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Sermon for November 13, 2022 – Proper 28

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 4051 Life’s Paradox
Jeff Broadnax

I’ve been privileged to attend the births of our four children, and as a result, I have the utmost respect for mothers everywhere. Though I haven’t experienced it in my own body, I’ve witnessed the pain and the great courage my wife Karen endured as she birthed our kids. You may have heard the saying among women that “childbirth is the worst pain you’ll ever experience and the fastest you’ll forget.” This highlights the paradox that is the birth experience: out of great suffering, a new life is born. Great pain and great joy. Two contradictory aspects of the same experience that are both true. In our case, we suffered the grief of losing our second-born daughter in the birthing process but later experienced the euphoria of welcoming our only son and later his baby sister into the world.

We weren’t the first to wrestle with this highly personal family journey nor the more common emotional tension between joy and pain that touches all people in physical, emotional and even spiritual ways. Our world is a world of paradox. Think about the seasons. We witness the beauty and new life of spring and summer followed by the decay and apparent deadness of fall and winter. Yet we have difficulty holding the tension in our lives between the pleasures and joys of living with the inevitable sorrows of disappointment, loss, and grief.

Jesus’s disciples were no different from us. They were looking for some certainty, something to hold on to when Jesus prophesied about the temple’s destruction in Luke 21:5-19. Jesus told them that the temple would be destroyed, but rather than answer their questions about when this would happen, Jesus talked about other troubles they might encounter. Things like wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecution. If the disciples were feeling overwhelmed at the thought of the temple’s destruction, they had to be completely anxious after Jesus’ list of troubles to come.

After telling them all the terrible things that might happen in the future, Jesus invited them to embrace the tension of grief with a certainty of hope when he said:

Every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.
Luke 21:18-19 (The Message)

Notice that Jesus did not tell them that their certainty would be found in knowing the exact dates or times of these troubles. Jesus didn’t tell them, “Oh, don’t worry. Nothing bad will ever happen to you.” Instead, Jesus reminded them that life is hard while reminding them that he had gone before and would never leave them.

Jesus’s solution to holding life’s paradox is to know that we are held, lovingly and tenderly by the One who knows how hard human life can be. “Staying with it” means not giving up looking for beauty and blessings in the ashes of sorrow and grief. It means trusting that our salvation will be birthed from living joyfully and participating in God’s love for others whenever we can.

Labor and birth are difficult, but a mother knows that holding the baby in her arms will be worth it. At other times, our life story requires us to endure more than we thought possible, but the Son of God, our elder brother Jesus says, “Sorrow won’t overcome you. Joy will be yours.”

The beautiful tension of life’s joys and sorrows will always be with us on this side of heaven, but we can rest assured that we are always in the care of our triune God.

I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Isaiah 12:2-6 • Isaiah 65:17-25 • 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 • Luke 21:5-19

The theme for this week is the faithfulness of God in a world of paradox. Our call to worship from Isaiah 12 speaks about God’s salvation despite our shortcomings. In Isaiah 65, God’s vision for a world free of suffering is explained. Living faithfully as an example of encouragement to others is expounded in 2 Thessalonians. Our sermon text comes from Luke 21:5-19, where Jesus doesn’t answer the disciples’ questions but offers them something better.

Asking the Right Questions

Luke 21:5-19 (NRSVUE)

You may have heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” Most of us have heard questions that might make us want to disagree with that statement. But it’s better to ask questions in order to learn. It’s also important to ask the right questions, or the answers you get might not be as helpful as you think.

Here’s an example: there was a Russian entrepreneur who started a nightclub in New York City. He wanted the best chef for his nightclub, so he hired a well-known chef who had cooked for a wealthy family for more than twenty years. It seemed like a perfect match, except the entrepreneur did not ask the question regarding the chef’s ability to scale up his cooking for almost 200 people every night. He also failed to ask about the chef’s ability to manage a large cooking staff. The entrepreneur only asked the question, “Who would be a great cook for the nightclub?” Because he didn’t ask the right questions, his nightclub failed.

There’s another story about asking the right questions from John Scully, who was the VP of marketing for Pepsi-Cola during the 1970s. For several years, the Pepsi-Cola marketing staff was convinced that the reason Coca-Cola was the number one soft drink was because of the shape of its bottle. Pepsi’s marketing team worked and worked to redesign their bottle to try to compete, without success. Scully finally realized that they were asking the wrong questions, and he initiated a marketing study that asked better questions, such as “How do customers use what they buy?” and “What do customers value?” The study results showed that customers would consume more Pepsi if the packaging made it more convenient to transport and store the soft drinks in the home. Pepsi put their soft drinks in cans, and their market position grew.

Asking the right questions is important if you want to get the right answers. Our sermon text today shows the disciples asking the wrong questions and Jesus giving them completely different answers than what they thought they needed to know. Of course, with Jesus, he turned their wrong questions into a learning opportunity.

Let’s read Luke 21:5-19 NRSVA [read sermon text].

Understanding the Context

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 NRSVUE)

This sets the context for Jesus’ apocalyptic message that appears in vv. 5-19. Rather than providing us with prophetic timelines or signs, apocalyptic language in the Bible encourages us to think differently about the world by challenging our worldview.

For example, Jesus and his disciples had just witnessed the generosity of the poor widow, but then in v. 5, the disciples were going on about the beauty of the temple and the beautiful stones adorning it. They were focused on what seemed to be a solid, permanent structure, one that could endure anything, and Jesus’ words about the temple’s impermanence were jarring. In setting up v.5-19 with the story of the widow’s mite, Luke may have been emphasizing Jesus’ mission of caring for the poor and the oppressed rather than the preservation of a building. He also may have been contrasting the impermanence of humanmade things with the everlasting commitment of God to humanity.

Questions and Answers

The disciples’ reaction (v. 7) to Jesus’ statement about the temple’s destruction in vv. 5-6 is to ask the wrong questions:

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” (Luke 21:7, NRSVUE)

The disciples’ questions are probably similar to what we would ask if faced with making plans, anticipation, or even fear: When will this happen so I can prepare for it? How can I be involved? Or, how can I avoid this?

Jesus doesn’t address their request for times and dates and signs. Instead, he focuses on the paradox of the world: great sorrow exists side by side with great joy and beauty. Believers must learn to hold these two contrasting truths at the same time.

And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” (Luke 21:8-9 NRSVUE)

Jesus talks about wars and false prophets but then encourages the disciples not to be terrified. Jesus lists more bad news, things that could go wrong like earthquakes and famines and persecution, in vv. 10-12, but in vv. 13-15, he seems to change tune and talks about the opportunity these things present.

This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. (Luke 21:13-15 NRSVUE)

Jesus tells us the bad we experience gives us opportunity to share the gospel with the right words given at just the right time. Again, another paradox: the reality of persecution alongside the promise of divinely inspired words and wisdom.

Jesus wasn’t finished; he continues the passage by telling them even their own families will betray them, and they will be hated because they follow him:

 You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. (Luke 21:16-17 NRSVUE)

Then he finishes with a promise – and here’s the final paradox:

 But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. (Luke 21:18-19 NRSVUE)

An interesting contrast here – some people will die, but their hair will not. Small consolation, eh? The point here, as in other places, Don’t be afraid – even if they kill you, your eternal life is safe in God.

Note how Eugene Peterson translated this:

Even so, every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved. (Luke 21:18- 19, MSG)

Jesus is telling the disciples (and us) about how to live in a world of paradox where we experience tragedies and blessings. His advice is to persevere, knowing that we won’t be lost or alone because we have a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that cannot be broken. As we are told in Acts,

For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.” (Acts 17:28, NRSVUE)

Perhaps the questions we should be asking are questions about how we participate with Jesus through every life situation, how we stay close to him during times of trial, how we stay strong when those around us are hurting or are hurting us.

Application:

  • Recognize our tendency to ask the wrong questions. When we’re in a scary situation, we want to avoid it, control it, or escape from it. While it’s important to do what we can in situations like these, we also need to make sure we’re asking the right questions and not giving way to fear.
  • Realize that life is full of paradoxes and that when bad things happen, it isn’t divine judgment. Too often Christians beat themselves up when going through difficulties, believing that God is punishing them for some unrepented sin. Jesus helps us understand in Luke’s passage that bad things happen to good people, and our role is not to fearfully prepare to outmaneuver any potential catastrophe but to endure with the faith that our God will be with us the whole time.
  • Rest in the embrace of our loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Understand that we are going to be OK, regardless of what happens. We can be “strong and courageous … for the Lord [our] God goes with [us]; he will never leave [us] or forsake [us]” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV).

Asking questions to get answers is part of being human. Learning to ask the right questions from a position of love rather than fear takes time. There’s a lot we don’t know and will never know, especially about the mystery of God. As we grow in our faith, we learn to live in the paradox of the world with the assurance that our God will preserve us through it all.

For Reference:

https://www.corporatelearningnetwork.com/learning-people-analytics/articles/beware-getting-the-right-answer-to-the-wrong-question-misdirects-and-misleads

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-33-3/commentary-on-luke-215-19-2

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-33-3/commentary-on-luke-215-19

Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W2

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November 13 – Proper 28
Luke 21:5-19 “Opportunity to Testify”

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Program Transcript


Left Behind? w/ Stephen Morrison W2

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope which is Luke 21:5 – 19. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 28, which is November the 13th.

Stephen, would you read it for us please?

Stephen: Sure.

Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?” Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.” 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.

Anthony: I don’t know about you, Stephen, but when somebody tells me not to be alarmed, guess what happens?

I immediately get alarmed, right? And Jesus tells us not to be alarmed when we hear of wars and rebellions. And he goes on to say, there will be earthquakes, food, shortages, and epidemics. This sounds very real and scary and relevant to us in 2022.

So, what should we make of it? And those who cry out, “these are the end time signs”?

Stephen: Yeah, very much so. I think the tendency to look at all of these and immediately cry out, “all last days, end of times” misses the point. Like you said, it misses the point of, do not have this fear. Do not have be alarmed by this. Because it sets people into this fear mentality of oh, but we should be afraid. It does the exact opposite of what Christ is saying.

I think you can look at the text a couple different ways. I think one would be to analyze it historically and recognize the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD being a big part of this passage. Potentially that it was a word of courage to those who would go through that.

But it does give witness to us today who will have these struggles. And I think as I look over the passage, rethinking about it, the big impression that I think is meant through it is really the courage that comes from being in Christ during these times and having the Spirit with us as that comfort and wisdom, and to know what to say in the right times.

I think looking in these passages for some sort of secret clue to when everything’s going to end or whatever – the end times fanaticism, I guess you could say, is missing the point. I think the emphasis of this is really that Christ will be with us even in the most tumultuous of situations socially and in the world.

But that not a hair on your heads will be lost. Even that it’s very interesting that phrase comes shortly after he says they will execute some of you, still not a hair in your head will be lost. And you’re like which is it?

And we’re like, in Christ, we are safe and comforted in him. Even if we die, in his death, we join him in death, but that’s the hope of being raised in new life with him as well. And it’s a very interesting parallel there.

But like I said, I think the main part of this is really just the comfort and hope that comes even in the midst of suffering and turmoil and trials and all these things. And the emphasis for this passage for me is that we find this hope because we are in Christ and not to be fixated on the things that happen or to be fixated on Christ.

Anthony: Right on. And you mentioned courage and according to our Lord, being harassed for our faith is an opportunity to testify or to speak courageously. But testify to what exactly, Stephen?

Stephen: Yeah. Testify to Christ and that he has overcome the world through his death and resurrection. He’s taken upon himself the suffering and the sin of human beings and has done away with it in his death and put it aside. And in the resurrection, there is hope for the new creation of all things.

And so, we testify to that by being able to not be overcome by the situations of the world. But to recognize that they have been overcome themself by Christ.

And we testify to the resurrection – we were just talking about the resurrection and that’s a big part of what we testify. But it’s not just a resurrection. It’s the resurrection of Christ which we take part in. Through the scriptures, through baptism as the sign of that, we were brought down in his death so that we’ll be raised in the new life in him.

And yeah, we’re testifying to that hope that’s within us to being able to have the courage to face these trials with hope, with joy even because of what Christ has done for us. And our hope of being in him. And I think that’s such a key phrase for the whole of the New Testament as well is (especially Paul’s letters) that we are in him and in Christ.

Those two phrases and that’s what we’re testifying to is our safety and our protection that our lives, ultimately aren’t ours to be worried about, but they’re God’s and they’re in his hands. And I think that’s a beautiful thing that we’re witnessing to. And it’s the source of our hope and our courage.

Anthony: Yeah, you mentioned that this should lead to joy. And I don’t know if it was Barth or maybe it was Eugene Peterson talked about how theology should lead to doxology. The work of coming to scriptures and reading a passage like this, even with all that surrounds us and the circumstances of this world, Jesus has overcome it. So, we rejoice! That is the response to such good news.

And while we do this work of theology, let me ask you this. What do you think it means that we’ll gain our lives by holding fast? What is that?

Stephen: A big question – if we go back a bit to ancient philosophy and Plato and Socrates and all these – was the question of, what is the good life?

And so, I think the question of what life is, is one thing. There’s the scientific fact of life, being alive, but then there’s that deeper question of, what it is to live? And I think really the Christian answer to this is quite direct: that to live is to be in Christ.

And to have this fellowship with God is what truly is life. And so, I think this phrase can be interpreted by this. The scriptures typically hold together this kind of two-foot understanding of life. There is a life of the current age which is fading away and is dying.

And then there’s the life and the age to come which is the true life, the life of participation in the fellowship of God, of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and being lifted up into that life, the very source of life itself. And so, I think that’s how we can understand this phrase, that we gain our lives by holding fast.

Because what is it really worth to hold on so tightly to a life that’s rooted in the present age, that’s rooted in the things that are falling away? That’s rooted in the old man, the old Adam, whatever phrase or metaphor we want to use? What is that really worth if in trying to white knuckle, grasp the things that we consider valuable for this age, if we don’t recognize that the true life is the life of being one with Christ, participating in his fellowship with the Father and the Spirit?

And that’s what it is. We gain our lives by holding fast. Because we may lose our life in this age by doing so, but we gain the life that is truly life, the life that is actually the good life. And I think that answers that philosophical question: what is the good life?

The good life for a Christian is fellowship with God, is life in Christ, in participation, in the triune life of God. Life without God is just incomplete. It’s not that true life. It’s not that good life. And it’s seems paradoxical to make this claim that even in death, even in suffering and struggling, that we would find actually what the good life is.

But it’s a big, I think, motif for the scripture is that we hold onto the life that is to come.

Anthony: I like the illustration of white knuckling it. And I’ve got my hand in a fist right now and my knuckles are white. And I’m just thinking about what it looks like to try to hold on to the things that are not eternal, the things of this life that will fade away.

And when my fist is closed, I’m not able to receive, in a sense what God wants to so generously give to me. And I open up my hand and to me, that’s a metaphor of what it looks like in the Christian life. And that is, I can’t bring anything to God’s table. He has accomplished it in Jesus Christ and all I can do is receive. But that is active participation, receiving the good things that God has in store.

So, I appreciate that word.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • In the video, Jeff Broadnax talks about the experience of attending the birth of his children as an example of a paradox where great pain exists alongside great joy at the birth of a new baby. Can you think of other life experiences where sorrow and joy or pain and gladness co-exist?
  • How does it help you to reflect on being held lovingly and tenderly by Jesus, who knows the full depths of human sufferings and happiness? What comfort does it provide, knowing we have an Elder Brother who has experienced what we have?

From the sermon

  • Have you ever had an experience where you asked the wrong question? In hindsight, what could you have done to ensure a better likelihood of asking the right question?
  • Jesus suggests that rather than relying on what appears to be permanent but isn’t (like the temple), we recognize the impermanence of the world and our own bodies and then entrust ourselves to God’s ever-present, loving care. How does our need for certainty and security make it hard to do this?

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