Thursday, November 10, 2016

Testify

Luke 21:5-19
“Joy to the world, the election is over, at least for two more years!”  While that might not be the good news you all were expecting to hear this morning, it is the good news I’ve been clinging to since Tuesday night.
This election process has left me feeling worn down, beat up and stressed out. I think it revealed to us that there is a lot of division in the country and that we need to get better at listening to one another instead of talking at one another.
The thing that I’ve struggled with this week is how we as a community of faith can come together and heal through all of this. Some of us are very excited. The candidate of our choice won and we are happy. We want to celebrate. Others of us are disappointed that our candidate lost. We want to mourn, we are afraid, we are anything but celebratory.
My challenge as your pastor is to try to help us all navigate through our experiences and to recognize that God is active in all that is going on today. With the fear, with the division, with the exuberance, with the joy. How do we find hope together?
And then, the lectionary gives us this reading from Luke about stones crumbling on from another and wars and I just want to toss my hands in the air.
But I won’t. I’ll pull myself together and get down to business. This passage in Luke is a fascinating read. It has been read as apocalyptic literature at its best. Descriptions of wars, natural disasters, persecution, imprisonment are peppered throughout. But, and this is a big but, it’s not about the end of the world.
That’s right, this is not a passage about the end of the world, or even the second coming of Christ. This is a passage about the temple and its upcoming destruction.
Luke wrote this passage around the year 90 in the common era. This tells of some of the collected sayings of Jesus, particularly his words about the temple, which had been destroyed in year 70, some twenty years before this Gospel. This is Jesus giving an amazing empowering message to a people who don’t yet know they need it, and to those of us who have already realized that structures and leadership can and will fail us.
Jesus tells those that are admiring the splendor of the temple that one day, soon, this temple will fall. No stone will be left on top of another. This would mean a shift in the way Israel worships. If there was no Temple, then where will they sacrifice? If there is no temple where can they go to be near the Holy of Holies? If there is no temple their entire way of life must change.
Not only does Jesus tell them there will be no temple, but that before that happens there will be war. There will be earthquakes. There will be famine. There will be signs in the heavens. Things will be more unstable then you’ve seen them before.
And wait, Jesus says, that’s not all!
You will face persecution. You will be hunted down for your faith by the religious leaders and civic leaders. You will be put in chains.
None of this sounds like good gospel news, does it? The world as you know it will fall apart, you will lose your freedoms. Not what any of us would sign up for.
Then we get to verse 13. This will give you an opportunity to testify.
All of this will happen, so that you can tell the good news of Jesus Christ, not when you’ve been pulled through your suffering, but right smack dab in the middle of that suffering.
You will be betrayed, hated by family and friends, but Jesus will be with you, giving you the testimony you need to bear witness to God.
Wow. This is intense. Luke is paving the way for an introduction to the Acts of the Apostles, a chronicle of what the apostles did after Jesus’ death and resurrection. How they were indeed persecuted, chained up, and yet given the chance to speak the word of God in the midst of those trials and sufferings.
Too often when I think of testimony or testifying in a spiritual context I think of it as sharing that good things that have happened. Sharing about a healing. Sharing about a bad thing turned good, and I think those are important things to share. But I think the kind of testifying Jesus is referring to here is that midst of the storm no end in sight testimony. Those words that acknowledge God is God no matter what the world may look like.
These testimonies come from the mouth of a woman who has just lost a child, grieving, but saying that God knows what it is like to lose a son.
They come from the lips of the dying who offer hope to those keeping vigil.
They come from the mouths of children who offer comfort by sharing their meals with the homeless man or woman on the side walk.
They come from people like you and like me, who are living through pain right now and still seeking God’s face.
In a moment, I’m going to ask you all to do something uncomfortable. I’m going to ask you to testify. I want you to be open and honest about what’s going on in your life I want you to share where you see God or where you struggle to see God. I want us to share our testimony with one another so that it will be easier to share it with those on the outside of these walls.
I’ll start. (share)
I now invite you to share in groups or with everyone your own testimony.
(allow time to share)
I’d like to close with one last testimony. The church musician Thomas Dorsey was born in 1889 in Georgia. He became a musician and spent time in the world of church music and in the clubs of the time. He eventually chose to focus on sacred music exclusively.
“In August of 1932, Dorsey left his pregnant wife in Chicago and traveled to a large revival meeting in St. Louis. After the first night of the revival Dorsey was handed a telegram which said “Your wife just died.” Dorsey raced home and learned that his wife had given birth to a son before dying in childbirth. The next day his son died as well. Dorsey buried them in the same casket and withdrew in sorrow and agony from his family and friends.  
While still in the midst of despair, Dorsey said that as he sat in front of a piano, a feeling of peace washed over him. He heard a melody in his head that he had never heard before and began to play it on the piano. That night Dorsey recorded this testimony while in the midst of suffering[i]
Let us together join in his testimony singing, Precious Lord, take my hand.



[i] Story retold by Nancy Lynne Westfield in Feasting on the Word Year C volume 4

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for all of this. The focus on testimony in the midst of suffering is powerful. And "Precious Lord" has a way of turning up in my life when I am at difficult moments, so for you to mention it here feels like a breath from the Spirit. Thank you.

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  2. Thank you Monica. I hope those in the congregation I serve feel the same way.

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