Psalm 77; Luke 21:5-19

November 13, 2022

  • Facing an uncertain future/walking with an unseen God


If I were smart, I would never preach on the text I am using today.  It is a deeply troubling and problematic text.  It also gives us a picture of Jesus that is not afraid to pop the balloon.  Remember that game where children would tie a balloon to their backsides and run around trying to pop other children’s balloons?  If no one else has any memory of such a game in their lifetimes, then I know my parents were truly from another planet where such crazy games were the norm.  I guess you could argue Jesus was from another planet, too, in a way, and he certainly had no trouble deflating the balloons here.

Jesus and his disciples had just come into Jerusalem right before Passover, and his followers still don’t know what is coming in just a few days.  It is so incredibly striking that they have no idea whatsoever that by the end of the week their beloved Jesus will be executed by crucifixion.  They have no clue what is going on, apparently, because they roll into town like a bunch of tourists “ooooohing and aaaaahing” at the great Temple.  After all, Passover is one of their big holiday times, and people came from all over for the celebration.  Jesus has none of that, though.  His journey in Luke begins and ends at the Temple, and he knows the truth about this building.  While those who are with him want to be in complete amazement, he knows that within 40 years, the whole thing will be demolished.  This great symbol of Jewish authority and piety and power will be a heap of rubble.  The Romans will come in and sack the city and destroy the Temple.  Israel as a nation will be destroyed and never seen again until after WW2 (almost 1900 years later).  On the Arch of Titus right outside the Colosseum in Rome, there is a picture of this destruction.  I have seen the image myself.  I have also seen what remains of the Temple to this day in Jerusalem.  It was not exactly as Jesus said.  There are still stones on stones, but there is only one wall standing – the Western or Wailing Wall, and there are foundation stones still there giving us just a glimpse of just how big the building must have been.  Honestly, for the Romans to have destroyed as much as they did, it must have been horrific.

But that is just the beginning of Jesus’ warning.  As Jesus went on with his grim announcement, how many of the disciples do you think were saying to themselves, “Boy, we should have kept our mouths shut?”  They got way more than they bargained for.  Not only is the Temple going to be destroyed which was the center of their life as a nation and a people, but all kinds of violence and persecution is coming, even family betrayal.  They will be brought into trial because of Jesus.  He is not winning many supporters here, but he adds something very remarkable that is going to happen, so easy to miss if you are not paying attention to it.  Times are going to be very tough; horrible things are going to happen around you and to you; BUT when you must defend yourself, don’t worry because I will take care of you and tell you what to say.  You will make the good witness with the help of the Spirit.  You will overcome those who try to overcome you.  You will bear his truth and triumph, and nothing will harm you – at least nothing of eternal significance.

Bob walked up to Sue one day and told her, “Next week an asteroid is going to land on your car while you are in the store.  Your new boss is going to let you go due to downsizing, and your washer and dryer are going to quit on you.”

What would you think if you were Sue?  Certainly, that Bob is crazy.  Then, next week rolls around and just as Bob described, all three things happened.  “What on earth?  How is this possible?”

Turns out that the meteor that hit your car was filled with rare elements worth enough to buy 100 cars.  You take a trip because without a job you have some time, and when you get back, you have three job offers.  Finally, when you go to the laundromat to do your wash, you meet the love of your life, and you end up married.  That all sounds fine, and I imagine we are glad the series of disasters led to good and happy conclusions, but the real question is how Bob know.  The real message here is not that bad things happen.  They happen all the time.  The real message is that there is a force out there bigger than the bad.  There is someone out there who speaks the truth even in the night, especially in the deepest and darkest night.

I need for you to see the difference between someone who is able to warn you that hard times are coming but promises you will have the help you need AND groping through life with no idea what is coming and without the notion of whether you will survive.  What Jesus is giving the disciples, his followers, and anyone who will listen is a faith statement.  What sounds like doom and gloom is really a promise of hope.  Jesus is not one to sugarcoat anything.  He never has.  He is always a man of truth.  He does not promise you an easy life.  In anything, life in Christ is harder than without for the very reason Jesus is outlining.  The world is against Jesus’ Kingdom – the Kingdom of God.  The world will always stand against the Kingdom, fight against the Kingdom, persecute the Kingdom, so if you are part of the Kingdom yourself, life will be more difficult.

We live in a world of wars, pandemics, weather disasters, and everything that comes with that.  Maybe you have wondered whether this is the end.  Maybe you have wondered whether the world can take much more.  Maybe you have wondered whether you can take much more.  Sometimes I do.  But we cannot change the fact that all of this is part of life on planet earth.  Not only are all of these tragedies normal, but they are also expected.  The Jews disappeared as a nation and nearly disappeared as a people.  Jesus was trying to give them hope.  He was trying to give anyone walking with him some hope.

When Moses led the people of Israel to the Sea of Reeds, what we know as the Red Sea (no, it was not actually red), he had the entire Egyptian army chasing them and nowhere to go.  The people tried to abandon the whole crazy journey when they saw no way forward.  You probably know what happened next.  God opened a way through the sea, and the people passed through the water.  Now understand that the crossing was not as in some children’s movie or even in the Charlton Heston classic (as dramatic as that is on the big screen).  The picture of the crossing that we have in Psalm 77 is scary and terrible and beyond comprehension.  It was a natural violence that we have never beheld, and yet, that is exactly the path that God took the people.

I am not a veteran, nor have I ever fought in war.  Sometimes life with three daughters has felt that way, but Friday we honored true heroes and true veterans as those who have gone off to do something difficult to even imagine.  They walked into the storm of combat.  We continue to see the necessity of waging war in Ukraine every day.  Those who have given their lives for the protection and freedom of the rest of us should be honored and remembered.  They should also understand what it means to walk with God into the storm.

I was sitting with Bill Hendley the other day.  He is home in hospice care.  He has a hospital bed where he spends his time in his living room.  While he is grounded in a great, enduring faith, he is also walking into tougher times.  I shared with him this psalm wondering whether he saw his path in a similar light.  He knows that God is walking with him and will provide what he needs in those tougher times.

I know full well as do you who have lived many more years than I that there is nothing neat and tidy about this.  It can almost sound like a pat answer that when times get tough, not if but when, we can know that Jesus will be our strength and support and give us the aid we need – a way forward and a good witness.  He will be our hope and salvation no matter what happens.  It is one thing to say it and another thing to live it.  The Jews who were listening to Jesus had no idea just how hard it would be for them.  He tries to paint a very difficult picture because he needs them to be prepared for anything.  What is interesting is that while most of his apostles were executed, none of them recanted their faith.  None of them turned on Jesus.  None of them denied him and his salvation.  I find this remarkable.

A number of years ago, Anne and I found a framed picture with a saying that has stuck with me: the will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.  Some might say that there are no guarantees in life.  I disagree.  We know that things will get tough, tougher than tough, tougher than we could imagine.  It is a promise because it is the way life is.  Being a follower of Christ just adds something to that, but it also gives us another guarantee.  Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The grace of God will always protect us where the will of God leads us.  Not a hair of our head will perish.  They might fall out, but they will not perish.  With Christ, we will endure and with Christ we will live.  To God be the glory.  Amen.