You are going to be persecuted, betrayed even by your own family, and some of you will be put to death. Welcome to the Good News!
I read this passage recently with a clergy group, and the first question that came up was, How much of this did Jesus actually say? And one of the ministers said, “We can ask that question here, among ourselves, but I couldn’t say that to my congregation.” He didn’t want to encourage questions. People might doubt. Their faith might crumble.
I give thanks that I serve in a congregation and a denomination where asking questions is actually a spiritual practice. Wrestle with God. Ask hard questions.
So we’re going to ask questions about these texts. We start with questions about the Luke passage, and we will circle around to the Isaiah reading later.
First question: What does the widow have to do with the rest of this text? Scripture tells us to take care of the widow, orphan, those in need.
Widows have no source of livelihood. Can’t just go get a job in this patriarchal society.
This temple is broken, corrupt: it does not take care of the widow. On the contrary, it is grabbing her very last two cents. This temple is in collusion with the Roman oppressors. The temple leaders have sold their souls. The temple is no longer doing the work of God.
The temple is supposed to be the house of God. But a God of justice and love does not get in bed with Roman oppressors, does not tax people off their land so that the wealthy elite can get wealthier.
A broken temple cannot stand. It helps that the writer of this gospel is writing from a vantage point of the late first century, by which time the temple has indeed fallen.
Did Jesus predict the fall of the temple? Not a question we can answer. So we ask instead, What is the point that the writer of this gospel is trying to convey? What are we to understand about the essence of who Jesus was and what it means to be a follower of Jesus? These are questions we can all wrestle with and come up with meaningful, life-giving answers for us today in the 21st century.
So Jesus naming that the temple is going to fall is more about how corrupt it is than about predicting its historical demise in the year 70. The temple cannot stand if it is built on lies and hypocrisy instead of love and justice and following the path of God.
Another question: Why does talking about the destruction of the temple lead to talk of persecution for Jesus’ disciples? Because their call is to name the temple’s hypocrisy and to point to a more direct connection to God. That direct connection channels through Jesus, who shows us the way by addressing issues of love and justice. And if followers of Jesus, both in that time and today, are intent on seeking justice for all, we’re going to make some people very uncomfortable. William Sloane Coffin talked about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. That’s Jesus in a nutshell. Those who benefit from a corrupt system built on the oppression of the many—those comfortable people are going to hate anyone who threatens their own way of life.
What are the justice issues of our time?
Health care for all
Racism—so part of the air we breathe that we don’t even always see it
Environment—climate change, toxins most likely to be concentrated in low-income communities of color
Economic justice—living wage
What might it look like to live in a just society? Isaiah gives us images to work with.
No more shall there be . . .
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.
In other words, people will be healthy. They will have access to good health care.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat.
Everyone has a place of their own to live. Everyone has enough to eat.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity.
We do not raise our children only to send them to their deaths in war.
Before they call [says God] I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The people will be so centered in God’s presence, the relationship will be so close, that the whole society will be guided by God’s justice, and all prayers will know the well-worn path to God.
When we talk about Church (capital “C”) in society today, I think a lot of people would say it is no longer preaching a loving word to all. When Church is known for its hateful statements about LGTBQ folks in our community, it is not preaching God’s love. When it denigrates women, the Church has an image problem. When there is a song called “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?” the Church has an image problem. And so many people have just walked away from organized religion. They call themselves “spiritual but not religious” if “religious” is going to be so uncaring, so concerned with wealth, so clearly biased, so hypocritical.
We, as part of the church, have our work cut out for us. If we are true followers of Jesus, we will commit ourselves to the justice issues of our day. We will come to this place to gather as community, to practice what is life-giving, what feeds our souls, and to muster strength to take on love and justice in our broader world.
To do that, we have to be clear about who we are, why we’re here, and how we do what we do. This involves setting some goals about things we would like to see happen here over the next 1-2 years. A week ago yesterday a group of us gathered downstairs to talk about goals. We came up with the broad goals you see posted around the sanctuary. But these need details. And here’s where you come in. In your pews there are post-it notes and pens. We’re going to create some specifics for these goals, using the SMART acronym: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. What would you like to see for each of these goals?
For example, “Faith Formation” could go in a million directions. We could do theology on tap every third Tuesday, or video classes after worship, or a Lenten study group that takes on racism and white privilege through a faith lens. What would you actually show up for?
The goal “Fear of a dwindling church” actually represents a lot of fears that we named: fear of dying alone and broke, fear of climate change, fear of the church closing, fear of living in such a hate-mongering time. How do we break open our fears so that we can face them together in life-giving ways?
The clergy in the discussion group I attended recently seemed to be afraid to trust their people to ask good questions that would make their faith journeys more meaningful and profound. I think it is only in daring to ask hard questions and opening ourselves up to our greatest fears that we develop a profound faith practice and deep relationship with our creator.
So write your ideas on the post-its—or directly on the goal sheets, if you prefer. Help us find the way forward together. Amen.