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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before November 13, 2016

Luke 21:5-19

5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“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.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

What I Am Learning:

Some of Jesus' disciples were speaking about the Temple. They talked about how beautiful the stone work was and admiring all the other gifts dedicated to God.

As a small town boy, I can easily understand their awe. Sometimes still I look at big cities and am amazed at their complexity and marvel at the engineering and skill it took to build them.

But then you look around at our cities and you see what is really important: human beings.

Some are rich, others in the middle, and yet others homeless or on the edge of it. You can see if you choose, in slow motion, gentrification pushing people of color out of their neighborhoods again.

It has been clear for a long time that our economic system, our political system, and our religious systems are not functioning for people or for the planet we all are a part of.

Wealth and income is not being shared widely enough. In the places where this income and wealth disparity get bad enough, it becomes a form of violence that begets other violence which we then blame them for.

We are using up the resources of our planet and using the atmosphere as a waste containment system for carbon dioxide. As global climate change continues to worsen, we will see more famine, more immigration, more property destruction.

We know we can't keep living this way.

Some of our political candidates have spoken this truth out loud, with of course, vast differences in their proposals for what to do about it. Some have spoken of the need for change without any proposals at all.

Our appetite for the kind of change it would take varies by the moment. And when it is high, we are not sure what to change first, or how much or who we would trust enough to lead such a change.

Our trust in our institutions is at a historical low. People don't trust government. A Chapman University study in 2016 found that 60.6% of the US population is concerned about government corruption. 37% were afraid of economic collapse and 40% were concerned about having enough money for the future. The fastest growing segment in the religious realm are those who have no religious preference at all.

We can't keep living this way and we don't know where all this goes.

This was true in the first century, too.

Throughout Luke Jesus critiques the Roman Empire's way of domination:

  • a spirituality of competition - the idea that to be human is to win at all costs and that losers are less than human
  • a winner take all economy
  • a colonialism that took other people's money, goods, and resources

He saw that the Temple system was run by people collaborating with this way of domination.

  • soft-selling God's vision for a new heaven and a new earth - the idea that human beings can live meaningfully as neighbors in mutual relationships
  • blaming the poor for being poor
  • actively taking homes from widows
  • mis-taking rituals for faithfulness

So Jesus proclaimed that God's vision was even then bubbling up like leaven, sprouting like seed in a field, like light from a lamp. God's vision of human beings living in harmony with the earth and at peace with themselves and one another was not far off, but beginning now and one day fulfilled.

But in the in-between times, while the seeds are germinating and the yeast yet to raise the bread, there are going to be some tough times. There is going to be conflict, persecution and disruption.

What Jesus proposes in this week's reading is that the disruptions are actually opportunities to testify to God's vision, to God's way of mutuality. Such disruptions are actually a part of a larger story of God's healing and creation of the world and that our small testimony in the midst of them makes a real difference.

Many of our churches believe in a version of the Boy Scouts credo: church and country.  Some have flags in their sanctuaries, conflating the goodness of God with the economic and social systems of a country. The Bible contains both critiques and at least tolerance for such systems. A king is good for a ploughed field, (Ecclesiastes 5:9). But the Bible contains much critique of unjust social systems beginning with the core of the Hebrew Scripture, Exodus and on to the prophets and to John the Baptist and Jesus himself.

But what do you do when church and country are broken, unjust parts of an inequitable and unsustainable system?

Jesus says that we trust not in church or country, but in the God whose long arm is moving the universe to justice. That we see our small activities as meaningful parts of that long movement. That we prepare ourselves to testify to the God of all people in the midst of all that is wrong. That we trust in a new day when God's way of mutuality graces the earth and God's heavenly ways guide our paths.

So things are shaking apart, or at least shaking up. May the Holy Spirit give us our testimony and help us trust to God even the hairs of our heads.