Proper 28c, November 13, 2016

November 13, 2016

The View From Above

Luke 21:5-19


5 When 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.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And 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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there 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. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

When I read a passage of scripture like this it helps me understand why churches aren’t exactly packed with people. This passage isn’t a pretty picture! Jesus overhears his disciples talking about how beautiful the temple was, and it prompted him to explain how utterly it was going to be destroyed. And then he told them to expect all kinds of wars and natural disasters, but before all that took place he said his followers would be arrested and rejected by friends and relatives and some would be killed, but not to worry. Jesus didn’t see such things as terrible tragedies – he saw such occasions as opportunities for people to gain their souls. I’m not saying that people don’t have any interest in getting in touch with their souls, but Jesus doesn’t offer an easy path to that glorious reward.

Jesus isn’t in the business of helping us avoid our worst nightmares – Jesus just wants us to navigate those hard times in ways that will nourish our souls. Don’t worry about the economy or the national debt or global warming or your job or the people who hate you or even your own life. Just pay attention to the state of your soul and you will be fine. This isn’t a message that’s easy to sell to your average American, but it’s not a bad message for us to hear.

I guess we had an election last week, and on some level I think it was a referendum on what we value in our nation. Actually I think most Americans value similar things, but we had an opportunity to choose the people we think can best obtain those things we value. And our presidential election felt a whole lot like a Rorschach Inkblot test to me. That’s the test where they hold up these random and obscure inkblot formed images and you have to decide what it looks like. Some people can look at an inkblot and see an angel in the clouds while someone else can look at that same image and see a vampire bat with blood dripping from it’s fangs. Of course we had actual human images to ponder, and we were given about a year and half to study the images, but last Tuesday we had to say who looked like the right person to occupy what we tend to think of as the most significant position in the world.

I’m describing last week’s presidential election as a Rorschach test because it’s pretty amazing how vastly different those two candidates were viewed by the American people. More people in the right electoral states saw Donald Trump as the person who is best suited for the job, but as we all know that’s not the feeling his image elicited in everyone. We Americans saw amazingly different things when we looked at these two candidates, and that’s what makes last week’s election feel so much like some kind of a psychological experiment.

I don’t want to engage in too much pseudo-psychology about why we as a nation underwent last week. I’m just saying I think it’s pretty interesting that average Americans can look at the same people and come away with such different feelings about them. These two candidates evoked powerfully different reactions, and I think we can all testify to the psychological drama that it’s put us through.

So some people have come to feel like the world has been put back on course, and some of us are feeling like we’ve been knocked off our foundation. Yes, I was one of those who thought Hillary looked like the person for the job. Probably not much of a surprise to anyone. I didn’t feel like it was my place to be very revealing about my political leanings from the pulpit, but I don’t see much harm now in owning up to being a secret member of the pantsuit nation. In fact I can’t help but bring this up because I feel profoundly affected by the election. In all honesty, election night put me in a deep sense of political despair. And I’m still feeling some pain about it all, but that isn’t such a bad thing for me. The experience of losing something that felt very precious to me has put me in touch with the amazingly comforting message of this passage of scripture.

I don’t want to be melodramatic about the situation, but the election of Donald Trump left me feeling like some of the beautiful stones of the temple were starting to fall. I’m sure some of you had the opposite feeling last Tuesday night. Clearly for many Americans, Tuesday night was a great night and a turn of events that reveals great promise for our nation, but that’s not how it left me feeling, and I was in a terrible state of mind until I was reminded by these words from Jesus that I should never allow the events of this world to knock me off my spiritual foundation.

Now please don’t hear me saying that I think either of these presidential candidates rise to the level of a savior or an anti-christ. I don’t believe we are perched on the edge of the apocalypse or that Hillary’s election would have fixed everything, but I think we all know that these two candidates represent remarkably different agendas and frankly speaking Donald Trump scares me on some level. He may govern beautifully, but I’m not confident that he will. I’m still very anxious about the situation, but what I hear Jesus saying is that I really don’t have to worry about that. What I need to worry about is the condition of my soul, and the state of my soul should never be jeopardized by what’s going on in the world.

This is an incredible oversimplification of the situation. We all know it’s impossible not to worry about current events, and anyone who isn’t affected by what’s going on in their house, or their neighborhood, or our nation, or the world is probably out of their mind, but Jesus is offering some nice perspective in this passage of scripture. And what I hear Jesus saying is that regardless of what’s swirling around us we must always remember to protect the most valuable thing we have been given. As Christians, we are to be more concerned about our souls than anything else.

Of course it’s impossible to live as perfect spiritual beings. We are physical as well, and I don’t know how anyone can live without having some concern for these powerful forces and events that occur in our lives, but it’s so helpful to remember what our lives look like from God’s perspective. The question isn’t what’s going on, but how we are responding to those things that are going on. God doesn’t care what the Temple looks like – God cares about the soul that abides in the temple that each of us represent, and how well life is being preserved within those temples. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t care about our neighbors and our world, but we should go about our work of caring for one another with profound trust in the benevolence of God.

What I’m hearing Jesus say in this passage of scripture is that the condition of our souls is not something that’s under the control of anyone other than ourselves and our God. The president of the United States can’t save or destroy this most precious thing that is within each of us. Difficult circumstances can jeopardize our souls. We can allow hard times to harden our souls, but that is not what will happen if we will trust in these gracious words of Jesus.

And what I hear Jesus saying is that when hard times happen, our souls can actually become more anchored in the source of true life.

I asked Andrea if the choir could do the song: Precious Lord, because it’s a song that was born out of tragedy. It was written by Thomas Dorsey, who was an African American musician and songwriter in the early 1900s. As a young man he had a career as a house musician in some of the great nightclubs in Chicago. But he gravitated toward gospel music, and he is actually known as the Father of Gospel music as we know it. But this grand title didn’t come easy.

Many people didn’t like the way he turned the rhythms of nightlife in to songs for Sunday morning. He was slow to be accepted in to many churches, but it slowly caught on, and he was helping with a large revival in St. Louis when he got a telegram that his wife had died in childbirth. They were living in Chicago, and he immediately went home. She had given birth to a son, but then the child died the next day, and as you can imagine this threw him in to a deep despair.

He was inconsolable for an extended period of time, and he could hardly bring himself to play any music, but as he was sitting near a piano at a friend’s house one day he found the tune and the words to this song, Precious Lord, playing over and over in his mind, and it became the avenue for his recovery as well as a source of tremendous comfort for many others who’ve had to deal with great pain or loss.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that the most essential aspect of our lives is not under the control of anything that transpires on earth. The most essential thing is the condition of our soul and that isn’t something that can be improved or destroyed by a president, a natural disaster, an enemy, or a friend. Yes, terrible things happen. Calamity and humiliation land on the heads of good people. Chaos and violence are rampant in this world. The truth is masked in profound ways, and death touches all of us. In many ways it appears that God has nothing to do with the way this world operates, but in fact God is present to us in all of the moments of our lives.

We probably aren’t as inclined to look to God when things are going well for us, and that’s probably a mistake on our part, but we make up for it when things go badly. God doesn’t generally resolve our problems for us, but I believe God does provide what we need to endure the difficulties that this world presents to us, and the way God does this is a beautiful thing.

God is involved in our world and in our lives, but God doesn’t move us in or out of harm’s way. What God does is to provide our spiritual lives with sufficient grace to flourish regardless of what our worldly selves are having to endure.

A soul is a mysterious thing. You can’t go on the internet and find a credible diagram of one, but Jesus considered it to be the most essential part of who we are. And he wanted us to understand that the most trying times on the surface of life can be the most fertile times for our souls.

I think we’ve all heard someone say that the things that don’t kill you will make you stronger. I don’t know that’s always true. Sometimes terrible experiences simply leave people wounded on deeper levels, but our message today is that God is with us in our trials, and God always provides a way for our souls to thrive – even if our bodies don’t survive.

I don’t want to romanticize suffering. And speaking as a person who is currently experiencing the pain of political defeat I can testify that it’s not a desirable position to be in. Nobody likes to lose, but I can also say that I find a certain sweetness in these words of Jesus that I’ve never really tasted before. His words remind me, that the only real disaster in life occurs when we fail to watch out for that eternal element that God has placed within each of us.

It’s a precious thing to have a soul. And our precious Lord provides us with the grace we need to keep it alive at all times and under every circumstance. Thanks be to God. Amen.


One Response to “Proper 28c, November 13, 2016”

  1. Earl Jones Says:

    Thank you Thompson, I too was very depressed with the election results, the scripture and your sermon helped me put everything in perspective , where it should have been.

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