Sunday, November 17, 2019
Trust in Him and not be Afraid
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson
November 17, 2019
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Sometimes we have readings where the response of “Thanks be to God” or “Praise to you Lord Christ” are well less than enthusiastic. How many of you this morning if you really listened to what I just read from Luke would enthusiastically shout Praise to you Lord Christ? Praise for what? On first reading, this gospel may seem absolutely dreadful, full of bad news not good news. Finding the good news of course is the challenge that we face this morning. Trust me the good news is in here in two ways.
To begin with we need to look at the setting of this passage. All three synoptic gospels have a passage filled with apocalyptic images and messages.
In particular this one in Luke with the great detail of events that Jesus is saying will happen. For me the key in all this is to remember that Luke is writing all of this 50 to 60 years after Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead. Every one of the events listed had already happened when Luke wrote his gospel.
The temple was destroyed in 70 and by the end of that first century Jerusalem was reduced to an insignificant Roman outpost. The portents in the sky had come in the form of a comet that appeared in the shape of a sword and was observed for quite a few months. The persecutions of Nero and other emperors had already occurred. Stephen the first deacon and martyr has already given his spirit inspired testimony in front of the judges before he is executed. Do remember that Luke also wrote that account for he wrote both Luke and Acts. Families had been torn apart and Luke is talking about and to those who had survived!
Luke’s audience all knew what had happened. The events that Jesus is foretelling are already history by the time Luke is writing. Remember Luke is writing an orderly account as he says in the beginning of his gospel. Luke in all likelihood never knew or heard Jesus preach. Luke is constructing his gospel from the existing gospel of Mark and then other sources. If Luke had been around to actually hear Jesus he would have to be 70 or 80 years old remembering and writing things heard as a very young boy. One can almost imagine Luke talking with the children or grandchildren of those who knew Jesus. “Now what were the predictions that Jesus made just before he was arrested?”
So what is the point that Luke is trying to make by this careful recitation of these prophesies. The message is that disasters happen, pain happens, tribulations happen but in the midst of these we are called to trust in God. The message is that God is always there for us no matter how bleak or difficult the times, no matter how challenging our lives are. Ultimately what is of this world will perish, but not so the kingdom. God’s world, God’s kingdom will endure and we are called to put our hope and trust in that fact.
Some people believe that if they are faithful, believe in God hard enough they will never face any tribulation or trial. Faith however is not some sort of insurance policy against disaster. What is insured is that you will not face your trials alone.
In a sermon preached by former VTS Dean Jesse Trotter he told the following story. “When I was fifty-six of age and busily at work as dean of a theological seminary, the absolutely unthinkable happened. My son John committed suicide at the age of 22. I now learned in the depth of my heart what F.D. Maurice had long ago taught me intellectually, that classroom notions, ideas, concepts of God are fragile things. You can fall through all such notions, ideas and concepts of God and you will fall into God. You will not fall through God to nothingness. There is a divine ground that becomes the ground beneath your feet. You stand, and having done all, you stand because you are standing on the firm ground of God.”[i]
The second piece of good news here is that when we know that God is with us, the Spirit will give us the words we need, when we need them. This passage foreshadows the powerful testimony of Stephen when he was on trial and all the times Paul would speak spirit inspired words.
Many of us get all nervous when asked to speak about our faith or heaven forbid be asked to pray without a prayer book in our hands. This passage is the assurance that the Spirit will speak through us if we just are open. You hear this in the opening prayer that I say before every sermon. I learned this from The Rev. Nick White, rector of St. Paul’s Cleveland Hts. when I was a member there. “Gracious and living God, so overrule my words that your words may be heard. And being heard may be believed and being believed may be lived.” It starts with asking the Spirit for the words and then everything flows from that.
God give me the words is a great prayer! Tell me what to say, how to say it when I do not know what to say. Of course sometimes the answer is not to say anything but just be with the person.
This passage is the assurance that God is the firm foundation upon which we stand as faithful Christians. The problem is remembering in times of stress that God is with us at all times. That is one of the reasons I carry an Anglican Rosary in my pocket at all times. This serves as a tactile reminder of God’s presence with me at all times and in all places. As I pray with this rosary the prayer I say on each of the small beads is this, “I am here, I am with you, We are one.” This prayer can work in a couple of ways. I say the first phrase while breathing in. This is a conscious invitation to Christ to enter into me. I breathe out on the second phrase, I am with you, as an acknowledgement that I am responding to that presence. Finally the phrase we are one signifies the unity of Christ and my soul as I live my life.
I carry an Anglican Rosary in my pocket. In part this is for prayer, but it is also my reminder of God’s presence with me at all times. When you came in this morning, I had the ushers give each of you a small decorative stone. I am suggesting that you use this as a Jesus stone. Put it in your pocket for the next week or carry it in your purse. Whenever your hand touches it, stop and acknowledge God’s presence in your life at that moment.
The people of ancient Israel understood this. We hear it in the First song of Isaiah:
Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
[i] This quote was provided by the Rev. Keith Emerson in an online discussion of this passage.