St Luke 21: 5 – 28
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘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.’ They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And 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. ‘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.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. ‘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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 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. ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfilment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
In 1939 leading Congregationalists sent out a letter ‘To the ministers of Christ’s holy gospel in the churches of the Congregational Order’ – it was urgent, passionate, and deeply felt. It recognised the desperate state of our churches, “short of men (sic.) and money, but this is not our most serious need, for God is able to take the weak things of the world to confound the strong. Our dreadful weakness is religious. We are not declaring the Gospel with power to a dispirited and disillusioned age; we are not living in the discipline of Gospel fellowship.” Ending with the challenge – “We are today calling ourselves to repent and to believe the good news of Jesus and the Resurrection…. We seek to get in touch and to keep in touch with those who feel the burden of the day as we feel it, and who seek to know the incarnate and crucified Lord, the benefits of His Passion and the power of His Resurrection.”
What followed? For many across the world, hellish years of the Second World War, poverty, and a changing world order. Their words were surely God-given to prepare Christ’s followers to face whatever would come. Now we hear again of the parlous state our churches are in – ‘short of people and money,’ but again it is time to recognise our real desperate need is “to know the incarnate and crucified Lord, the benefits of His Passion, and the power of His Resurrection” in order to face a global pandemic and its aftermath, a world order in transition, and earth itself wounded by our abuse.
Jesus knew what was coming for his beloved city and his own race. It came to pass. Thank God his followers were prepared – they would suffer persecution, exile from their homeland, some even martyrdom. But “by your endurance you will gain your souls” They did, and we still can, until we see “the son of Man coming in a cloud” Come Lord Jesus.
“Because he lives I can face tomorrow;
because he lives all fear is gone.
Because I know he holds the future,
and life is worth the living just because he lives”**
Jesus, in political uncertainties, economic hardships, dangers of climate change, and abuse of human life, may I see you, finding the lost, serving those in need, transforming lives, embracing those unloved – because your Love is victorious ‘til the end of time’. Amen.
*reprinted in “The Story of Congregationalism” by Erik Routley, first published 1961
** Hymn by Bill and Gloria Gaither