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Grace Opportunity

Sermon, Pentecost 23rd C, Sunday November 17, 2019.

Luke 21: 5-195 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’10 Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

In this word from Jesus today, I hear the call to trust him no matter what happens to us as a church or me as a person. He promises to sustain us through everything. This allows us to live through anything with him. This allows us to not turn to blame and shame or doubt and fear but to take the hard things as opportunity to share him with others and see him at work. This is easier said than done!

The first thing to say is that Jesus is no pretender or liar; no false teacher. Faith in Jesus is tough and very realistic. Jesus says here that bad things have, can and will happen to us, even though we are accepted and loved by God.

Things like betrayal, persecution, conflict, insult, dismissal, unfair criticism, unjust words, tragic loss or persecution of people of Christ will occur. But Jesus says he is present with us in these things too. He is here with us in the tough things. His presence enables us to respond to tough things without the need to be the tough guy or girl.

But we naturally have two basic ready-to-go responses to these hard things we come across: run away or come out swinging. Both do more damage and keep us from the joy that is already ours in Jesus.

We tend to respond in fear, not faith. We either tend to deny pain and hurt; pretend that nothing has happened, and nothing has hurt, deny we had anything to do with it to try and escape it. “She’ll be right, mate”, we say.

Either that, or, “It’s all your fault!”. We come out swinging. When our aspirations are dashed, our goals end up rubble, our good name under attack, we tend to blame others for everything bad that has happened. It is everyone else’s fault, not mine; not ours.

In your efforts to either escape or fight, there is no possibility of the grace of the Lord Jesus rising in it to transform it all. Why?

Because there is no room for asking that critical question Jesus directs us to ask elsewhere in his word – to ‘take the log out of our eye’. In other words, to ask ourselves, “What is my part in this, if any?”. Jesus calls us Christians to own our own contribution to the difficulty, however small, so that we learn, and so that genuine reconciliation can occur, and life can still be lived in Jesus joy in and beyond this hard thing.

If anyone had a reason to blame someone for something really bad, it was the people around Jesus in the city temple area the day he said this magnificent building would all fall down! Right in the heart of their personal, family and national life, in the place of ‘blessed assurance’ that God was still theirs, Jesus says this whole place will be rubble one day soon.

That is really saying that all they knew to be solid and true, all that gave them aspirations for their life; all that held them together as a people and as families would be gone. THE place of blessing, prosperity, family, community, place in the world… your life as person of God in a nation God has made will be rudderless, placeless, like Adelaide without the Torrens or the Oval; like Australia without Uluru or Sydney Harbour or Melbourne without the MCG; Perth without the Swan River.

The Jerusalem temple was begun in 19BC by Herod the Great. As this grand design is still being built fifty two years on, with its giant gem encrusted columns and gold-plated capitals, Jesus shockingly declares that this whole place and all it represents will end. Not one stone will be left on another.

That happened just thirty or so years after he said it would. The Roman military finally did what they had been threatening to do for years. Five years after this temple’s 65 year building program was finally completed, they razed this magnificent building to the ground in 70AD. Now there is a horrible thing that someone needs to be blamed for!

But I notice in Jesus’ words or Luke’s reporting of them that there is no hint of blame. This is remarkable since Luke is probably writing this account of Jesus’ words after AD70. The temple is already destroyed. But even then, still no blame!

So, what is here instead? Opportunity. Jesus says that even this catastrophe is an opportunity for his grace.

He goes on to say a whole list of other hard things are opportunity for his grace; an opportunity for him to reveal his undeserved love; his grace; his kingdom transformation to do its transforming work on people.

Friends, hard things; unfair things, hurtful things that happen to us are not to be ignored, denied or filled with blame. Jesus says here that tough things are to be received as moments of witness to him and his promise of life in us. No blame; but opportunity to tell of his grace; opportunity to bear witness to Jesus’ grace and love for sinners. No hiding away in fear. No coming out swinging with angry blaming words and retaliation, just receiving of an opportunity to speak of him and his forgiveness.

But how?! It is hard to resist the blame game!

Well, we often can’t but he always does. Jesus took all the blame for my mistrust and ignorance of him. He took the pain and the tragedy about to befall him, which was worse than a building being torn down. It was his body that was torn down.

It was the full darkness of human hatred and blame shifting weakness he took to the grave. And when he rose from that dead building, he became the new living building; the new place of divine presence; the new person of divine peace and life who hears our praying and responds to our seeking.

He has made us his building, his living stones making up his vast moving, breathing body powered by his grace to be grace in all the suffering and loss.

Friend, the only way we can move away from pretending, denying, sweeping the damage under the carpet in fear or fighting and damaging and hurting each other is him. He shifts blaming and shaming to opportunity to the possibility of grace; undeserved love.

His undeserved acceptance and love are the way through tough things, tough times and tough people.

And there is final justice for all wrong. He promises that nothing goes unnoticed and not one part of you will be lost. Every hair on your head will be intact in him. You will be with him and remain in him no matter what because he is aware of you, understands you. He has been where you have not been yet, and he lives where you live now.

This whole word is about trust. The only way you and I can receive conflict, hurt, unfair criticism, betrayal, ill-health and all other hard things mentioned here and experienced daily by human beings is him. The only way we receive these things as opportunity rather than threat is trust in him and his peace; his wounds for us; his blood for us; his love for us.

With his promises and the hope it brings us, we can do something again this morning that takes us away from blame and shame and hiding and running:

14 … make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 

We don’t even need to plan to avoid tough things (as if we could). Our calling is to make up our minds to not even bother about avoiding bad things, being ahead of bad things, having a strategy to deal with bad things – not in our own human way anyway.

Friends, “If he calls you to it, he will get you through it”, they say. Jesus will get you through it.

Bad things will happen. We will hurt each other at times. Others will betray us, criticize us, dismiss is for our faith in Jesus.

The world will experience disasters, bushfires, tsunamis, earthquakes, loss, death, evil.

But Jesus says to you that there is opportunity here. His opportunity. There is opportunity for the harvest – for the good news of God’s long and wide and high grace to be experienced by you and the other person.

Praise the Lord that no matter what, you remain in him and he in you. Nothing is lost or unnoticed by him. Even every hair on your head is known, no matter what comes to you or us as a church.

Stand firm, friend. These hard things are not fear-filled things, but his things; they are an opportunity for God’s grace to rise from the dust and transform the situation back to grace and joy in Jesus, in you and hopefully others.

So, stand firm in making for his peace in as much as it is up to you without defending yourself or fighting back or running away or pretending. In his truth and his present love and power you will win life, today and tomorrow.

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