"Keep on Trusting Jesus" - Sermon, November 13, 2016

Community UMC, Quincy
“Keep on Trusting Jesus”
Pastor Andrew Davis
November 13, 2016
Isaiah 65: 17-25
Luke 21: 5-19

        Even though it has been a couple weeks since preaching a sermon up here, this morning is one where I feel like I really need to hear a good sermon after this week instead of preaching.  I feel like I need to hear some good news, in spite of everything we have dealt with in the aftermath of the election this past Tuesday.  Everything we have read in the editorials, or comments on various social media platforms have shown some strong reactions on both sides.  People who voted for Donald Trump are suddenly attacked as if they are now supporting hate, while there is real, almost paralyzing fear among those who did not vote for Donald Trump.  There have been words said on both sides showing the deep hurt that people are feeling right now and how deeply divided our society has become. 
As I said in my pastoral letter on Wednesday, the result of Tuesday’s election may be seen by many as a new direction and new day for the United States, while for many it has also brought a great degree of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future.  The same can certainly be said of this past campaign season too, with people going against people, many times with friends arguing against friends, family members arguing against family members; and in more public forums, friends of friends arguing with one another and with complete strangers.  We know it has been particularly contentious when the NBC affiliate, KCRA-3 in Sacramento had a story last week about how to survive the holidays in-light of this election season, as I think like in my parents’ house and other households, a no-politics policy during mealtime is a pretty safe policy to have during such gatherings.  Yet no matter where we stand, what we believe, or how we voted, this election season has been VERY hard on all of us.  But after having a few days to process things, we need to keep on keeping on, especially in our faith journey.  We need to keep on obeying Jesus’s teaching of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, trying our BEST to love our neighbor and even our enemies which we heard in Luke 6: 27-36 last Sunday.  We need to keep on healing everyone who we come in contact with, even people we may have wounded through our own words or actions.  We need to keep on trusting in God’s mercies and accepting God’s grace.  We need to keep on praying by being faithful and patient.  And today as we conclude our series “Keep On,” we need to keep on trusting Jesus, especially more than ever before. 
        There is no getting around it that this morning’s Gospel lesson is quite dark and reads much like one of those doomsday movies from Hollywood.  This morning’s lesson also reminds me a lot of the story of Chicken Little who kept telling the other chickens that the sky was falling.  Or, it reminds me about The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  In both those stories, when a catastrophe did happen, nobody believed Chicken Little or The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  As we encounter this text from Luke, Jesus has made it to Jerusalem and has made it to the Temple where he is now teaching, and still not exactly making friends with the religious authorities.  However, Jesus is also painting a very bleak picture which in a way might conjure up the R.E.M. song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Jesus is not mincing words as he tells the people and us to
“Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One,’ or, ‘The end is near.’ Don’t fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprisings, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end.” (Lk. 21: 9-11, MSG)

        Like Chicken Little and the Boy Who Cried Wolf, these doomsday deceivers will claim something will happen, but when it doesn’t happen, it’ll be too late.  In thinking of what to say this week, I admit that I have had to confront many of my own fears and anxieties this past week, as well think about my words just as many of us here in this room may also have had to do.  At the same time, while my words may be well-meaning, they may also not be the most appropriate either.  We have heard many different words expressed these last few months during this campaign season, all adding to the noise around us and certainly have heard many different words, ranging from a hopeful tone to tones of deep fear and anxiety.  And as we think of the words to say, we need to take into consideration that there are many who are now fearing for their life and their livelihood as we speak.  And like we encounter in our text, there is still the fear of future wars and even saw the words Armageddon and Apocalypse brought up in a few articles I’ve read.  It really feels like doomsday at times.  Similar was the case in 1999 and the whole Y2K hype, as people legitimately thought the end of the world was upon us.  Yet what a relief it was to wake up on January 1, 2000 that things were the same as they were, even though I felt like it was the end of the world with a bad case of the flu. 
Yet amidst the fear and anxiety that many of us may be feeling right now after hearing all this, Jesus tells us not to pay attention to these “doomsday deceivers,” but instead “keep your head and don’t panic,” even amidst things that can possibly happen or the reality we currently live in (Lk. 21: 8-9, MSG).  It sounds very reminiscent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous quote during WWII, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It might feel like hope is a fleeting fantasy or that the sky is falling, or there’s a wolf in sight.  But this is where more than ever, we need to keep on trusting Jesus, even when it feels like fear is so prevalent right now. 
        Even though we are yearning for Good News, Jesus isn’t quite finished with the dark imagery yet, as he also mentions “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” (Lk. 21: 9-11, NRSV).  If anything, I think I’d want to just run away and hide upon hearing such talk, although we have been living in extreme drought in CA these last several years, or are seeing an increase in wildfires, and the occasional earthquake.  Yet this is some of the reality that we are living in right now, with constant fear and fear-mongering, an increase in violence, and natural disasters.  It’s easy to be afraid upon hearing these words from our Gospel text, although there are some who are quick to claim to have an answer to why such happens.  Assistant Professor of theology at St. Anselm College Gilberto Ruiz explains that “whenever a disaster strikes, it doesn’t take long for some prominent Christians to blame it on the secularization or moral pervasiveness of society”[i].  Amidst disasters, threats of war, conflict, times of deep division, and times of fear, when we keep on trusting Jesus, we can still have hope and manage to find some Good News, even with such a heavy text.   
At the same time, if you are wondering why this text sounds like it might be a good plotline for a Hollywood Doomsday blockbuster, it comes from the genre of apocalyptic literature.  According to Gilberto Ruiz,
Apocalyptic literature uses unsettling language and imagery as a means to assure the faithful that they should keep their trust in God even when facing the most challenging of circumstances. Sure enough, while describing the terrible events, Jesus tells his listeners not to be afraid (Luke 21:9). There is nothing particularly original or specific about Jesus’ “predictions” here. Every age has its own false prophets, wars, natural catastrophes, and so on. We will misread 21:7-11 if we think Jesus is describing a specific set of calamities. The point is that when bad things happen -- and they will -- we should “not be terrified” (21:9) or follow anyone proclaiming these are signs of God’s judgment and the end (21:8). Instead, we should trust that God remains present in our lives.[ii]

        And bad things do happen and continue to happen.  But this is also more reason we need to keep on trusting Jesus, just as we also talked about remaining faithful under ALL conditions a few months ago, or when Susie reminded us to be patient and faithful through prayer a few weeks ago.  Now that doesn’t mean that trusting Jesus is going to make the hurt, pain, fear, and anxiety magically go away, but trusting in Jesus can give us hope.  As Gilberto Ruiz says ”every age has its own false prophets, wars, natural catastrophes, and so on,” and we will continue to have these until the new heaven and new earth is realized as we heard in the prophecy of in Isaiah 65: 17-25.[iii] 
        Knowing that this was going to be a difficult week to preach, one of the books I recently bought and read is Scott Bader-Saye’s Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear.  Despite all the calamities that may go on around us, Bader-Saye writes that “although we may be experiencing a heightened level of fear and insecurity, the truth is that our world is no more dangerous now than 50 years ago, 100 years ago, and 1,000 years ago.  The types of dangers have changed” and that’s very similar to what Jesus is telling us in this text from Luke this morning.[iv] Some of the dangers that Jesus talks about in the text is persecution for following him, but also family member going against family member, or even being hated for following him, which are definitely some realities in today’s world.  But we also have things that are out there to distract us from fully trusting Jesus as well.  One of my colleagues at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville explains that
If U.S. and Western cultures are generally not out to threaten your safety or destroy your body, they are nonetheless out to capture your allegiance from following the way of Jesus and declaring and embodying the good news of God’s kingdom. There are many forces out to use you as a marketer for their products, services, or political, social, or economic agendas for the sake of their gain, not necessarily for the common good or in witness to God’s kingdom. There are many forces out to redirect your desire from desiring the kingdom of God above all else to desiring what they want you to desire.[v]

        Such distractions may be one of the newer dangers of today that Bader-Saye mentioned earlier, along with the false prophets, or doomsday deceivers that Jesus talks about in the text who will attempt to draw us away from God.  Nevertheless, we need to keep on trusting Jesus, digging in our heels if we need to.  The Good News is that amidst all the negative things, unrest, and disasters that happen in the world around us, we still have Jesus’s word, as Jesus “will give [us] the words and wisdom that none of [our] opponents will be able to withstand or contradict” when we keep on trusting in him (Lk. 21: 15, NRSV).  I think Professor Karoline Lewis at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN sums it up best by saying that
Discipleship hasn’t changed much in the last 2000 years. Following Jesus still means testifying to our trust in God in the midst of circumstances that test our confidence and our hope. So we keep going on, with endurance as a hallmark of what it means to be a believer. We will keep witnessing to the marvelous things that the Lord has done and will continue to do (Psalm 98) regardless of the ways in which it looks otherwise. We just have to.[vi]

        We have a new week that is ahead of us, a fresh canvas full of many possibilities.  And in a couple weeks, we move into a new season in the church year as we make our way to Advent and the waiting and watching for the new hope that can be born at Christmas.  But each new day, let’s keep on putting our trust in Jesus and inviting and encouraging everyone we come in contact with to do the same.  Even amidst the events that may shake our faith and try to distract us from God or following Jesus, let’s keep on obeying, keep on healing all, keep on praying, keep on trusting in God’s mercies, and keep on trusting Jesus.  As we continue our work towards healing and reconciliation of our nation, we are STILL the body of Christ here in Quincy and STILL the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  Even amidst the outcome of the election on Tuesday, it is up to each of us to work towards bringing healing and reconciliation to those who are hurting, loving God and neighbor, working together to bring about a new heaven and earth today, both here in Quincy or wherever we are.  But no matter what is going on around us, let’s keep on keeping on and trusting Jesus each step of the way!!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] “Commentary on Luke 21: 5-19 by Gilberto Ruiz,” November 13, 2016, accessed November 10, 2016, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3059.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Scott Bader-Saye, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), 15. 
[v] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2016. Accessed November 10, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/twenty-sixth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016.
[vi] “Commentary on Luke 21: 5-19 by Gilberto Ruiz,” November 13, 2016, accessed November 10, 2016, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3059.

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