Year C; Proper 28FB; 11.13.2022
Luke 21:5-19; Isaiah 65
Just over a year ago, on a bright sunny warm day in Turkey, I visited the excavation site of Laodicea. It was an ancient city that was one of the seven churches of The Revelation to John, the last and perplexing book of the Bible. Laodicea is characterized in Revelation as “lukewarm,” wealthy, and entitled. The voice of Jesus in Revelation called them to repent. What I saw a year ago were ruins of a once magnificent city, a basilica of the very early church with its beautiful white marble and brick rubble, on top of a massive hill near the thermal pools of the city of Hierapolis.
You may remember that last year, I was on my sabbatical tour of “The Footsteps of Paul and John.” Throughout the tour, I wondered to myself what caused these early cities to be laid waste and buried under layers and layers of silt, and some of them, layers of other cities built on top of their sites. Were they conquered by outside forces or warring factions, internal corruption and graft? In Turkey, earthquakes were common causes of destruction.
That day in Laodicea, I stood at the large information sign that gave the history and learned that, in fact, earthquakes destroyed this city. At the end of the fifth Century, an earthquake flattened the city and it never fully recovered. Another 100 years later another devastating earthquake hit and damaged the water source from the river. Laodicea was permanently damaged and fell into the hands of marauders.
And now, marble rubble and broken brick was everywhere. So many ancient sites on my tour looked like this. Marble and brick, all “thrown down.” These are the words of Jesus in his prediction in Luke’s gospel today.
Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Jesus and his followers have finally arrived in Jerusalem. In Luke’s Gospel, we follow him teaching, healing and preaching in several chapters as he made his way “up to Jerusalem to die.” And in those chapters, he predicts his death three times. As today’s story opens, he is now walking along the temple mount with his disciples. They see the magnificent temple that Herod the Great built.
As beautiful and impressive as the temple was, Jesus warns his disciples not to be so impressed with the building and all the wealth it symbolized. Don’t be impressed because all will be “thrown down.”
And sure enough, in Luke’s lifetime, that temple was destroyed by the Romans in a siege during the Jewish-Roman war in the year 70 of the Common Era. Jesus knew that many things temporal on this earth don’t last. And he predicts earthquakes, famine, plagues, war, internal conflicts, “dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” as certainties of this temporal world.
Scary stuff. And if that’s not enough to frighten one and all, he says, “There’s more! I predict that you will be arrested and persecuted….and that your family will betray you. Don’t prepare what to say because I will give you the words to tell people about the promises of God that are beyond this bad news. Don’t worry, your endurance will save your soul.”
In the middle of persecution and lots of darkness and disorientation, these words are hard for many of us to believe. Even for the most faithful, fear and despair sneak in and obscure the good news that God’s promises ARE durable from age to age.
Is it possible to imagine God’s promise of a new creation after a disaster? Are the words of the prophet Isaiah Chapter 65 true, that God’s character is to always reverse dislocation, disaster and disorientation? “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind…I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”
Jesus is teaching his followers the prophet Isaiah’s words, “…here is what this new life looks like: there will be enough bread, divisions will cease, people will live long lives and there will be enough food, fruit, vineyards, and houses for everyone. Hold fast to this promise, even in fear and dismay, and do not surrender, for, in the long haul, God’s promises endure, even to the end. They are with us. The Roman Empire and Laodicea, as magnificent as they were, will be thrown down. But God’s promise of a new creation endures.”
I think back on the durability of God’s promises during the early stages of the deadly, chaotic, mysterious, infectious pandemic that took millions of lives worldwide and is still killing people. During that time of terror, it was hard not to think the worst; that we might be done for. I think back on the shock of a joyful choir rehearsal in Washington state, members taking precautions as they understood them, and still, several members died from the infection.
I met a clergyperson recently who retired a few months ago. He described to me his situation as head of his congregation when we all closed our buildings and shut down in-person worship. He said he became paralyzed and literally could not function because the problem was so massive to solve: how to serve and worship, and give glory to God, pray and be in community when it was not safe to be near people.
In that crisis, when things as we know them were “thrown down” it was difficult to trust God to get us through. It was difficult to “testify” to the nature of God who promises to “create a new thing” out of the rubble when we are paralyzed by the darkness. But God did bring us through to the other side. God brought us to a place of renewal. Our vibrant faith and generosity right now testify to this.
On my retreat at the monastery week before last, I prayed and did a little studying on what I might preach about today. I was aware of the dire predictions of violence after our mid-term election. I was a bit worried about violence because I saw armed people in Arizona staking out election boxes that seemed to intimate early voters. I kept thinking of the American Civil War and wondered, “Have we come to this kind of division?”
As an elementary school kid in Kansas, I learned about the bloody massacre in Lawrence, Kansas, when, during the Civil War, a Confederate guerrilla group from slave state Missouri crossed the border into Free State Kansas and slaughtered about 150 unarmed men and boys in Lawrence. These border wars were common. And I was afraid we might have violence now because of our divisions.
Many of us have lived with feelings of heaviness, of fear, of having too much bad news come our way, of despairing injustices and hatred and of not being able to singularly make a difference for the good. And yet, this kind of helplessness and darkness reveal more about God and that darkness and fear are not the end. God’s durability is.
Jesus is inviting us today to share the stories of the durability of God’s salvation and new life that we’ve discovered in the terrible rubble of our lives. Think about these stories in your life and how God has brought you through the doubt and darkness to newness of life. These, my friends, are our words of faith and testimony.