Sermon Proper 28C 2019                                                                                                                  The Rev. John M. Atkins

Gospel of Luke 21:5-19

5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “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. 9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

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God created the world with infinite possibilities.  Many of these possibilities involve human choice.  Today’s text from the Gospel of Luke can remind us of God’s possibilities, if we use our imagination.

In Luke’s text, someone admires the magnificence of Jerusalem’s Temple.  This gives Jesus opportunity to predict its destruction.  The Temple was the heart and icon of Judaism.  Jesus goes on to predict that the Temple’s destruction will usher in very difficult times.

By the time Luke wrote his Gospel around the year 85 AD, the Temple had already been destroyed 15 years (70 AD).  Luke uses his crafting of the text to support Jewish and Gentile Christians persecuted for being followers of Jesus Christ.

The text reassures its hearers that while circumstances at times will be grave, God will bless Jesus’ faithful followers.  They will gain their souls from the world’s preoccupation with self-serving behaviors, and thereby, assist in bringing about God’s realm on earth.

There is a genre of literature known as apocalyptic.  Some writings in the Bible are apocalyptic; but even people unfamiliar with the Bible are keenly aware of this genre through books and movies.  Those books and movies have terrifying imagery, depicting the destruction of the world at the end of time, as we know it.

Yet, there’s another perspective of apocalyptic.  Jesus understood apocalyptic not so much as an event of destruction, but as a birthing process.  He believed there would be a day when God’s vision of possibilities would birth a new world. God’s possibilities would unfold through the faithfulness of God’s people.

God’s possibilities include a society of justice, where everyone is given the same opportunities no matter of ethnicity, skin tone, heritage, or any other imposed category of distinction.

God’s possibilities include looking upon one another as sisters and brothers of one Family, one race and one origin.

God’s possibilities include celebrating human diversity and valuing God’s very breath at home inside of each of us.

God’s possibilities include gazing upon nature with awe and wonder and reverence; so much so that humanity commits to working for nature’s preservation; a precious gift for passing on to subsequent generations.

God’s possibilities include caring for animals and cherishing them as expressions of God’s love and imagination.

God’s possibilities include working for the common good rather than selfish endeavors.  Working for the good of all creation is the premise for universal peace, compassion and healing.

In J.K. Rowling’s book and movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Professor Dumbledore tells Harry:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Human choice holds unfathomable power.  Think about it.  We have the power to influence others for our own advantage or to benefit the good of others.  We have the power to care for creation or exhaust its use until it is extinct.  We have the power to make life better or focus on self-satisfying desires.

Human choice is power.

Our choices either helps bring into reality God’s vision of possibilities or it fights against God’s vision.

Children are born with many possibilities.  Parents, Grandparents and other loved ones delight in potentials revealed in tiny fingers and toes, arms and legs, eyes and smiles and squeals.

We baptize children and adults to welcome them into Christ’s Church.  We do this so that they can join us in learning and living

the importance of our choices.

Followers of Jesus have been given the responsibilities of witnessing God’s love to the world, and bringing about God’s vision of justice, peace, healing and love for the people and world God created.

Our choice to live and work as a follower of Jesus demands our focus and contributes to impacting people and the world in meaningful ways.

Today, Cleo will be baptized; welcoming her into Christ’ Church.

Do you realize how precious YOU are?  God entrusts YOU and me with God’s vision of possibilities.  God trusts us to make decisions, not based on selfishness, but rather upon God’s love for us and the world.

YOU and I are among the people God encourages to help birth a new world of grace and hope.

YOU and I have the power of choice.  We can choose to destroy or we can choose to give birth.  The choice is ours.

God is grateful to us when we help in birthing God’s vision of possibilities.  And, it does us well to be grateful in return; because our choices have the power to make huge differences in our world.

There’s no reason you should know Stevie.  I knew him as a 13-year-old riding his bike through the busy streets of the Port Richmond neighborhood in Philly.  He used to attend our Friday evening youth group.

Stevie craved attention, and sometimes, it got him into trouble.

He never had positive parenting at home.  His Mom was among countless others hurting themselves with alcohol and drugs.  I understood Stevie crying out for help.

When I laid down the discipline, Stevie rebelled.  It was too unfamiliar for him.  Often he’d run away.  But I was always there to welcome him back, home in the safe place of the church, whether he returned that same night to eat dinner with us or whether it was a few days later.

I chose to always welcomed Stevie without hesitation.  Upon  returning, he’d tease me and others, show off, and give me a desperate hug, like I imaged he would give his own Grandfather.

I don’t know where Stevie is anymore, now age 16.  I pray he remembers that the church is a safe place where he will always be welcome.

Once again, in the words of J.K. Rowling,

“It is our choices …that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Human choice is power.  We have incredible power to birth God’s vision, and draw people closer and closer to God’s heart of love.