The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire

Sermon  November 29, 2015
Scripture Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

The Rev. Robert Vodra

      If you were here a few weeks ago, we read a similar story to this one in the book of Mark.  In the book of Mark Jesus was talking about the destruction of the temple, and perhaps, in some way, the end of the need for the temple.  But this week is much clearer, the Son of Man riding in a cloud with power and great glory.

     And just like Mark did, Luke describes Jesus’ disciples saying “When will this happen?”  But this is where Luke takes a slightly different twist.  It is helpful to know that Luke’s Gospel was probably written after Mark’s gospel. 

     Quick lesson.  There are many theories about how the 3 synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke were put together.  The most accepted today is that Mark was written first, and then there was a source we have named “Q” which was probably quotes of Jesus and little bits.  We don’t have any copy of “Q,” so we don’t know exactly what was in there.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all have some of the same stories, word for word, or close enough word for word that we are pretty sure that some of them had access to another.  Why do we think Mark was written first, well that is harder?  There are some errors in Mark with Geography, history, grammar, things like that.  When you look at Matthew and Luke, some bits were omitted, and others were corrected.  But there are also bits of Matthew and Luke that are the same, word for word, but do not appear in Mark’s Gospel.  So there probably was another source available to them, for them to form their own story of Jesus’ life.  So most scholars today believe that Mark and “Q” were written first, followed by Luke and Matthew.  Synoptic is just a word meaning Syn, one or same, and optic, eye.  So viewed from the same eye.  John, is not a synoptic gospel, written from a very different point of view, and having nothing exactly the same as any of the other 3 gospels. 

     So why is this important?  It helps us to understand that Luke was writing for a group about 15 or 20 years after Mark.  When is the temple going to be destroyed? Well, it was destroyed, quite a while aqo.  When is the Son of Man going to return?  Well a lot has happen since Mark suggested very soon.  There have been earthquakes, and wars, and famine, and still no Jesus.  So Luke takes a bit different approach.  Focuses more on the return of Jesus, since the temple is gone by the time he writes this, and still promises that it will happen, but may not be tomorrow or the next day.

     We spend a lot of time in our lives waiting.  When I was growing up, I could not wait until Christmas or my birthday.  As I got a bit older, the things I was waiting for were further off.  I cannot wait until I turn 16, I will be able to drive.  I cannot wait until I turn 18, I will be off to college and living away from my parents.  I cannot wait until I turn 21, I will be able to consume an adult beverage legally.  I cannot wait until I graduate from Seminary, it will be so nice to have time to read a book that is not required for a class. 

     And for many of us the waiting never stops.  I cannot wait until I get my next paycheck so I can put down that deposit on the new car.  I cannot wait for my next vacation.  I cannot wait for retirement.
     In the church, we have seasons of waiting.  Advent is waiting for Christmas.  Lent is waiting for Easter.  And we are always waiting for the day in which we believe Jesus will return.
     And waiting is hard.  When I was 15, and probably even before that, I could hardly wait until I could drive.  I was taking care of the church and parsonage lawn that summer, and they had a little lawn tractor.  I put more miles on that, and kept the lawn mowed better than anyone ever had before.  Two or three times a week my mother would drive me over to the church.  I would go into the barn and gas up the lawn mower, and I was off.  The weed whacking and trimming, were not as important to me, but it was fun to drive that lawn mower.  As I got closer to my birthday I got to start the car and back it out of the garage.  Then one day in school our gym teacher had us running around the track.  Somehow I fell down, and broke my left arm.  The full arm cast that I was put in had by hand twisted around, like I was carrying an armload of firewood, or maybe a baby.  But there was no way I could hold the steering wheel of a car at 10 and 2 with my arm in that cast.  By the time I got out of the cast, driver’s ed had already started, so I had to wait until the fall to get signed up for that.  My father did let me get my learner’s permit, once I got my cast off and would bring me to the school parking lot on a Saturday now and then to let me park, and back up, and park and back up.  All that waiting, and all I could do for months was drive around an empty parking lot learning how to park.
     We are in a season of waiting now.  Advent, waiting to celebrate the birth of our savior. I think it loses a bit of its excitement over time.  We know it is going to happen on December 25.  If you come on December 24th, you will probably recognize most, if not all of the hymns, you will have heard the story before and we will sing Silent Night by candlelight.  A bit of the unexpected is gone.
     Luke, it seems to me, is talking less about when and more about what we do until this happens, which is helpful as we are waiting for Christmas or waiting for the return of Christ.  How we do live, in a community that believes Jesus will return, until Jesus returns?  Luke suggested that we will know the time, like when we see the leaves on a fig tree we know that summer is here.  So don’t worry so much about when, it will be obvious.  But how do we live until then?

     And Jesus is clear “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Of course he warns against drunkenness, being weighed down by the worries of life, and not paying attention, but I think the most important part of this passage is where Jesus says Stand up, Raise your Heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
     This can be a powerful guiding passage in these days.
     There are days in which I really don’t want to deal with the world.  Not individual people, but my gosh we have a lot of world problems.  Everyday people getting shot.  There are terrorists in every city it seems.  Planes are getting shot down, the State Department issued a travel advisory.  And all of these events feed into our fear.

     Fear is one of the most powerful feelings we have.  No matter what your political views, both sides are using fear.  Mexicans are coming into our country to take our jobs, we need to build a wall and deport anyone here illegally.  Syrian refugees might be terrorists, so no matter what the government does to screen these refugees for possible settlement in the United States it is not enough.  The top 1/10th of one percent has almost wealth as the bottom 90%.  Student debt has gotten to the point where many good students cannot afford to go to college without amassing huge amounts of debt.  Your children will not do better and may not even do as well as you did.  But you don’t even have to get into politics, use this toothpaste or your breath will smell bad.  Sleep on his bed, or you will not get a good night of sleep. Shop here, or you will spend too much money. 

     Jesus reminds us that he is the Lord of history and, because we trust that he will in time bring all things to a good end, we can in the meantime stand together in courage and compassion and treat all persons with the love of God we have known in him. This is the hope that is the hallmark of Christian community, the hope that rings throughout Scripture each time a biblical character sings that summary of the Gospel, “Do not fear.” It is a message never more needed than today, when so many of our actions and decisions seem driven by fear, a lack of confidence, and an overwhelming sense of scarcity.

     Our community can be places of light and hope, courage and confidence that welcome all those struggling with fear and darkness. We can remind them, in the words that come at the end of this season, that the light of Christ shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. We can, in other words, when we begin to grow afraid, bid each other again and again to stand up and raise our heads, confident that our redemption draws near.

     This is not to say that problems are gone.  There are serious problems, but we have a choice to live in fear or to stand up, raise our heads, give mutual encouragement and address the problems.

     I always want to put words into action, and we, as a church and individuals do.  Shortly after this service we will be ringing our church bell, along with many, many other churches around New England, and I believe further, to send a message of hope for the UN climate change conference starting in Paris later this week.  One way for us to stand up and raise our heads as our redemption draws near.
     Many religious leaders and members of our churches have stood up this week to say that the US, as a nation of immigrants, should not turn its back on our global responsibility to the Syrian refugees.  This last year my son had to do a project on his family, where they came from.  While we do track bits of our history back to some of the earliest settlers, there are many who came later.  We have not found any connection to the Native Americans, which means that, as far as we can tell, we are 100% immigrant, from many different counties over many years.  When we talk about refugees, we are called to stand up, raise our heads, confident that our redemption draws near.
     Many have also called out those leaders, or potential leaders, who are calling for US Mosques to be monitored, and our Muslim brothers and sisters to put into some kind of data base to be watched.  As a community of Light and hope, we are called to stand up, raise our heads, confident that our redemption draws near.
     There are so many things going on in this world, but it is not our job to turn our backs on these issues, or live in fear.  We are in a season of waiting, of anticipating, at this time awaiting the time in which we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  We also live in a season of waiting, of anticipating those things which we believe will happen, but we don’t know the time.  But this passage gives us the message, do not fear.  We will know when it is happening, but in the meantime, we know how we are being called to act.  Stand up, raise your head, and be confident that our redemption is drawing near.