Gaining a Soul
A Sermon Draft:
Week of Sunday 17 November - Pentecost 26
Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6‘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.’
7 They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ 8And 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.
9 ‘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.’ 10Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12 ‘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. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.
The Teacher, when asked,
asserted as much:
things will get worse before they get better.
war over religion or energy supply or resources
natural disaster famine disease
false prophets with the promise of better times:
the way of the world.
But there is hope in the Teacher’s word.
love of God
care for the earth
compassion for our neighbour
hospitality to the alien
helping others to endure
following the Way of the Teacher –
in life in all its fullness.
Jeff Shrowder, 2013. (Jeff's website is thebillabong.info)
I considered placing these words on the data projector and saying nothing more.
But I want to bring them home to us: everyone lives in a time of wars and insurrections.
There are the shooting wars from which people escape and spend 10 years in a refugee camp, and then make it to Australia to be separated from their newly born baby.
There is the never ending war of another kind; the mother whose disabled child never sleeps more than two hours at a time; my cousins who cared for their severely disabled daughter for 25 years; my neighbour who risks the middle of the road in his motorised wheelchair because the one footpath is unusable; he wears a crash helmet to keep the magpies off in spring.
Then there are the old man in their 80s and 90s who still wake up screaming from World War II nightmares and, their companions from Korea, and Vietnam, and the Malvinas, and Iraq who follow them.
There are the women who were raped in those wars, or in the streets of Australia, or who live in fear from their abusive husband. That abuse, and the abuse of parents, never goes away. Some of the time you manage to get the upper hand if you are lucky.
Everyone is in a war and is a clay footed, imperfect, struggling hero. And as my colleague Geoff reminds us: things will get worse before they get better. Jesus said that.
In all of this Jesus said not a hair on your head will be harmed. It's poetry of course, not literal; a signpost back to Luke 12.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are numbered. Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. And I tell you everyone who acknowledges me before others, the son of man will also acknowledge before the angels of God (Luke 21:6-8)
Do not be afraid even the hairs on your head are counted.
We are of great value.
All of us.
What is it that means that some of us suffer the warfare of life, undergoing appalling deprivation perhaps, having everything stacked against us, and yet flourish, inspire, heal others, and are triumphant? Are these people just good actors who pretend to have found joy?
And why are others— even some who seem to have everything— bitter, churlish, and defeated? Do we have any control over how and who we will be, and the destiny we have been handed, or is the best we can do endure until the release of death— if we criticise those who end their own lives, it might be that we have not yet understood thae depth of pain in which some of us live.
The truth is that some of us are given appalling burdens to carry; burdens which are sometimes largely invisible to others, and which make a mockery of the claim that there is a loving God. Our standards are never fair measure of any other person's war.
There is one Word to us in all of this: if we endure we will gain our soul.
This is not an empty promise or an unproven hope against hope, for life after death. This is about life now. Gaining our souls means to gain our humanity and to retain our humanity in the war in which we live.
Endurance means to persist
in the love of God. It means
to care for the earth
and our neighbor
and the stranger who is not like us
despite all our struggle.
Endurance is the wheelchair lady who offers a screaming toddler a ride to give his mum a break in the supermarket.
Endurance is the exhausted and recently weeping supermarket girl who smiles and reaches a high shelf for the short women who cannot reach.
Endurance is the man who refuses the business of a client abusing a black woman in the street outside his workshop, the person who cleans up the mess, the poor person who gives money to the person who is short a few dollars at the checkout, or who has lost their job.
These people, Jeff said, share in life in all its fullness; they gain their souls.
When we live like this
it lifts us up
it transcends the horror our battles
it makes us human
it makes it meaningful to say God is faithful and that God loves us…
because it lets us see that this is so.
It gives us life.