’s testimony given to the world.
The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s testimony of grace, forgiveness, and love for the world. In the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, is God’s testimony that God has entered into all human suffering and pain and is with us there.
The empty tomb is God’s testimony of God’s power of life over all the forces of evil, sin, and death. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb, is God’s testimony that God is a God of the living, and that joined to God in faith, we shall live forever.
Friends, in times such as these, may God’s testimony in Christ, be your testimony. When the changes and chances of life hammer us, may you endure in the love, grace, and healing God proclaims in Christ. In lives of loving service, and with mouths quietly waiting for Christ to speak through them, may you bear testimony today and always.
Thanks be to God.