November 13, 2016

26th Sunday after Pentecost

BIBLE READINGS
Malachi 4:1-6
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Luke 21:5-19

REFLECTION

Just in case you have been visiting Mars lately and haven’t heard about recent news form Earth, let met tell you that Donald Trump is now the elected President of USA. Let me repeat that again, just in case you weren’t paying attention the first time: Donald Trump is the elected President of the United States. Yes, that billionaire from New York City recently won the 2016 election to become the leader of the free world.

Now, people have reacted differently to his victory. Many people adore him; others loathe him. The rest, I suppose, are somewhere in between.

People who dislike him have long argued that his rise would bring chaos into the world. Even worse, many fear that his becoming the President of the United States would start the nuclear ‘Armageddon’ that would end human civilization.

Now, this kind of fear may be a bit far fetched, but immediately before and after his election, share markets all around the world tumbled. The Australian share market lost 34 billions of dollars on the day he was elected. The research firm, the Economist Intelligence Unit, put his presidency as one of the 20 highest risks facing the world today.[1] Recently, thousands of young people have marched on the streets of the big cities in the United States, protesting his presidency. Some of these protests have turned violent.

Now, whether the election of Donald Trump would really usher in WWIII remains to be seen. I hope and pray it won’t. But, you never know. Who knows? Most people can’t even predict his victory. The only certain thing in this world is uncertainty itself.

It is in the midst of a similar kind of uncertainty that people heard Jesus’ sayings, which we read today from the Gospel of Luke this morning. Jesus’ words in Luke’s Gospel are parts of apocalyptic sayings, which concern about the events surrounding the end of the world as we know it. But, do these kinds of sayings concern only about future events or do they also concern about past or even present events?

By the time Luke wrote his Gospel, the Christians were already under persecution. The Roman army had already destroyed the temple in Jerusalem as a response to Jewish rebellion. For Luke’s readers, Jesus’ words were not prediction about the future: they were present reality. What Jesus said was all already happening before their eyes.

Indeed, the ‘end-of-the-world’ may not necessarily be a future event. Our world can crumble at anytime. It crumbles when our marriage falls apart or when our partner leaves us. It crumbles when our teenage child is addicted to ice or gets killed in a brawl. It crumbles when we lose our long-time jobs. It crumbles when someone we love dearly is dying of cancer or even when we ourselves are diagnosed with an incurable disease.

When Jesus disciples, many of whom were fishermen from rural villages, saw the temple in Jerusalem, they were all amazed. Why wouldn’t they? The temple was a massive building even for our modern standard. Its outer court alone could hold 400.000 people.[2]

Indeed, Herod, the puppet who ruled Israel on behalf of the Romans, had poured massive amount of money to build it. He built it to challenge the pagan temples around Israel. He wanted to build the temple so much so that it reflected not only God’s glory, but his own glory as the ruler of the Jews.[3]

The construction of the temple began around 20 years before Jesus’ birth and it was still under construction during the time of his life and ministry. Yet, in 70 AD, it was razed to the ground by the Roman army.

It’s a reminder that no matter how majestic a human structure is, it's fragile at its core. In any second, it can be thrown into the abyss along with our own sense of security. So, to depend everything on such a structure is foolish.

That’s why Jesus tried to remind his followers not to count on such structure. Instead, he asked his followers to focus on the structure within: their faith in God. Our faith is what will keep us strong and steady in the midst of chaos around us. As followers of Jesus, we are called to live up to the Gospel and its values even when our world is falling apart. Even more: as followers of Jesus, we must find opportunity, in the midst chaos and uncertainty, to spread the Good New of Jesus Christ to others.

The award-winning Australian actor and director, Mel Gibson, recently released a new movie titled Hacksaw Ridge. It tells a true story about Desmond Doss, an American war hero.

Doss grew up in a small town in Virginia. He embraced the Seven Day Adventist faith and became a pacifist as a result of witnessing the abuse that his alcoholic father inflicted upon his mother.

When WWII broke out, Doss was conflicted. On one hand, he was patriotic and would like to serve his country with other young men. On the other hand, his faith forbade him from bearing arms, let alone killing people in war. He chose to enlist into the army nonetheless, hoping that they would allow him to serve without having to carry weapons.

He was wrong. He had to fight against the army establishment, be subjected to harassment and physical assault by his fellow soldiers, and court marshaled before he got his wish was assigned as a medic.

Later, Doss would be sent to the battle of Okinawa against the Japanese Imperial Army. He carried no weapon to the battle to protect himself. Yet, in the midst of the horror of the battle, he saved the lives of more than 75 injured soldiers by tending their wounds and carrying them to safety. He did this often by exposing himself to enemy’s fire while his fellow soldiers were taking cover. He was relentless in his effort to save others and he stopped only after a grenade explosion seriously injured him.

Later in his life, Doss would be given the Medal of Honour, the highest honour given by the US Military for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. He died at his home in 2006.

Desmond Doss is the epitome of someone who maintains his/her faith and integrity in the midst of chaos. He turned hatred, opposition, even horror and tragedy into an arena where he could preach, through his integrity and gallantry, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, as followers of Jesus, we are not to stay idle and be lazy like some first century Christians that Paul addressed in his letter to the Thessalonians. These early Christians believed that they lived in the end of time and Jesus would soon return to the world to usher in the Kingdom of God. As the result, many of them stopped working altogether.

But, Paul reminded them to imitate him and his companions who kept working hard to spread the Gospel of Christ even though he himself too believed in Jesus’ imminent coming. “Don’t be tired and lazy in doing what is right,” he said in his letter. The Day of the Lord may be close, but they must not stop doing what was good.

This was also the message of the prophet Malachi. For him the Lord’s Day, which would end the world as we know it, would not only be a terrible day of judgment of the wicked, but also a day of vindication of the righteous. But, the people of Israel must not stay idle in waiting for the coming of this day. They must be even more obedient to God’s rule and law given to God’s servant Moses.

We too must be obedient to the new law of love, mercy, and forgiveness that God gave to us through God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. When our world crumbles, we must be even more faithful as followers of Christ in our words and deeds.

Malachi prophesied that the Day of the Lord would only come when the prophet Elijah has returned. According to the Hebrew tradition, Elijah, who was taken to heaven by a chariot of fire, would return again. Indeed, even contemporary Jews still save an empty seat for him during Jewish religious festivals.[4]

But, what will his role be? Christian tradition links Elijah with Isaiah prophecy (Isaiah 40:3) of a man who will prepare the way for the Lord.

Indeed, we are all called to fulfill this prophecy of Elijah. We are all called to prepare the way for the coming of our God who would bring judgment and put an end to the wickedness of this world. We are to be like Desmond Doss who spread the goodness of the Lord even as the world around him crumbled.

Once again, the only certain thing today is uncertainty itself. Who can predict what will happen in the world and even in our life? But, whatever happens, we know that we can look to our faith and find God reigns there. And, we can help others to find God as well. Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Trump Presidency Rated Among Top 10 Global Risks: EIU, on www.bbc.com (March 17, 2016)

[2] Richard Swanson, Commentary on Luke 21:5-19, on www.workingpreacher.org (November 17, 2013)

[3] Richard Swanson, Commentary on Luke 21:5-19, on www.workingpreacher.org (November 17, 2013)

[4] Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., Lectionary Commentary - Malachi 4:1-6, on www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org (December 21, 2008)