Our Gospel today picks up right where we left off last week. As Jesus and his disciples are heading out of the Temple, the disciples begin to marvel at the size of the buildings and the majesty of the whole thing. Now, remember, Jesus has just taught them about the abuse of the poor by the religious powers that be who, by God’s Law, were charged with caring for them and their response is: “Check out the Temple, Jesus, isn’t it cool?!!!” Really? That’s the response to this powerful lesson? Oh, but, of course it is! We humans have very short attention spans, and especially when it comes to things that do not directly affect us, like the plight of some unnamed widow, who we’ll probably never see again, dropping a couple of small coins into the Temple treasury. So Jesus begins to teach them again: There will be wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes, and famines, but these are just the beginnings of birth pangs. These are like the Braxton Hicks contractions of the end times, if you will. They come and they go as a reminder of what’s to come when the main event happens…
It’s interesting to me how much time and energy through the years has gone into thinking about, and writing about, and teaching about this main event – the end of the age – even though Jesus clearly teaches elsewhere that that’s simply a waste of time. No one knows when or how this end of the age is going to come, including the human Jesus himself, and so we should be focused on what’s before us each day, and not be worried about things that are out of our control and out there in the unknown future somewhere. “Sufficient to today are the troubles therein.” Right?
And, more, we should be focused on real issues in the world, and not wasting our time on nonsense distractions, like one that’s been all over the media this week about whether or not a coffee shop has reindeer and snowmen on their cups, as if such things have anything to do with Christianity, or whether or not not having such symbols on your coffee cup constitutes an attack on Jesus, or an attack on Christmas. Look, there are real concerns in the world that are very much attacks on Jesus, and they have nothing to do with coffee cups. I won’t repeat again the stats I shared on poverty and hunger last week, (but if you missed it, you can find the sermon on our website and linked on our Facebook page (http://www.reformationwlb.org/multimedia-archive/sermon-proper-27-lectionary-32-1-kings-178-16-mark-1238-44/) but seeing as Jesus associates himself powerfully with these last and least ones, I’d say that such poverty counts as an example of how society wages war on Jesus.
And more: In a recent blog post about the cup controversy, and in response to those who claim it’s an attack on Christmas and on the Christ whose birth Christmas is all about, Christian blogger, M. Brian Orme writes:
There are Christians in prison in Iran right now. People like Pastor Saeed Abedini who have given their life for the gospel and endured extreme persecution—with no end in sight. There are Christians in Afghanistan who worship together—risking their lives in the midst of religious extremists. There are teenagers in Sudan who are staking their claim for Jesus at the risk of torture, banishment and death. This is the real war on Christmas. The one that we like to look away from because it’s horrible, dark, gruesome and evil. These are acts of war—focused on the actual person of Jesus and his followers. If we could bend all of this energy away from cups and holiday greetings and open up our eyes to see the real battle… Just think about the impact we could have…
(http://www.faithit.com/this-is-not-the-war-on-christmas-but-ill-show-you-what-is/#.VkD4fvWrmkw.facebook) And I’d add to his list the horrific events we’ve seen unfold in Paris and Beirut and Turkey and elsewhere over the past couple of weeks as ISIS suicide bombers have attacked and killed innocent people.
To be a disciple of Jesus is to have one’s attention focused in the right place and on the right things. Is it good and important to be evangelical? Of course! But let’s not forget what the word evangelical means. It means Good News. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, to set captives free, to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world, so, shouldn’t we all, as faithful followers of Jesus, have our attention focused on real need, and on how God is calling us to respond to that real need, and not be wasting our time on whether a store or shop greeter says: “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, or on what symbols are or aren’t on a cup from our favorite coffee shop?…
In our reading from Hebrews today, we’re reminded, through a quote from Jeremiah 31, that God’s in control. God says: I will make a new covenant with the people. I will put my laws on their hearts. I will write them on their minds. I will remember their sins no more. The good news is all about what God has promised to do, and how God continues to fulfill those promises in big and small ways, and most often through us – through God’s people living real lives in the real world.
The point that Brian Orme makes in the blog post I just shared is that, as long as God’s people are being abused, and attacked, and persecuted anywhere around the world, Jesus is being abused, and attacked, and persecuted, because God’s people are the very Body of Christ.
And in the same way, when we respond in his name, when we do justice in his name, when we extend forgiveness and grace in his name, when we live, in other words, as God’s baptized people in the world, having had our hearts sprinkled clean and our bodies washed with pure water, when we hold fast to the confession of our hope in the One who is ever faithful, and allow that confession to shape how we live, and love, and serve our neighbor in the name of Jesus, we are the Body of Christ – living and active, broken and restored, embodying the saving love of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus in the world that he loved enough to die for.
So when we read verses 24 and 25 of Hebrews 10, we read some of the most important things in all of Scripture.
Verse 24 says: Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not provoked to love by people worrying about silly nonsense. There are important things going on in the world – things the people of God ought to be provoked by and involved in, like caring for the needs of the least and the last, and that’s a huge part of why I’m an ELCA Lutheran.
In a few minutes, you’re going to be invited to share your regular gifts and offerings, and also to place your 2016 commitment cards in the offering plate – I hope you remembered yours, but we’ll accept them next week, too.
And you know that we send a minimum of 10% of these gifts on, together with occasional special offerings to support the work we do together as a Church –
- Disaster response
- and social ministry
- and social services
- Global Missions
- World Hunger
- and special projects like the Malaria Campaign
On top of the regular social ministry activities we do as a congregation
- Through the food pantry
- and clothes closet
- Meal at Noon
- Brown Bag lunches
- Family Promise dinners
- Sandy Relief Worker Hosting
And all the other local and Churchwide social ministry activities we support.
This is what provokes me to love and good works, knowing that when I serve and comfort those who experience need, and when I strive for greater justice and peace in the world, I do it, not just for Jesus, but I do it to Jesus, for that’s what he’s taught us, right? “When you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.”
And note verse 25: we ought not to neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some, but we ought to encourage one another all the more as we see the Day approaching.
We need each other. We are incomplete as Christ’s Body if any one of us is missing. We who are baptized are called to stand together as one Body in the world, serving, loving, and proclaiming freedom in the name of Jesus who has first served, loved, and freed us.
And so this weekend, we rejoice to welcome 6 new members of this assembly, 1 on Saturday evening, and 5 on Sunday, to stand with us, to serve with us, to love the world with us as members of Christ’s Body, gathered in this particular time and place, and focused together in mission and ministry on what Jesus calls us to be about in his name, for the sake of the gospel, and the good of the world.