“An Opportunity to Testify”
13 November 2016, Proper 28C
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester and Zion West Walworth United Methodist Churches
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 defense 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.
People are gullible.
We want to believe what we believe.
We want justification for what we believe.
We can look at facts and each draw separate conclusions;
Each according to our personal needs, wants, and motives.
This alone should make us suspicious of other people’s conclusions.
Personally, I want you suspicious of mine
Because it is a healthy means of self-improvement
And it keeps me honest!
It also means that we should always be discerning of our own conclusions.
People are persuadable.
Our gullibility makes us vulnerable to the opinions of others.
We like to fit in;
Go with the flow,
Not make any waves.
Sometimes it is good to be persuaded;
We learn, we adapt, we grow;
New information allows us to grow our world view and mature.
Sometimes being persuaded is a liability;
Some call it “being a flip-flopper.”
It can be a sign of indecisiveness,
A lack of confidence,
Or a sign of weakness.
People are naturally paranoid.
A little dose is healthy;
It comes down to self-preservation.
Being suspicious helps keep us alive in an environment filled with danger.
Too much paranoia, however,
Becomes the natural default for those who can’t or won’t make the effort to draw their own conclusions
And if left unchecked
Can lead to unhealthy lifestyles;
People are over-confident.
We think we are smarter than we really are.
I know I am.
In my own mind, I’m downright brilliant.
(Just ask me!)
I’m also sufficiently self-aware to know that this is not true.
We believe we can think our way through any problem,
Solve any puzzle,
Find a solution to any perplexing issue life happens to deliver.
We are confident.
We are can-do type of people.
We have been drowned in self-esteem,
We believe we can do anything.
We are Americans, after all!
Gullible, persuadable, paranoid, and over confident;
That’s the human condition.
It is a blessing, and a curse.
People haven’t changed much since the time of Jesus.
In fact, not only was Jesus teaching his disciples about their present circumstances
He is also reaching out and speaking to us here today.
Jesus is providing us tools with which we can use to make sense of our world.
In the time of Jesus,
And in centuries to follow,
There were individuals who claimed to know future events
Based on present circumstances.
“The Temple is destroyed and the nation is defeated;
This must be a sign of the apocalypse.
This must be a sign the end is near.”
“Don’t you believe it!” Jesus clearly states in today’s gospel.
For Luke and his audience in the early church
The Temple was destroyed.
Luke was authored after the destruction of the Temple in 72 AD.
The nation was defeated.
Rome had burned it to the ground.
The few survivors were scattered to the far corners of the world
(known as the “Diaspora”).
The people were gullible, persuadable, paranoid, and had a complete loss of confidence.
The end isn’t near.
Jesus reassures his future Apostles and church planters.
Persecution may be a reality.
Death was a certainty.
“Do not fear,” Jesus assures.
“I will give you words.”
“I will save you.”
The curse of being naturally gullible, persuadable, paranoid, and over confident is that we draw inaccurate conclusions about the future
Based on current world circumstances.
Who has heard this before?
“I saw it on the internet,
Therefore it must be true.
There was even a picture that proves it.
They’re going to take my rights away!”
Don’t believe one word of it, we hear echoing today.
“Volcanoes and earthquakes,
The rise of ISIS and the former Soviet Union,
Gun battles and mass slayings
Hacked emails and the rise of the dark net,
Are all signs the end must be near!”
From Watch Tower tracts to Hollywood movies and music,
We are constantly being tempted to believe in rapture, apocalypse, and the end of the world.
“Beware that you are not led astray,” Jesus proclaims.
“Do not go after them …
The end will not follow immediately.”
Though fear monger politicians and snake oil peddling preachers
May be spreading terrifying tall tales,
(Often to pack pews and fill bank accounts)
Jesus is crystal clear:
Don’t believe it.
Future events cannot be foretold.
Neither can the will of God be maligned, corrupted or railroaded
To satisfy human will.
Prophesy means looking at the horizon,
Seeing the storm clouds,
And drawing the conclusion that it is going to rain.
Prophesy does not convince God to put the clouds in the sky.
Prophesy does not predict when it will rain, how much it will rain, or how long it is going to rain.
Neither does prophesy draw conclusions that storm clouds are the result of God’s judgment.
Mostly, it rains just because it rains.
Prophets are not oracles or fortune tellers.
Mostly, prophets simply watch and listen and faithfully report God’s word.
A life lived in fear is a life of missed opportunities.
Fear prevents us from building up the kingdom of God:
Of eliminating barriers that divide us,
From ending poverty that plaques us,
Of establishing justice, mercy and grace throughout the land.
Fear prevents us from placing our trust in God.
We become fearful of placing our dependence in anyone other than our selves.
We don’t want to depend on others, and we don’t want to depend on God.
Fear creates false idols;
We trust our bank accounts, not God.
We build bigger and better barns.
We stockpile our treasures
And justify our hoarding by saying we are just “saving for a rainy day.”
We trust our instincts, not the word of God.
Fear makes us hibernate when we get home, lock our doors, and complain that the world is going to hell in a hand basket.
Fear breeds distrust and causes us to do irrational things.
Fear leads us to distrust people who look or believe differently.
Fear sucks us into get rich quick schemes
Leads us to invest in swampland
And opens our wallets to unproven cures.
Don’t drink the cool-aid!
Do not follow those who breed fear and discontent.
Do not be terrified
When you hear threats of terrorism, war, a culture divided.
Do not be afraid.
God is in control.
God has already saved you.
The assurance of Jesus is not always welcome.
Arrest, persecution, and death await.
Bad things do happen to good and faithful people.
Within two sentences
Jesus says some of you will be put to death,
Then promises “not a hair of your head will perish.”
Indeed, though all will die a mortal death,
Eternal life with God is a gift that can never be taken away.
Instead of fearing trials, temptations, plagues, and famines-
Instead of fearing the pain and suffering that life ultimately serves to everyone,
Jesus gives us another strategy,
Another tool for our faithful living:
Take the opportunity of pain, suffering, and persecution to
Testify to the redemption and salvation of Jesus Christ.
Testify to the dirty world who it was that washed you clean.
Testify to the world who embraces death and destruction
Who it is that has saved and recreated you as Christ’s disciple.
Testify to the world that it is Jesus who saved you
And that you live by faith to serve him.
Instead of standing at the grave and fearing death,
Look into the face of death and proclaim
I believe in both the cross and the empty tomb.
I believe in both death and resurrection.
I believe Jesus both died and was raised
And in doing so,
Jesus won for us victory over the grave
And the gift of eternal life.
Testify your faith when life fails you.
Lift high the cross when walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Proclaim the sweet name of Jesus
Even when the devil looks you square in the eye
And threatens to take your life.
Be not afraid.
Place your trust in God.
Avoid the temptation of fear.
When given the opportunity to witness, speak up and speak out!
Testimony builds confidence.
Confidence overwhelms fear,
Faith can grow,
And we are drawn closer to God.
Do not be afraid.
Just stick close to God.