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Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)
Have you ever been in trouble? It’s no fun, is it. Maybe you got in trouble for picking on your brother or sister. Maybe you got in trouble for saying something that wasn’t true. Maybe you got in trouble for making a mess in the house. Nobody likes to get in trouble, do they? Did you know that bees can actually smell trouble? It’s true. If another insect or an animal gets too close to the beehive, the bees can smell it. There are certain bees, called the guard bees, that guard the entrance to the beehive. These guard bees have a kind of perfume in their bodies, and when they smell trouble, they release this perfume. The other bees in the hive smell this strange smell, and they know that it means trouble. So all the bees come flying out of the hive and start stinging the insect or animal that is bothering their hive. Once the guard bees warn them of trouble, all the bees get together and fight off the trouble together.
Our Bible passage today is about getting ready for trouble. Jesus warns the Jewish people that bad times are coming. Soon, the people will be caught up in wars and other bad stuff. The beautiful temple they worship in will be torn down. All kinds of bad things will happen to them. But Jesus tells them not to worry. God will be with them, and will help them if they will stay faithful to God. You see, Jesus knows trouble is coming, and He wants to warn the people. The only way for them to get through all their troubles is to have faith in God and count on Him to take care of them. Even today, the Bible tells us that we can count on God when we’re facing trouble. If we’ll just trust in God, He will help us through the hard times. Let’s pray and thank God for watching over us all the time.
I know they’re corny, but I love good news/bad news jokes. We laugh at them because of the element of surprise, but also because we can relate to the scenarios in them. They appeal to the cynic in us that just expects the world to operate in that order–good news, then bad news.
A young man phones up his dad at work for a chat.
Dad says, “I’m sorry, son, but I’m up to my neck in work today”
Son says, “But I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you, Dad.”
Dad says, “OK, but since I’ve got no time now, just give me the good news.”
Son says, “Well, the air bag works . . .” (1)
Or a gallery owner says to an artist, “I have some good news and some bad news.”
The artist asks, “What’s the good news?”
Gallery owner says, “The good news is that a woman came in here today asking if the price of your paintings would go up after you die. When I told her they would, she bought every one of your paintings.”
Artist says, “That’s great! What’s the bad news?”
Gallery owner says, “The bad news is that woman was your doctor!” (2)
In our Bible passage today, Jesus had to deliver some terrible news to his disciples. But he didn’t deliver it in the good news/bad news formula we’re accustomed to. Jesus told them the bad news first, but then he told them the good news—that God had already planned to help them persevere when events in the future became painful and chaotic.
Jesus and his disciples are standing in the Temple courts, and his disciples couldn’t help but remark on the beauty of this place. What did the disciples see when they looked at the Temple? The Temple courts sat on 36 acres of land. The giant stones that made up the Temple were dazzling, blinding white marble, and over some of the stones was gold plating that reflected the sunlight. From a distance, the whole complex must have looked like a glowing jewel. Up close, it probably seemed like the most impressive building in the Roman Empire. (4)
And Jesus has the sad task of telling his disciples that this magnificent center of Jewish life and faith was destined for destruction. This would be an event that would be more traumatic than the fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last spring, for the Temple was the center of the Jewish faith. And not only that, Jesus said, his followers would also experience persecution and violence because of their commitment to him. Life as they knew it was going to fall apart.
It’s always disorienting to think about how a Gospel passage is heard in different places. In the Philippines, for example, the words “not one stone upon another” will have a much more drastic feel than they can have here. And, of course, when we read this passage after the September 11, 2001, attacks, they carried a particular dread.
In verse 6, Jesus says, “As for what you see here. . .” Those are powerful words. It is so easy to put our faith . . . to anchor our hope . . . in the things we can touch and see in this world. It’s so easy to be impressed by appearances . . . by possessions . . . by symbols of security . . . even though some of these symbols are superficial and, in some cases, not even real.
Jesus knew that it is fear that motivates us to put our trust in things we can touch, things we can see, things we can own. It is fear that motivates us to put our trust in worldly power and physical possessions. We find security and significance in our homes and our church buildings, our appearance and our possessions. And worry leads us into chasing after any false prophet or guru who promises us security and significance.
Every year, hundreds of runners from all over the world compete in the Boston Marathon, a twenty-six-mile test of endurance and strength. Blue lines are painted on the pavement throughout the course to show the runners where the appropriate turns are.
One year, on the night before the race, a prankster painted some other blue lines, which would have led the runners into a dead end. Fortunately, the deception was discovered just before the race began, and the event was run on schedule. (6)
Just like runners following the wrong path to the finish line, Jesus knew that some of his followers could stray away from their faith under the pressure of persecution and suffering. Because fear and worry lead to an increased desire to control our lives. And an increased desire to control our lives in turn causes us to focus inwardly and become even more fearful and anxious.
The solution to fear is to trust God’s plan no matter what the future holds. Jesus said it beautifully in verse 14: “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.” That’s interesting, don’t you think? “Make up your mind not to worry beforehand . . .”
Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “All worry is atheism, because it is a want of trust in God.” (8)
Why is worry a form of atheism? Because it stems from a focus on earthly things, on security, on self-protection. Worry is rooted in a self-centered life.
From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he cast visions of a heavenly kingdom in which all people from all nations would find identity and security. The people of Jesus’ time took their identity and security from a magnificent Temple. Jesus took his teachings outside the Temple, into the streets and into the fields where the average Joes were just scraping by. He took his message to the lepers and the women, to the Samaritans and the tax collectors. In the Book of John, chapter 4, he shared a secret with a despised Samaritan woman. He told her that worship is no longer confined to the Temple. He told her “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
In our lesson for today, Jesus reminds us that all earthly things that we put our trust in will one day be destroyed. Because the kingdom of God is not something we can touch or see. It is the Spirit of God working in human hearts to bring about holiness and justice, righteousness and peace until the day that Jesus comes again. And before the Spirit of God can come alive in your heart, you have to die to yourself.
We are deceived if we place our trust in earthly kingdoms and temples built by human hands. So these things have to be destroyed in order for the kingdom of God to come. Jesus told his disciples that the majestic Temple would be torn down. Their fellow Jews, their loved ones, all those people that they trusted would turn against them and persecute them for their faith in him. Every earthly kingdom, every tangible thing in which they put their trust had to be torn away in order for them to know that the kingdom of God is the only sure foundation for their life—for it is eternal and it will never fail.
When we are surrounded by hard times and persecution, when all that’s tangible in our lives is falling apart, how can we keep from giving in to fear and running down dead ends?
Jesus says to see your suffering as an opportunity to witness to God’s truth. How would it change your life if you looked at every setback, failure, loss or heartbreak as an opportunity to witness to God’s goodness and faithfulness? More importantly, how would it change the lives of everyone around you if you turned your suffering into an opportunity to witness for God’s glory?
Jesus promises in this Bible passage that God has already prepared to defend those who believe in Him. He will give them the words to share their faith with conviction. Not a hair of their heads will perish. And if they stand firm, they will win their lives. It’s a promise from an eternal and faithful God, and we can bet our whole lives on it without fear, without failure and without regret.
Diet Eman and her boyfriend, Hein, were Dutch Christians who hid Jewish citizens from the Nazis in World War II. They knew they were risking their lives in this work, but their faith in Jesus compelled them to protect innocent Jews from persecution. In 1944, Hein was arrested and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Diet was arrested soon after and sent to a different camp. Although she suffered greatly in the camp, she continued to trust in God’s promises of protection. She even took a hair pin and scratched Jesus’ promise from Matthew 28 on the prison wall, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end” (Matt. 28: 20 KJV).
Diet was eventually released, but Hein died in Dachau. Fellow prisoners reported that Hein radiated the love of Christ in the concentration camp. Before his death, he wrote a final note to Diet. It read, “Darling, don’t count on our seeing each other again soon . . . Here we see again that we do not decide our own lives . . . Even if we won’t see each other again on earth, we will never be sorry for what we did, that we took this stand. And know, Diet, that of every last human being in this world, I loved you most.” (11)
Think about that. “Here we see again that we do not decide our own lives . . . Even if we won’t see each other again on earth, we will never be sorry for what we did, that we took this stand.”
We do not decide our own lives. And sometimes that is bad news . . . Jesus knew that this truth could cause his followers great fear and anxiety. It could lead them to following false gods and straying from the truth. Or it could lead them to decide beforehand to trust God—to see any suffering that came into their lives as an opportunity for sharing God’s faithfulness. And ultimately that leads to Good News—the greatest good news imaginable that we really are not in control of our lives and our destinies, but a loving God is in control and every good thing in our life that we have lost will be restored. And we will live life more fully and more wondrously than we have ever imagined.
- David Guzik, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/luke-21/.
- “The World’s Most Counterfeited Brands,” https://www.lovemoney.com/gallerylist/52360/the-worlds-most-counterfeited-brands.
- Elliot Johnson, The Point After(Grand Rapids: Daybreak Books, Zondervan Publishing House).
- George F. Regas, Kiss Yourself and Hug the World(Waco: Word, 1987).
- Zig Ziglar, Better Than Good(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006), p. 33.
- God’s cure for worry © 2006 – Robert Griffith, Orange Baptist Church. http://www.orangebaptistchurch.org.au/sermons/sermon_documents/Gods%20Cure%20for%20Worry.pdf.
- “Good News about Suffering” by Jeffrey Dillinger.
- http://whitehallchurchofchrist.com/sermons/good-news-about-suffering/.Suzanne Burden, “Meet the Dutch Christians Who Saved Their Jewish Neighbors from the Nazis,” Christianity Today, November 23, 2015, http:// www.christianitytoday.com/ ct/ 2015/ december/ meet-dutch-christians-saved-their-jewish-neighbors-nazis.html. Cited in Max Lucado, Unshakable Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).
Dynamic Preaching, Fourth Quarter Sermons, by King Duncan