- Malachi 4:1-2a
- Psalm 98
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
- Luke 21:5-19
You can find all of the readings, in CEB and NRSV, by clicking here.
As most of you know, I am an outspoken advocate for mental health issues. I believe that all people can benefit from learning about different mental health issues, especially about the worlds of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. I frequently share tips and advice and worksheets for coping techniques on Facebook – both for those who live in those previously mentioned worlds, and for those who love and care for those who live in those previously mentioned worlds. Most of those tips and reminders are about reorienting where we are pointing our senses in the midst of what we are experiencing. Where we point our senses becomes our focus.
Everyone has ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’.
Sometimes those ‘good days’ are pretty incredible and just amazing. The best of the best! And sometimes, those ‘bad days’ are pretty horrible. Honestly, there are days when it feels like the world is falling apart, and you’re simply falling along with it.
Most of us live in the spaces in-between those extremes. That seems to be the thing about life.
Life has shown us that:
Ages have come and gone;
Civilizations have developed and demurred;
Empires have risen and been torn down;
Kingdoms and countries have conquered and fallen;
Communities and families have come together and been pulled apart.
All of humanity’s time, throughout creation, has been a story of building up and crumbling and building up again.
But before that climb upwards, we can often feel like the world is falling apart.
Indeed, even Jesus itemizes to the disciples all the ways in which the end of the world will bring destruction, disaster, distrust, and death into the mix of daily life.
Temples and architectural marvels will crumble.
Wars and rebellions.
Nations and kingdoms will fight.
Earthquakes and epidemics.
Terrifying and great signs in the sky.
And before all of that. Before all of that.
The ubiquitous They will harass you, persecute you, arrest you, and hand you over to the rulers of the time because you are known by my name. Jesus warns his disciples about something that we have learned through our history and in our current time. There will be times when identifying as Christian will get us into trouble. There will be times when living as God has called us to live will not only be hard, but will be dangerous.
If we know that persecution – whether seemingly childish teasing or the terrifying threat of death – is a part of being a follower of Jesus, how do we live? When the world seems to be falling apart and seems to be ushering in another age of chaos, terror, and destruction all around us, how do we stand firm, as Jesus asks, in that kind of world with our Christian identity?
Here’s where I get a little firm with words.
Humanity holds life and struggle with each other. To be human and have lived any amount of time in this world is to experience plenty of struggles. We struggle to be birthed into this world – we struggle with growth, with puberty, with aging, with health, with death. We struggle to live with other people – with relationships, with family, with friends, with complete strangers. We struggle with the matters of the world – with what to do with our time, with education, with career choices, with money. We struggle with our faith. We struggle with God.
I don’t deny that there are immeasurable joys in life. That there are moments in time that make life feel easy. That too is a part of life. The world changes, grows up, falls down, and changes again. That is a historical fact.
I think by itemizing all the ways in which the world will change leading up to the absolute end of time, Jesus was emphasizing that very fact. The world that we live in will continue to be a place of immeasurable joys and it will continue to be a place of struggle.
So, as we move into the world, it is never a matter of whether we will face struggle or not. We will. I think that how we will live through both our joys and our struggles as people of faith, hope, and love – as disciples of Christ – is our target. Where we point our senses will become our focus.
Jesus said to the disciples that their reaction to that feeling of the world falling apart before them should be this: “Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance.” [Luke 21:14, CEB]
Because God will give us the words and wisdom for life.
There are going to be days that are full of joy and life and love – euphoria moments of time where the difference between this world and the world to come is so thin that we can feel closest to God. And there are going to be days where it feels like the world is falling apart and there is not a single wisp of hope. And in those days of joy and in those days where it feels like all the world is falling apart, we are held. We are called to remember that in the ups and downs of life, God is with us. No matter how hard it all really gets, God chooses love and grace.
Keep your senses attuned to that promise. Where we direct our senses becomes our focus. Aim your eyes to look for God’s in-breaking love in this world. Train your ears to hear the Word of God leading the way. Trust that God was there at the beginning of creations and God will be there and in charge at the absolute end of the world. And all that time in-between.
God was there at the beginning of creation and God will be there and in charge at the absolute end of the world.
Count on that. Testify to that.
Let us pray.
The Creation that you have made is diverse and complicated – full of joy and full of struggle, held together in the same moments. Thank you for the multiplicity of our human experience within your Creation. Today, each part of creation is experiencing life in all its complexities. Empower us to rejoice with the parts of the world that are rejoicing, to weep with the parts of the world that are weeping. Help us to direct our senses to you – that you would be the focus of our lives at all times, but especially when hope seems fleeting, when joy seems forgotten, and when all the world seems to be falling apart in front of us. Enable us to point to you for those who cannot sense you right there with us. Amen.
- @jace_harr. “You feel like shit: An Interactive Self-Care Guide”
- Carolyn C. Brown. “Worship for Kids: November 13, 2016” Ministry Matters.
- Taylor Burton-Edwards, Editor. “Worship Planning: Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C” Discipleship Ministries: The United Methodist Church.
- Karoline Lewis. “Saying What We See” Dear Working Preacher. Craft of Preaching. Working Preacher.org
- Ministry Matters. “Sermon Options: November 13, 2016”
- Timothy L. Owings. “It’s Your Choice” Ministry Matters.
This week’s image is entitled “Despair,” and was painted by Max Kurzweil. You can find out more about the painting here, and more about the artist here. This image is public domain and is edited and altered for the purpose of this blog.