May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be pleasing to you, O God, my strength and my Redeemer. +
Every June, the town of Metamora, Illinois, where I grew up, has a summer festival in the town square called Old Settlers Days. A parade, talent show, carnival rides, food tents, & musical acts as only a small town can do. One year, when I was a sophomore in high school in the mid-1970’s and hanging out with the Jesus hippie freaks, one of the local churches had a special movie presentation in the town library during Old Settlers Days. I took a break from the rides and games and went to watch the movie.
At the first reading of today’s gospel, I felt myself transported back to that night, once again sitting in the Metamora library watching that movie. The movie was titled “Left Behind”.
There on the big screen were false prophets, wars, famines, earthquakes, plagues, car crashes, buildings collapsing on people, wives and husbands embracing, parents and children hugging each other and one left screaming and crying when their loved one was taken up to heaven while they were left behind. Total destruction and nashing of teeth!
That movie scared me more than any roller coaster or carnival ride ever could.
I spent the next hour walking away from the square, away from the fun and frivolity, and I walked around town depressed and thinking and pleading with God.
“God, I want to play ball in college.
Please don’t let the world end until I get that chance.”
“God, I want to be a teacher someday.
Please don’t let the world end until I get that chance.”
“God, I’ve prayed the salvation prayer, so I know I am going to heaven.
Please don’t let my family and friends be left behind to experience this hell.”
Those thoughts and fears actually stayed with me for many years.
After my initial, triggered reaction to this scripture, I can tell you today that I think there is a different message and actually good news in today’s gospel.
So, let’s unpack it a bit.
First, verses such as this one in Luke are called apocalyptic scripture.
The original Greek-language word translated “apocalypse” translates most literally to “an uncovering”.
In the context of religious texts, like the Bible, the word is most often used in relation to a holy disclosure of information or knowledge, usually through some sort of prophetic dream or vision.
The knowledge in theses visions is typically related to either the end times or to insights into the truth of the divine.(www.learnreligions.com)
A second thing to know or remember is that this passage in Luke is describing the destruction of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple that occurred in the year 70 of the common era. And the gospel according to Luke was written approximately 20 years AFTER that destructive event. So, the author is using Jesus’ speech in Luke not as a prophesy of the end of the world, but is instead describing the end of Jerusalem and the temple as well as detailing the events of the lives of his followers thereafter.
The temple had been glorious. Now it is destroyed.
The followers of Jesus were arrested. They were persecuted. Handed over to synagogues and prisons. Brought before kings and governors. Betrayed by family and friends. Put to death.
So, what is the insight into the truth of the divine with all of this?
According to the gospel, there are three. These events--
Gave them an opportunity to testify.
They were told to not worry about preparing a defense ahead of time, because God, Jesus, Holy Spirit will give them the words and wisdom needed.
By their endurance, they will gain their souls.
“They will gain their souls.”
That can be a tricky phrase.
In my untrained, unlearned, high school brain, I heard it as they would gain salvation, go to heaven, be saved. NOT be left behind.
Salvation according to that movie was all about going to heaven after one died, which may sound promising. But the other side of that coin, what the movie so horrifically and dramatically depicted, was that there is always the possibility of hell and who was going there and who wasn’t and how dreadful it would be if you were one of the unfortunate. That notion of heaven and hell was often, and is still too often, used in emotionally abusive and manipulative ways to scare and control people.
That form of salvation is not loving. It was not Christlike. And most scholars agree that Salvation in the Bible is seldom about an afterlife. (Speaking Christian, Marcus Borg, Ch 3.)
Instead, I suggest that salvation is liberation from bondage. It is the healing of infirmity toward well-being, the overcoming of fear in order to trust in the divine. Salvation is moving self and society from injustice to justice, from violence to peace.
Therefore, by definition, salvation is a two-fold transformation. It is a personal transformation which is then used to transform the world into a better place for all.
The following is an excerpt from the book, Speaking Christian, by Marcus Borg, (p. 53).
“Are you saved?” the evangelical asked.
The priest responded, “It depends on what you mean by ‘saved.’ Do you mean ‘Am I saved?’ in the past, present, or future tense?
If you mean ‘Am I saved in the sense, ‘Has God already done all that is necessary to save me?’ then yes, certainly.
If you mean ‘Am I saved?’ in the sense, ‘Do I presently live in a saving relationship with God?’ then my answer is yes, I trust.
If you mean ‘Am I saved?’ in the sense, ‘Have I already become all that I might become?’ then certainly not.
Though the priest’s response can be heard as rather haughty, it is also in accord with the Bible. There salvation does have three tenses. It is what God has done in the past. It is what can happen in the present. And it is also not yet—not completed, neither for us as individuals nor for the world.
In this I hear echoes of Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
So how do we pull all this together? What might be the insights into the truth of the divine? What is the good news here?
I suggest that this passage of scripture from the Gospel of Luke is a road map for us as we move through this world as followers of Christ, the anointed One, living into our salvation-- past, present and future.
There has always been wars and insurrection in the world.
There are wars and insurrection now.
There has always been earthquakes, famines and plagues in the world.
There are earthquakes, famines and plagues now.
There has always been persecution in the name of God in the world.
There is persecution in the name of God now.
Strife division and hardships abound!
So, what are we to do?
According to today’s Gospel, we are to seize these moments as an opportunity to testify. To testify to the healing, trusting, justifying, peaceful love of God!
We don’t need to worry or plan a defense ahead of time, for God, Divine, Holy Spirit will give us the words and wisdom needed in each situation.
And by doing so, by doing so, we will gain our souls, our salvation, a personal transformation which is then used to transform the world into a better place for all.
None left behind.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
And Christ will come again and again and again.
Christ will come again each time we share the Eucharist around this table.
Christ will come again when we love and hug and pray and support each other in this church family.
And Christ will come again when we extend our love and blessings beyond these church walls into our wider community.
Fr. Jared said it very succinctly a few weeks ago – One Bread. One Cup. One Love.
Beloved, be not afraid.
It is our opportunity to testify.
Divine will provide the words and wisdom necessary.
Then we and all of our brothers and sisters will be saved, transformed by the love of God. Amen.