Election Reflection – Luke 21:5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he 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 not 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 and a 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.
I felt like the lectionary laughed at me this week when I opened my Bible to see that the text for the day of our Building Fund campaign’s Commitment Sunday was this bit from Luke’s Gospel where Jesus warns the disciples about making too much of their temple. With all kinds of ideas about prayer vigils, campaign packets, building projects, mortgage payments, and financial commitments swimming around in my head, Jesus says, “As for these things that you see – these beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God - the day is coming when not one stone will be left upon another. All will be thrown down.”
Really, Jesus? Thanks for the help and the encouragement. Here we are trying to celebrate what we’ve built, how we’ve grown, and how we can invest more into it all, and Jesus shows up to remind us that – in the grand scheme of things – every bit of this is just waiting to become rocks and rubble.
So, maybe our investment is for naught. Maybe we shouldn’t bother. Maybe we’ve made more of this than we should.
But then I spent some time with a group of pastor friends of mine this week, for a continuing education sort of event, and we were asked by our presenter to share with one another what our particular communities would miss if our particular congregations didn’t exist within them. (And it made me think about this Gospel. What if it all really was “thrown down”… just gone … as Jesus suggests?)
Anyway, we said all sorts of things like, how much the community at-large uses our facilities…like how we host the only active Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in or around New Palestine, how we charter a Boy Scout pack which uses our space a few times a month, how we’re part of the safety/emergency reunification plan for Southern Hancock Schools, or how we may or may not have the best election site in our county, and that sort of thing.
And as I thought about Jesus and this Gospel, I thought, “Yeah. All of those very tangible, brick-and-mortar, building and space offerings, really would just go away if our facility, our building, our stones were to ever get ‘thrown down,’ as Jesus promises they will someday. That would stink – for us and for our community.”
But in addition to sharing all of those sorts of really practical, worldly things with my pals, the pastors, I thought of something else we would miss – and something that would be missed in our community – if Cross of Grace wasn’t here. And I’m praying, really praying hard these days, that this is still true the way I’ve experienced it in the past.
What would be missing in our community – and in our lives – if Cross of Grace wasn’t around … is a family of faith that is grounded in the grace of God to such a degree that we have found a way to live together and to do the work of God’s kingdom alongside one another, in spite of the many differences that exist among us.
And yes, the presidential election has shined a spotlight on that reality, in a big way, this week.
I got a phone call Thursday afternoon from one of you who had just had a conversation with a co-worker about why so many people – particularly minority groups of people – people of color, LGBTQ people, women, and such – were struggling with the result of this election. And one of our people was able to have a civil, faithful conversation with a co-worker of differing views that opened her colleague’s eyes to such a degree that he was speechless – literally had to leave the room and collect himself, what he’d heard was so new to him. He considered things he hadn’t before. He was surprised by things he hadn’t been surprised about before.
And our Partner in Mission called to let me know that that conversation made her realize what a gift it is to have been a part of our life together over the years, because we’ve engaged the kind of predicament our country now faces in a very real way before.
In 2009, when the ELCA made the choice to open itself more widely to the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ children of God, we walked a road together of hard conversations and holy learning and difficult decisions about the things we agree about, the things we disagree about, and about how much more meaningful the work of the kingdom we’re called to do together is, in spite of all that.
Those are conversations and that is a reality that just doesn’t happen in a lot of places – let alone Christian churches – in our day and age. And it can send some people running for the hills, or at least out of the room in a state of shock.
And because of our short history together, according to the Cross of Gracer I was talking to, it was going to be much more possible for her to show up to worship on Sunday morning and sit next to and sing alongside and pray with and get in line for communion behind any number of others who may very well have voted differently than she did on Tuesday.
And that means that what would be missing from our community and from our lives if Cross of Grace wasn’t around, is the very real presence and practice of God’s kingdom among us.
Don’t get me wrong. We have a lot to learn and there is so much work to do. And bearing the kingdom is as hard as it is holy. Just look at what Jesus promises his disciples in the rest of today’s Gospel – betrayal, arrest, hatred, even death.
But, what life in this congregation calls us to do in these days is to not live in our own, respective little bubbles – or “echo chambers” which seems to be the term du jour, these days – where we only hear what we want to hear; where we only see the news as it’s reported by our network of choice; where we only consider the one-sided views and ideas of the “friends” who fill our social media feeds; where we never have to challenge or be challenged by the differences that surround us in the real world.
No. By virtue of the gift and challenge of this community, we are called to live and to love our neighbor – even and perhaps, especially, those neighbors we would rather not.
Because we can’t change hearts and minds – and our hearts and minds can’t be changed – by the love of God unless or until we do the work of living with one another, even when it’s hard; forgiving one another when it seems impossible; loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly… humbly… humbly with our God.
So let’s be patient with each other in the days ahead. Let’s not rush or dismiss or try to fix the grief and sadness, fear and betrayal some of us are feeling. Let’s not assume the worst about the motives of those who got our way this time around. And let’s do what God’s been calling believers to do ever since the day Jesus was milling around in the temple with his disciples:
Let’s use all of this as our opportunity to testify to what we know of God’s call and kingdom among us: to work for justice, to stand for peace, to repent and forgive, and to use every blessing at our disposal to bless the world around us with the same grace that covers us all.
That’s the kingdom of God alive and well in this place. And it’s what will matter - and it is what will last - long after all of this and all of us are turned to dust.