The Power of Love

For All The Saints…..
November 5, 2022
Celebrating Joyfully in the Face of Despair
December 8, 2022
For All The Saints…..
November 5, 2022
Celebrating Joyfully in the Face of Despair
December 8, 2022

I have been wondering recently if I am living in the end times!  Not a particularly original thought, as this is predicted in each generation, sometimes with good reason.  Last Friday, we remembered Armistice Day, and those who lost their lives in terrible world wars.  We are acutely aware of wars happening around the world now including Russia’s war with Ukraine and all the wars during the last 100 years. 

However, as I thought about the generational violence and sorrow which this inflicts on human minds, bodies and souls, I came across a news item suggesting the end times are not far away for the US.  It seems panic had set in, in the recent US mid-term elections and we are being given instructions on what to do next to avert political disaster and the end times.  It seems unmarried women need to be married in order to ensure a republican vote and unmarried republican men were urged to comply!

More seriously, Luke’s gospel (21:5-19) presents Jesus’ reflections on the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at a time when both had already happened.  Jesus’ words were not a prophesy but an historical reality.  The city had been destroyed when the gospel was written.  However, Jesus shared this prediction with his followers as he walked knowingly towards a state-sanctioned death by crucifixion.  As we grapple with the horrors of betrayal, denial, loss of faith, love and trust as our own most basic fears in our lives, we know Jesus himself did not walk this way.  He chose to walk in the way of love, trusting God always. 

This brief story about worldly achievements highlights our attachment to the costly beauty of great buildings glorifying our power, wealth and control. It gave Jesus the opportunity to highlight the fact nothing is permanent.  Jesus is the dividing line between the old world and the new.  He is the ending and the beginning.   This teaching is not about destruction and fear, but about a new world coming into view, being made real. Isaiah said:

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth….be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating: for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight. (Isaiah 65:17-18)

Jesus’ remarks about Jerusalem, the temple and the future destruction, rather remind us not to worry or grieve, nor resist, blame or waste time in such fruitless thinking and attachments including with our own self-image and desires.  Jesus himself is the new Jerusalem and the new temple. 

Jesus reminds us, pragmatically, all self-serving religions and peoples must eventually die.    Whether we are republican, democrat, liberal, labor or green or the ‘monster raving loony party’ in the UK, these too along with buildings and human systems will pass away; so becoming frantic about worldly endings is a waste of time.  Consequently, Jesus teaches:

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. (Luke 21:8) 

In other words, refuse to join them, don’t be afraid, don’t be deceived.  Those who say these things are the ‘end time’ singers.  We hear them trying to call us today, to persuade us of the imminence of apocalypse, but Jesus tells us: when you hear them chanting, ‘the time is near,’ refuse to join them.  And when you hear of wars, revolutions and conflict and difficult choices which must be made now; about who is saved and who is left out, who is right and who is wrong, ‘do not be afraid or feel pressured to join them.   End times, death, wars, revolutions and destruction are not what this story is about.

Of course, such things happen, but don’t organise your life around them or live in fear of them.  If the only way we can motivate people to live a good life is to talk about end times, then they are not motivated by God at all but simply trying to avoid disaster.  God is not an insurance policy listed under additional risks and payment plans. 

Jesus reminds us the reality in which we live is not permanent.   Saying the world is going to end is not morbid teaching, it’s realistic.  To live as if your life is not going to end is to live a lie.  This Gospel keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously, thank goodness.  It holds both God’s kingdom and our lives in a healthy tension with both the end times and our own endings. This paradox of death and life is real and positive. 

This means we can let worldly things go, which is what Jesus himself had to do.  We talk about this as his ‘passion’, which he suffered, allowed, endured, and which was done to him.  His death was not something he chose to control.  It is his passion which liberates and redeems him and us, over and above everything else. 

Consistent with his teachings, these prophesies about how Jesus’ followers will be treated for living in this Way, reveal how costly is God’s grace, and we know discipleship emerges within social upheaval and suffering.

You will be betrayed…and they will put some of you to death. (Luke 21:16)

But even in these circumstances, don’t try and control the outcome, always choose to let God work in your words and behaviour.  It is God who transforms those who proclaim and those who hear.   Jesus’ witness and testimony of love are the most effective defence against the message of hatred and evil. 

Rev’d Martin Luther King Jr in ‘A Christmas Sermon on Peace’ 24 December 1967 said:

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear.  Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We will meet y our physical force with soul force.  Do to us what you will and we will still love you….but be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom.  We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.’ 

This is the double victory Isaiah and Jesus spoke about, where God’s beloved community will see the lion and the lamb lie down together and the persecuted and the persecutors also.  The double victory is made possible because Jesus promises and delivers to his disciples the word and wisdom enabling them to endure the hell about to break loose around them.  This is the Word arising from right relationships with Jesus. 

I know many priests and church leaders are reluctant to talk about sin, evil, racism, sexism, classism, poverty and war, preferring instead to have pseudo-harmony and unity, with strong avoidance tactics by keeping silent. 

Dr King followed Jesus’ Way when he said: 

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.’ 

This is not easy in our lives or in our churches when we are challenged by God and seduced by the world to take an easier Way.  Jesus reassures his disciples and all those who are listening: 

I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. (Luke 21:14)

The word of God calls us to go further, not simply with an inner spirituality so we feel good about ourselves, convinced about our heavenly destination at the end times.  Nor is it about social righteousness devoid of any spiritual orientation of love towards God and our neighbours.  Jesus is calling us to be what we are, all that we are, living into the life God gave us, and to witness, consistently and insistently about God’s love with you.

The Lord be with you.

Bibliography

Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E.  2014.  Feasting on the Gospels.  Luke, Vol 1 Chapters 1-11. Louisville, Kentucky,  Westminster John Knox Press.

Rohr, R. 1997.  The Good News According to Luke.  New York.  The Crossroad Publishing Company.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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