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Open-Mouthed Tourists

Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, "The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!" "Teacher," they asked, "when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?" He replied, "Don't let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Messiah,' and saying 'The time has come!' But don't believe them." -Luke 21:5-9

So our reading today begins with Jesus approaching the temple. I've mentioned the last couple weeks Jesus has been on a journey of making his way to that final destination, that place where he would be arrested and tortured and executed. But along the way he'd made some stops, and now he's arrived. He's at the temple. Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish faith. It was a cosmopolitan city even then, and apparently the crowds had gathered to marvel at this temple, this place where the Jewish people came to worship and offer their sacrifices. The place where God himself resided. It was majestic, it was beautifully adorned, and we're told that the people gathered and said, "Look how beautiful it is. The stonework, the gifts that have been dedicated to God." They were just like those tourists that sometimes we are and sometimes we encounter when we go and visit places. They wouldn't have had cameras, but yet they were gawking and looking and staring and taking it all in. And Jesus says, "Don't get too attached. Don't get too attached to all of that because you know what? A time is coming when not one stone will be left on top of another. It'll all be thrown down."

Well a lot thought, surely this can't be. And yet history tells us that it was probably within 30 years of Jesus saying that, that the Romans did destroy the temple. You can go to Jerusalem today and you can see remnants and parts of it and a wall that still exists, but the temple was destroyed and it was not rebuilt after that. Jesus' words were prophetic. They were a warning, but more importantly Jesus was helping to remind those that were with him of what was truly important. Today we sometimes get attached to our spaces and places as well. And I think Jesus' words ring true as well. Even in the history of this church I know there was a fire many years ago and the space that you worship in has changed over time from what's now the street at the other end to the space out there to this space. It's changed and you've adjusted and you've adapted. But Jesus reminds us that it's not just about the building. It's not just about the bricks and the mortar and everything that make the structure. Because no matter how permanent they may seem, he tells us there's no guarantees.

Boy that's not a very cheery message he shared with them. Last couple of weeks he's been duking it out with the Pharisees and Sadducees and the scribes and all those people that are coming at him and now he turns to those that are with him and says, "Yeah forget about all that. That big temple, don't worry about it, that's nothing." And then he goes on and talks about how all of these things are going to be taking place. They ask him, "Okay Jesus tell us when this is going to happen." And he says, "Beware and don't be led astray." When I hear these words where he says don't be led astray, I take that as don't get distracted. Don't get caught up on the shiny objects that are in front of you. Don't be distracted by all of the dazzling and captivating things that are before you. Because if you do you're going to miss out on the things that really matter. But he continues and he says, "Don't let anyone lead you astray and you're going to hear about these wars and insurrections."

"You're going to hear about nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom and earthquakes and famines and plagues and all kinds of dreadful stuff." And the disciples said, "Yay!" Oh no, they didn't. But the truth of it is, it's those kinds of things that capture our attention and they captured the attention then as well. I know it developed out of newspaper media many years ago, but that tag line, if it bleeds it leads. That those types of things that are catastrophic are often what garner our attention. We heard a lot about Hurricane Ian as it was bearing down on Florida. Side note, thank you to all of your generous support of UMCOR for the gift that we'll be sending in to help with those relief efforts. We heard about it as it's coming, we saw the immediate aftermath. I can't tell you the last time I saw anything on the television about it though, because that's old news.

But never mind the fact that the people that are living it are in many ways still living it, difficultly. We get caught up in those things that captivate us and demand our attention because it's right in front of us. And Jesus, he goes so far as to say that these things must take place. Now wait a minute Jesus, does that mean that God's got a calendar on the wall up there in heaven that says, okay, on such and such a date this is going to happen in this place and next day this is going to happen. I don't think that's Jesus' intention. In fact, I think it's a disservice to people of faith when people try to speculate and say, well God did this and here's the reason why.

Because I don't see God working that way. So what is it that Jesus is getting at? Why is he saying that all of these dreadful terrible things are going to happen and they have to happen and we need to be ready for it. He even goes so far as to tell them that and look you're going to be arrested and persecuted and people are going to betray you, even your loved ones will. But Jesus begins building up to I think what is really the heart of what he's trying to say here. In verse 13, he continues by saying, "This will give you an opportunity to testify." This will give you an opportunity to testify. Alright Jesus, so we have an opportunity to testify but what is it then that we're to testify? You're talking about these terrible things happening so what do we possibly have to share and to say in the midst of all of that, to what should we testify?

Surely we're not going to be able to say that when I accepted Jesus in my life everything was roses and rainbows and no problems, no difficulties, no nothing. Because you're saying all of these things are going to happen. So what do we testify to because if it's not that life is so good because of you, what do we share? What do we say? Well God never promised us a life free from difficulty or hardship but he did promise us joy and blessing. He promised us hope and peace. He promised to be with us in the midst of the most difficult things that we will face. Jesus is telling those that were with him and he's telling us today there's going to be plenty of things that happen in this life. There are going to be plenty of things that unsettle you, plenty of things that terrify you and frustrate you and make you angry, but in the midst of all of that my Father's plan will still continue. My Father's plan will come to completion in due course. So you have an opportunity to testify.

You have an opportunity to testify to the fact that in spite of all of these things God is still good. God is still loving and just and the immediate circumstance before you may not tell you that. As people of faith we're not informed by the world. We're not informed by the circumstances before saying, okay, things are going good so God must be good, things are going bad so God must be upset with me. But rather in spite of all of that we understand that life happens, things are going to take place in this world and in the midst of all of that, God's goodness never changes.

God's plan to bring about salvation for all this world is still on track. It still challenges us. It's hard when we're in the midst of those things. We want answers, we want things to make sense just like the question of those who said, "Teacher, when is this going to happen? We want to know because if we know it gives us some sense of feeling like we have some decision, some control in the matter." But we don't, but that's okay. Because if we had that much control we would just mess things up all the more. Jesus is calling us to keep our eyes upon God, upon that prize, that reward, that gift that is being offered. That life will have its ups and downs, but trust him and use that as an opportunity to testify. I've known a lot of people in ministry over the years. When I think about people who testify in the midst of difficult circumstances, there are always a few people who rise to the surface of that. Someone who's struggling with a serious and life threatening illness who still has a smile on her face and still says, "God has been so good to me." Knowing that the end is drawing near.

Someone who's lost everything in a devastating fire and still rejoices and gives thanks to God saying, "At least we're all okay." Jesus isn't trying to demoralize us. He isn't trying to discourage us. But he's pointing to the fact that life's going to happen. And sometimes we have to roll with it, but continue to trust that God will be there. What's more when he says to have this opportunity to testify, he's calling and inviting us to rely completely upon him.

Because in the following verse it says, "So make up your mind not to prepare your defense in advance." So don't write it out, don't script it out, don't think okay when this has happened this is what I'm going to say. He says rather, "For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict." Jesus is saying, "Don't think that you can do this by yourself. You need me. So let go. Surrender to me, trust me, allow me to give you the words that you're going to need in that moment." And so it's not something that we'd sit back idly and passively just with our hand out saying, "Okay Jesus, give me my words." But rather it's something that is possible when we nurture and develop that relationship with him. It's through our connectedness, it's through our intimacy with Jesus, it's through that time that we spend praying, it's through that time that we spend reading and reflecting upon his words that we know him more fully.

And the more fully that we are known by him, the more available we are to be the people that he needs us to be. Many people will testify and be able to tell you that life is hard. Life throws us a curveball and we're at a loss for words. Sometimes if you've ever been there for a friend who's gone through something like that, you want to be able to say the right thing. Offer those words that will just suddenly make everything seem better and put it all in perspective. But seldom does that happen. The testifying often comes through humility, of saying, "I don't know what to say." And it's the showing up that makes the difference. And if we were to offer any words, the ones that come to mind for me were written by Bill Gaither in the hymn, Because he Lives. The refrain for that hymn says, "Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future and life is worth the living just because he lives." I know he holds the future. I don't know what the future looks like, but I know he holds it.

I don't know what life is gonna bring around the next corner, but I know it's worth living because Jesus lives. That's what Jesus is inviting us to be a part of. A life of trust, a life of faith, a life that is confident that we don't know what the future holds, but we know the one who holds it. When we look at all these things that Jesus predicts, it's easy to look at our world right now and say, Oh, look, why COVID could be some pestilence. This whole Russia Ukraine thing, nation raging against nation, conflicts, famines, earthquakes, if there's not one in the news right now, wait a few minutes, there probably will be. But right now, right now is probably no different than any other point in history because people always have been able to look around and say, "Look what's going on." But just like our short memories about Ian and other things that have happened in our world, it's easier to focus on the things that are right here in front of us. The things right here in front of us demand our attention. The things right here in front of us are often very urgent and very pressing.

And what Jesus is inviting us to do is to step back, not to focus on this, not to focus on the things that are bright and shiny and distracting and calling our attention, but to step back and remember and be reminded and notice that the one who holds the future is in the midst of all of it. That God is there working to bring about his good and perfect will in the lives of all. Amen.

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