Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire
Sermon November 29, 2015
Scripture Reading: Luke 21: 25-36
The Rev. Robert Vodra
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.