Luke's Jesus is standing in the temple. The crowd around him admires the fine stones, the sturdy structure; they are proud of the results of their capital campaign. It is one fine temple they have built. But Jesus doesn't join in the praise. Instead we hear doom and gloom and destruction. What's all this about?
This is actually a morning-after bit of scripture. Every year at his time of year, the church gives us a version of this story where Jesus says the temple's going to come crashing down. When these stories were first written for the early Christians, the temple had already collapsed-demolished in the year 70 by Roman troops as they quashed the Jewish revolt. And so in this story we get this morning-after kind of commentary-it's a kind of political commentary.
It's a kind of commentary we find all through the Bible, from Jesus, and from the Hebrew prophets long before him. It's a making-sense commentary, figuring out what has happened and what to do about it. It's Jesus, once again, talking politics, standing right in the temple.
Luke's story is one of the stories the first-century church told to try to make sense of living in hard times. The center of their religious and social and economic life, the temple, lies in ruins. The chance for revolution is over. Everything has changed. Now what? How would they survive under Caesar's newly revved-up reign of persecution?
So we see Jesus tells them what they already know, what is happening all around them: they will get arrested and persecuted.
Jesus tells them what they need to do: this is their opportunity to testify, to speak up as people of faith and they will be given the wisdom to know what to say.
And Jesus tells them what they already believe, but what they need to hear again and again: "By your endurance, you will gain your souls."
That's the truth and the task and the promise: not good times, not victory, instead, hard work and hard times, he tells them. But in these times you will know abundance, you will live life fully. You will not gain ease or riches, but you will gain wisdom, you will have integrity-"gain your souls" is the way he says it. You will remember who you are: you are beloved of God; you are the people of the new way-not the way of Empire, not the way of Caesar, but God's new way. You are the Beloved Community that endures.
The people who first heard this story were afraid. Jesus doesn't sidestep their fear, and he doesn't fan it. He tells them the truth. You will be arrested. You will be persecuted. This is a time of trial in every sense of the word. And your job is this: testify, stand up, step up, speak out. Remember who you are and proclaim it. You are equipped for these times with wisdom and endurance and ultimately grace-you will gain your souls. And you will not be alone.
Important words for those first-century listeners. Important words for us. These are hard times: the recent government shutdown, the failure of congress to pass any kind of meaningful legislation on climate change or gun violence, cuts in food programs, our loss of standing on the international scene-it seems as if our national "temple" has fallen as well. The temple has fallne, democracy is broken and people are getting hurt. Surely this is a moment for the church to testify, stand up, step up and speak out.
Walter Brueggemann says that "Ours is such a time when the force of market-driven exploitation threatens to undo the human community."
In the face of that threat, he says: "the church celebrates the rule of God, boldly attests its truth, and daily acts it out. Our time of crisis is indeed "biblical" in urgency and proportion. We are summoned to daring resolve and daily effort for the coming rule of God."
This "rule of God" is not something that we talk about too often. But it's pretty much what Jesus talks about all the time in his public words and deeds: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger.
In the beatitudes, Jesus describes this radical new rule that flies in the face of the Empire:
the poorest of the poor are the place we find God-not the temples of power;
the meek-not the mighty--inherit the earth;
peace, not war, is the new way of God.
This new way announced and lived by Jesus, is the way of God's Beloved Community, in the first century and the 21st. And so it is our way, now, and our time, to hear those morning-after words, and act in kind: to testify, stand up, step up, speak out. We are equipped for these times with wisdom and endurance and ultimately grace-and we will gain our souls. And we will not be alone.
Echoes from the Edge
By Christopher Craun, 2013-14 Beatitudes Fellow - November 11th, 2013
During my time away with the Beatitudes Society, an audio clip of Dr. Howard Thurman's Baccalaureate Address at Spelman College from May 4th, 1980 was shared with us. His address has haunted me every day since hearing it. It was the timbre of his voice, a conviction that came from deep within him and that hung in every word he uttered, with great intention. I felt his words reverberate in the center of my being and I wanted nothing more than to answer his question.
These are his words:
"There is something in every one of you that waits, listens for the genuine in yourself - and if you cannot _hear it, you will never find whatever it is for which you are __ searching and if you hear it and then do not follow it, it was better that you had never been born. You are the _only one that has ever lived; your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all the existences, and if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls. So the burden of what I have to say to you this afternoon is: "What is your name? Who are you, and can you find a way to hear the sound of the genuine in yourself?" There are so many noises going on inside of you, so much traffic going on in your minds, so many different kinds of signals, so many vast impulses floating through your organism that go back thousands of generations long before you were even a thought in the mind of creation. I wonder if you can get still enough - not quiet enough - still enough to hear rumbling up from your unique and essential idiom the sound of the genuine in you. I don't know if you can. But this is your assignment."
It is the hardest assignment I have ever been given - and I am sharing it with you. There is no better day than the day we honor the saints who have gone before us - the ones who have been known across the globe and the ones who may have only been known by you. There is no better day than when we pray for saints past, present and yet to come. There is no better day to recognize who we are in God and to find our place in the holy fellowship of all the saints. To be a saint is to know who you are in God. Dr. Thurman's words have haunted me because I am terrified that I won't hear it, that I won't know what makes me unique, that I won't live up to the potential that God instilled in me. It is the part of us that cannot be defined by anything we do - it is the piece that is underneath it all, that's where the saint lies. In honor of this day, in honor of those who you call saints, set aside time to be still. Set aside space. And listen - to hear "the sound of the genuine in yourself".
Listen to or read the entire sermon here.
Chris is Rector of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Portland.
Finally, the Poet
By Rubin Alves - November 11th, 2013
What is hope?
It is the pre-sentiment that imagination
is more real and reality is less real than it looks.
It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality
of facts that oppress and repress us
is not the last word.
It is the suspicion that reality is more complex
than the realists want us to believe.
That the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual; and in a miraculous and unexplained way
life is opening up creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection--
but the two--suffering and hope
must live from each other.
Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair.
But, hope without suffering creates illusions, naivete
So let us plant dates
even though we who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
That is the secret discipline.
It is the refusal to let our creative act
be dissolved away by our need for immediate sense experience
and it a struggled commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined hope is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints, the courage to die for the future they envisage.
They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hopes.