Friday, November 11, 2016
In the Meantime and the Mean Times: Reflections on Luke 21.5-19 (RCL Proper 33C, 13 November 2016)
In the Meantime and the Mean Times
Reflections on Luke 21.5-19
RCL Proper 33C
13 November 2016
Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
At some point between 80 ce and 90 ce a Gentile disciple of Jesus created what we now call ‘The Gospel according to Luke’ and ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. His name is not mentioned in either text, but ancient tradition identifies him as Luke the physician, a Gentile disciple of Jesus who may have accompanied Paul of Tarsus on some of his missionary journeys.
We do know a great deal about the political and religious world in which he lived. The army of imperial Rome had crushed a revolt in the province of Palestine and burnt Jerusalem and its Temple to the ground in 70 ce. Refugees fled from Palestine hoping to find safety with relatives living elsewhere in the Roman Empire or in those parts of the known world outside the sway of the Empire.
For Jews and the disciples of Jesus the destruction of Jerusalem and the abolition of limited Jewish self-rule created a religious crisis. Many senior Jewish leaders had been killed or imprisoned or exiled. The centre of Jewish life, the Temple, was gone. A small group of Jewish scholars had gathered in a small city on the northern coast of Palestine to create a Jewish religious identity without the Temple. What we know as Judaism today is the fruit of their sacrificial efforts.
For the disciples of Jesus, the followers of the Way, the destruction of Jerusalem brought the end of the apostolic community that had been the heart of the movement. In the years that followed the disciples of Jesus would become more Gentile than Jew. They would rise above the Roman ‘radar’ and be seen as a threat to the state. Relations with the Jewish community would grow more strained and, as we know too well, break out into open conflict and persecution. What we know as Christianity today grew out of this history.
Both Jews and the disciples of Jesus at the time of Luke lived in the expectation that the ‘end of the world as we know it’ was near and that the Messiah would soon come or, if one was a follower of Jesus, return. Both communities were asking the same question: How shall we live in the meantime between the present and the future?
I have come to believe that the meantime between the present and a hoped-for future is often ‘the mean times’, times of conflict and uncertainty, times obf civic upheaval and religious strife. Fear rather than hope exercises its power over us and we are tempted to build walls rather than open our doors.
It is to the meantime, the mean times, that Luke’s Jesus speaks. How shall we live in such times?
(i) We continue to proclaim that Christ has overcome the power of evil and death, that Christ continues to reign in those who do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God and that God’s reign of justice and peace is coming so that all God’s children shall be free.
(ii) We continue to resist ‘the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God’ and we put our ‘whole trust in [Christ’s] grace and love’ (BAS 155).
(iii) We keep calm and we carry on in the life of genuine and intentional Christian discipleship trusting that God, in Christ and through the Spirit, will give us words and wisdom that none of our opponents will be able to withstand or contradict (Luke 21.15).
Let us make no mistake about the times in which we live and about the world we have been baptized to serve. Even before last week’s election in the United States, the signs have been clear. In many parts of our world and, I dare say, our own country, there are voices that prey on our fears rather than encourage our hopes. There are those who seek to shut the ‘other’ out, regardless of who the ‘other’ is thought to be. There are those who capitalize on feelings of disempowerment and disappointment in order to increase their own privileges and power.
But we, even we few in our small congregation of Saint Faith’s, have a mystery to proclaim in the meantime, in these mean times: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. And, my friends, that truth trumps everything else and brings the towers of power crumbling down. 'Since Love is lord of heaven and earth, how can [we] keep from singing?'