Audio 23 Pentecost Proper 28 Yr C Nov 17 2019
Malachi 4:1-2a, Psalm 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
When I watch people interviewed on the news after a horrible disaster, like the fires in California, they wonder how they’ll survive, they wonder what they’ll do, they wonder why this happened. Life for them has ended as they have known it, and in the midst of such grief it is so very hard to see your way out. Sometimes though, they realize that they are thankful no one died, and it is only stuff that was burnt or blown away. All of us have experienced something like this grief to a degree, some much more than others.
Luke is describing something like this deep, abiding grief in this gospel today. People are talking about the beauty of the temple, and Jesus reminds them of the fate of their temple in Jerusalem. It cannot and will not stand against the oppression of the Roman empire. So Jesus reminds them what happens when a people are willing to trust in God’s new vision for their community.
They may be harassed, bullied, and tormented. Or they may be torn down, torn apart, left for dead. The world in which they live may come tumbling down before the new creation rises out of the rubble. This story that we read in Luke today is a story that is also true in our world today. And it is true in our storytelling. You all know how much I love a good dystopian novel. That is a novel in which the story takes place after some destructive event, and the characters live in a world of violence, or hopelessness. But in the story the characters may begin to build a world with new values, new relationships, new hope. I love to read these stories because I think they tell our human story, yes, at our worst, and yet, they point the reader to something new, something hopeful. These are stories that often show new life, new creation, new vision, arising out of death and destruction. And that is exactly what we have in Luke’s gospel.
And, they tell us something about what might happen if we don’t change our ways, either as individuals or as a community or a nation. A prophetic story, like the one we have before us from Luke’s gospel calls us to change our ways, change our trajectory. I think these stories, the one in scripture, and the one in the novel have a lot to say to each other and to us. Like two characters in a story.
So, there’s a series of novels and the first one is called Divergent. I believe there were movies made, but I don’t usually watch movies made out of novels I love. The setting is in Chicago, after the United States has pretty much self-destructed. Society is structured in factions, or groups of people who live in community and share a particular characteristic. This seemed a good solution to the problems they faced, problems like racism or classism. The factions don’t mix, they all contribute to the whole to make the society work, but the people don’t mix, they don’t become friends, they stay with their own kind. When a child reaches 16, they may make a lifetime choice to change faction, and this choice is made and received often with shunning from the family. It should be clear which faction one is suited for. However, our main character does not fit into one particular category, and eventually she finds others who do not fit, and together they work toward a new vision. Our main character, Tris, and the band of misfits that found each other, had to face their fears, and then to find the strength and talent and community to move toward that new vision. But that new vision cost them a lot.
That society had clear lines and divisions between people, hierarchies of power and prestige. Not so different from the culture that Jesus lived in, and may be not so different from what we have before us today. Jesus was calling his followers and all who he encountered to change, to turn around, to turn toward God and be a part of the new vision that God creates out of the rubble of our lives, the rubble of our very thick walls. This is how prophecy works. This is how stories work, and we need to pay attention.
Jesus calls us to cross the divisions, build the bridges, do not be afraid. Jesus calls us to not live divided as factions, but to live interdependent as a body. Jesus calls us to live the new vision that God is creating for us today. It won’t prevent the temple from falling, and it won’t necessarily prevent the social structure from collapsing, but Jesus never promises it will be easy.
The Good news is that we will not perish, we will gain our souls. You see, the worst thing is not dying, the worst thing is not living. Living as the image of God. The image of God is each and every one of us, the image of God is our beauty and worth, the image of God is our uniqueness and our gift. The image of God is our diversity and our alikeness.
The new vision is not our buildings, that will fall down, or our rules, that will change, or even this most beautiful liturgy, that will pass away. The new vision is each of us created in God’s image, the new vision is a life following Jesus.
Today, we baptize Riley Ann. Her parents bring her to us, her parents come to us, trusting that we embody this community, this new creation, this image of God. In baptism we walk with Jesus and with one another across the divide, through death to new life, across factions to interdependence. In baptism we receive God’s grace, and we have all we need to be God’s agents in the world, to love one another as God has first loved us. In baptism we are equipped to be heralds of the new vision, the new kingdom, in which all creation is welcome, all are God’s beloveds.