Emmitsburg Council of Churches


Reflections on The Holy Gospel According to Luke 21:1-4

[Jesus] 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 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."

They asked him, Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"

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 follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven."

"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 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 of wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."

The Gospel of the Lord.

Enduring the Tials of Life

Today's Gospel text is very complex in what it has to say to us. It seems that we are living in a very complex time, especially when it comes to speaking about enduring the storms and trials that life brings, let alone just keeping the bills paid, food on our tables and the kids in school. Today I included the story of the "Widow's Mite" because I have found that there is a connection to be made between her selfless giving and our need to ENDURE the trials of life, as Jesus is saying in the text. Notice that the widow did not make a very generous offering:

In financial terms -- in fact, she barely gave a penny, just two lepta (half pennies). Yet Jesus notices her offering. Jesus has seen beyond the worth of the two copper coins, he sees her motivation, he notices her abandonment -- in giving herself to God. She was moved to give from her heart, she has offered herself, by entrusting her bodily needs to God . . . and in this action she obtains Jesus' compliment, "She has given more than all of them."

(Keep her actions and motivations in your thoughts as we go on).

A few weeks ago I had lunch and conversation with a group of Gettysburg College students. I posed the following question for them, "So how's it going? I mean, how are you guys doing in light of things that have taken place over the last two months? How are you coping with the emotions of the day?"

The students were thoughtful for a few moments, and then very responsive to the question(s). One girl began by saying, "I am not doing very well with my academic work this semester, but its OK, I am concentrating more on the people and relationships that are important in my life, this is a time when the grades don't matter as much as the friends I have." Another girl said that there was a general feeling of uncertainty for her, and some of the guys in the group said that they felt depressed -- "It's hard to focus on our studies when we don't know what tomorrow will bring." Another one of the students felt that she needed to live by the motto,"Carpe Diem", seizing every moment to the fullest.

The reason I had asked these students "how things were going" related to a conversation I had with my brother the night before, when he told me about the family of a man who had recently committed suicide. . . (my brother and his wife were helping the family in their grief). I had also talked with my brother about the difficulty in understanding the mood swings of teenagers and their reactions to the troubled days we are experiencing . . . .

The recent violence and tragedy around us -- have forced us all to think about the deeper things of life.

It has been a time to reprioritize our schedules and activities and maybe, like the college students, we find ourselves thinking less about careers or studies or sports and more about family, friendships, and the importance of our communities -- not to mention the fellowship of our church body . . . and a closer walk with God. Last Sunday I was speaking with the Second Year Confirmation students, who, by the way, are a great group of young people!! We were speaking about what its like to talk with God. And I posed the question to these students, "How many of you talk to yourself?" We all raised our hands -- then we discussed how it is that -- what we call "talking to ourselves", can be one of the forms we use to talk with God. (That is, unless you talk back to yourself!!) Nevertheless, most of us have been carrying on this conversation with God since we were children, others of us have entered into the conscious conversation with God in more recent Days. But our conversation is justified! (In good times and in bad)

In the midst of life, even in the best of times we can take comfort in knowing that we're not "going it alone in this world." God is present!

Sometimes the tumultuous times of life jar us away from our complacency and we are drawn into the conversation with God, somewhat reluctantly. We are led to speak words not of our own choosing, but from our need to be understood by Another.

In a recent series of essays entitled, "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear", Wendell Berry, a rural philosopher, a poet, and a theologian wrote that, "The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, neither by job-training nor by industry-subsidized research. It's proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or "accessing" what we now call "information" - which is to say, 'facts without context and therefore without priority.' [No] A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first."

Luke's Gospel takes us back to a different time in history when men and women of the early church contemplated the meaning of the events that were transpiring around them. Like us today, they had much to be "talking to themselves about" and they had many reasons to be reassessing their priorities, hanging a little closer to friends and family and drawing closer with their brothers and sisters in Christ--these were desperate times. . . .

For the people of Luke's day had also seen a great building fall and a religious and political-symbol brutally reduced to rubble. . . . It was the Temple at Jerusalem,. . . also known as Herod's Temple, which was destroyed in 70 C.E.

Jesus word's spoken to us from the Gospel this morning are a haunting reminder of that tumultuous and violent event. The words of warning that Jesus delivers to his disciples serve to further convey the danger of those times for Christians and Jews alike. They were threatened by Emperor Nero's insane violence --- that could and would be executed by Rome's legions as well as the political and religious persecutions -- indeed the Christians and the Jews were accused of atheism, as they would not participate in the Roman system of worship. Indeed the times were perilous and Luke knows that the prophecy was fulfilled: "Not one stone [would be] left upon another" The Temple was destroyed!

Today we hear the disciples asking Jesus again, "when will these things take place? What will be the sign of their coming? And what kind of society will we be left to live in or will we be left to "live out" our faith in?

Our experience is that these things have always taken place, though we have not always recognized them. The journey we take through this life (like the journey to the cross) is to endure in Christ our Lord. We are to remain in the faith and to live consistently through the epic events of human history. Our task is to give witness to the Love of Christ and his peaceable Kingdom. We trust that Jesus is leading us and that Jesus will give us the words to say when the trials come.

Perhaps it is in the moments of "talking to ourselves" that Jesus is giving us the words to say -- or that he is giving us encouragement to go on and speak the words of truth and justice when necessary.

Christians are called to serve Christ in the world today, and not to wait on God to swoop down from heaven and carry us away into paradise. Not that we are abandoned to misery in this life, but that, in Christ we are victorious over death and we have life when we live freely in Him, -- "the devil is defeated," as Luther would say. Neither the Temple's fall nor natural disasters, nor the raging of the nations should sway us from our course of faith, but (instead) we ENDURE.

The original Greek word used for "endure" is UPOMONE Which means: Patient endurance (of persecution; of hardships; of tribulations and suffering). UPOMONE is not a passive patience, but an active waiting. The enduring is possible because of the association with the name of Jesus . . . Our endurance is exemplified in the way that we live and act toward others in the world. Everything about the Upomone way of living expresses the fact that "Following Jesus always exposes us to adversity and hardship."

Our enduring can be viewed as a type of giving to God, and this brings us a remembrance of the Widow's offering. The connection is more clear when we examine the word Luke uses at the end of the reading, KTESOSTHE: "By enduring you will Ktesosthe* (gain) your souls." *To get, gain; procure; To be the cause or occasion of purchasing; to preserve or save. Ktesosthe refers to the type of gain, that might be made by a trade of something of great worth, like gold. In this reference we can see that by the practice of our endurance we will ktesosthe (gain) our souls. Our souls are kept as we endure just like Jesus' admiration of the Widow lady's self giving demeanor.

Tumultuous times bring about reformation of our spirituality-- we do not ask for nor do we look forward to catastrophes . . . but always we seek security and normalcy in our living. Through adversity, which is never a good of itself, we are drawn closer to God. We are compelled to think on the greater things of the spirit. Adversities cause us to reconsider the importance of life and living with others in a finite environment. When I recently spoke with my Mother and Father about this sermon, Mom shared with me that she noticed how much more friendly and talkative people seemed to be at the local grocery store. Someone commented, "What nice oranges you have in your basket," and a conversation was begun (where before no one would have given the time or attention). The conversations went on about a grandson who was in the Naval Academy, a daughter-in-law who's parents lived in the Queens neighborhood tragically brought into the news this past week. "People just seem to appreciate one another more since this happened," Mom said. ("I just wish the drivers on the roads would capture this sentiment.")

God can transform times of trials into times of human grace and goodness. The best that we have to offer might be like the "Widow's mite." Yet we give of ourselves, it could be a generous financial contribution or it might be a handshake or a kind word to a neighbor who is down and out. But we endure and we offer ourselves for God's service -- In these acts of faith we are gaining our souls, we become a soulful people, a people with the heart of God bringing our gifts of love to the world. Out of the chaos we seek God's help and we look for guidance. We look to the One who "remembers his mercy and faithfulness to his people." We look to and listen for our Church, guided by Christ, to bring us comfort and clarity to the tangled situations of life.

To accomplish ministry takes patience, long-suffering and endurance, and this is what the Gospel calls us to when Jesus says that "By your UPOMONE (by your endurance) you will gain your souls." We can exercise our soulfulness in these difficult days by remaining dutifully in Christ -- like the Widow was dutiful in her sacrifice to God.

In the Name of our Lord we are a people who hope for his peace to break forth and in the Name of Christ we will Endure whatever trials that may befall us. Amen

May the peace of God, which surpasses all of our human understanding, fill us both now and forevermore. 


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