by Ellen Sims
texts: Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Thessalonians 3:13; Luke 21:5-19
On third Sundays we experience a contemplative service of prayer in the form of songs, scripture, and silence. There is no sermon, but after a brief reflection on scripture we move to one or more prayer stations.
Today’s Hebrew Bible reading is situated in a time when captives in Babylon began returning to Jerusalem to rebuild. Although “the sound of weeping is heard in the land” as the returning refugees see for the first time the devastation of their homeland, Isaiah prophesies that God is about “to create new heavens and a new earth” for which people in Jerusalem will eventually rejoice.
In contrast, today’s Gospel text begins with Jesus describing the resplendent Temple in Jerusalem, which had been rebuilt centuries earlier. However, Jesus prophesies all that splendor soon will be destroyed so thoroughly this time that “not one stone” would stand upon another. While Isaiah foretold of renewal and rejoicing and hope and peace after captivity and loss, Jesus stands in that rebuilt and bejeweled Temple anticipating its demise again, but by a different empire. While Isaiah announced a time for rebuilding, Jesus foresaw a period of destruction and persecution, and not the destruction of Jerusalem’s great temple only but the temple of Jesus’s body also.
The macrocosm of history and the microcosm of an individual life move from birth to death to rebirth . . . from building to deconstruction to rebuilding . . . from home to exile to return . . . from promise to despair to renewed hope . . . from connection to disconnection to reconnection.
Jesus knows this pattern in the history of his people and recognizes how his own life follows such a pattern. The writer of Luke and Acts knows the Jesus story as the very embodiment of life yielding to death being transformed by new life. In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus tells his followers the hardest of truths: “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.”
How is Jesus able to say that some will be executed “but not a hair of [their heads] will perish”? He’s able to make that seemingly contradictory claim because death does not mean someone has “perished” if death is not the end, if death does not extinguish your light in this world. And Jesus concludes with this mystery ringing in the air: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Endurance, perseverance, dogged persistence. These are the ways we “gain our souls,” dear friends. It’s not starting a project that wins Jesus’s praise; it’s staying with it. Dabbling will not make a mark; committing for the long haul will.
Don’t misunderstand what it means that we should “endure” in times of injustice. It does not mean that we should acquiesce to injustice. We are to resist injustice. So please get out of abusive personal relationships. Please recognize and reform your own unhealthy patterns. Please call out those in power who oppress the weak.
And discern the people and the projects in your life that engage you in the things that matter. Surely peace making and justice and care for creation matter. As today’s Epistle reading concludes: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” Again hear that theme of endurance. Finish the race. Give it your all. I hope you will give much prayer and serious consideration to committing to and with the Jesus followers at Open Table. We welcome you regardless of your ability to contribute to the work we are doing for God’s Kin*dom. But deep and enduring impact comes from deep and enduring relationships and commitment and contribution through hard work and much prayer.
Be with us, yes. But also join hands with us in work that will endure.
PRAYER STATION 1
Draw a picture to represent someone or some group or situation or thing that you mildly fear or that makes you anxious or uncomfortable. (Do not choose something that is triggering for you.) While drawing this picture or symbol of this fearsome thing in your life, try to find something in your drawing—-some small part of this person or group or thing or even action that you can appreciate. Just sit with that feeling of appreciation. Look upon the picture you made with as much detachment as you can. Try to find some small aspect about this person, situation, or thing for which you can give thanks.
PRAYER STATION 2
Our Gospel text, written after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, anticipates the end of Temple-based Judaism in an era of great fear, upheaval, and persecution. Luke’s Jesus warns his followers they will be brought before the authorities “because of [his] name.” Although Jesus told them they need not prepare their defense in advance because he will give them the “words and wisdom” they’ll need at trial, imagine a future in which those accused of doing something in the spirit of Jesus must prepare a defense. On the flipchart, name some Jesus-like action you might be accused of in the future–and in the second column write a phrase or sentence stating why you should not be punished for that “crime” against the powers that be.
PRAYER STATION 3
The Table of God is here to bring respite and nourishment for peacemakers and justice-seekers so that we don’t get weary. Come, and leave your stress and strain behind as you approach the Open Table. Above all, approach with peace in your heart for all whom God loves: everyone! Be at peace with the wolves and the lambs. Then receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation in the name of Jesus. This is a means of prayer.
PRAYER STATION 4
The early church shared with one another, cared for the sick, and looked after the widows and children. Please prayerfully consider caring for those in need through offerings of our church and denomination,