33 Sunday C - Fighting Back or Falling Back - Homilies

Introductory Story:

The world’s “canned laughter”

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) tells a parable of a theater where a variety show is proceeding.  There are musical acts, dancers, magicians, comedians, acrobats – one amazing act after another. Each act receives thunderous applause from the audience.
Suddenly the manager comes forward. Speaking calmly, not wanting to panic the patrons, he says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that the theater is on fire. Please get up and move in an orderly fashion to the exits. There is plenty of time for you all to leave safely, but please do so at once.”
The audience think this is the most amusing act of the evening, and again cheer wildly, thinking the manager is a comedian! He again implores them to leave the burning building, but he is again applauded vigorously.
Even when smoke and flames appear at the back of the stage, the audience thinks it is part of the act done for special effect. The manager soon realizes he can do no more, so he runs off the stage and out of the building. The audience, meanwhile, whistles and cheers and claps in appreciation of the manager’s “performance.”
“And so,” concluded Kierkegaard, “will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators.”
And so it is today.  Those who attempt to warn others of the impending doom to come are laughed at as part of “the show.”  The prophet has become a comedian, like someone out of a Monty Python skit.  The cynical world laughs at the message, believing it is all a joke.
Yet the world indeed is on fire; the whole theater is destined to be turned to ash – and one day soon. Despite the witnesses God has faithfully called — including the message of His Son – the canned laughter of the world, the mindless cheering, and the idiotic applause will continue, right up to the end of the age….
As it was in the days of Noah…. until the flood came and swept them all away….


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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction to the Celebration


Over the past months we have, each Sunday, being reading from St Luke’s telling of the good news of Jesus. We have heard him talk of how we are to live our lives, how we are to celebrate this meal, how we are to treat each other as baptised sisters and brothers. Today our thoughts move to the future: our future as individuals, as the community that is one body in Christ, and the ultimate destiny of the creation. As we come to the end of the year, it is a case that we now start thinking of ‘ends’ rather than ‘means’. We have been called by Jesus to move along our pilgrimage of life toward our final destination; so now let us fix our thoughts on that destination and ask the Father to forgive us our wanderings in other directions.

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Michel de Verteuil
General Textual comments

This gospel passage is a collection of many different sayings of Jesus, all of them relevant to a situation of crisis in the present or looming in the future. You will recognize their truth from your experience of small as well as big crises.
In verses 5 and 6 the people are typical of us when we allow ourselves to be seduced by earthly glory, and Jesus is the voice of God reminding us of how short-lived it is.
You can take verse 7 with the preceding passage – we admit that earthly glory is short-lived but at least we want to know when it will end – or with verse 8, which describes the yearning for easy solutions to a deep crisis.

Verses 10 and 11 are typical of Bible teachings on the necessity of suffering before salvation.
Verses 12 to 15 show us the followers of Jesus trusting like him in the midst of persecution.
Verses 16 to 18 are promises that their trust is well founded, as his was.
Verse 19 is a little gem of a saying, true of life at every level.

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Gospel Notes

This is the opening of the Lukan version of ‘the synoptic apocalypse’ which is found in all three synoptic gospels. In both Matthew and Luke it follows the pattern found in Mark closely, and so it is an item which clearly had resonance in the early church in that both Matthew and Luke believed it had to be incorporated into their preaching. We have to read it as part of that strand of early Christianity that took over an apocalyptical outlook from their existing religious milieu in Second Temple. Given how diverse is the evidence for this outlook — not only this passage but the Book of Revelation, and a steady stream of such material which never became canonical but left its imprint on the church’s memory — we can conclude that this outlook was quite widespread among the first churches. However, this leaves a major question: was this future which was part of the message of John the Baptist, also part of the original message of Jesus? There is much in the gospels to suggest that this was a major point of difference between them: for John, the future was the great crunch from which the elect would escape; for Jesus, the future was the new creation of the Lord’s forgiveness. If this is the case what we have in the synoptic apocalypse is the position of a group who have moved from John to Jesus without realising that their apocalyptical outlook was something they had to leave behind. It is only by using such an hypothesis that we can account for the dissonance about the future which we find in the gospels: for the most part Jesus is preaching the coming of the Father’s kingdom of forgiving love, yet here we have the great crunch for all who are not part of the elect.

This dissonance produces a problem for our preaching. On the one hand, few mainstream Christians are prepared to take the apocalyptical approach that is found among fundamentalist TV evangelists; yet, this gospel does lend itself to that approach. On the other hand, if one ignores this gospel then it can appear that one is only ‘taking a partial view’ (even if such a partial view is probably closer to the preaching of Jesus. It is this confusion in message that has caused the tensions over ‘the end of the world’ that has afflicted Christianity down the centuries: do we look forward to a loving Father of mercy, or the stern patriarchal figure of impending wrath? So how can we preach this text, yet not contribute to the apocalyptic outlook which had always been firmly rejected by the church’s formal teaching?

One way is to concentrate comment on just the final verses of today’s lection: come what may, no matter how bad it might get, the universe is still loved by God and ‘not a hair of your head will be lost’. As such it is a story about hope in the face of adversity, rather than a piece of apocalyptic cosmology. This solution is, incidentally, not a new one; we see the same approach in use in the final sermon in the Didache (c 16), which was in use before Luke wrote his gospel, and which stressed the joy of the return of the Lord in conjunction with acknowledging the fears of those of an apocalyptic bent.

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Sean Goan
Gospel Notes


In the Jewish world of Jesus’ time one of the ways of speaking about God’s action in the world was known as apocalyptic. This type of language is found in the gospels when the evangelists are speaking about the end of time. The imagery is not be taken literally but is symbolic of the hard times that people might have to endure before the final victory of good over evil. This reading from Luke looks towards the second coming of Christ and Jesus warns his followers not be distracted but to persevere in their faith for no harm will come to them. The preaching of Jesus is never aimed at frightening people into conversion so there is nothing Christian about using the Bible to predict a catastrophic end to the world. 

Reflection

It is inevitable, as we reach the end of another liturgical year, that we think about the passage of time and what the future holds. For some it may be full of promise, for others it may appear bleak indeed. However, as Christians our view of the future is not one either of naïve optimism nor of a dark fatalism. We do not know what the coming year holds for each of us but we do know that if we keep Christ at our side then we will not lose heart whatever befalls us. The Biblical view of the future is one steeped in the hope brought by the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over sin and death.
 
Homily Notes

1. Karl Marx famously described religion as the opium of the people: a comforting message that distracted people from the horrors of life – and, as such, like most analgesics it could be said to be no bad thing. But the message of the gospel is radi­cally at odds with any idea of a religion that it is there to quieten people down, act as a social glue to keep the show on the road, support the status quo, and help people to whistle past the graveyard. Just read the list of what will come whether we follow the way of the Lord or not: wars, revolutions, more wars, earthquakes, plagues, famines, and fearful sights. And you do not even have the consolation of thinking that these indicate the world is going to end; it seems as if there is just going to be more of the same. Then there are the sufferings that will be there only for believers: persecutions, imprisonment, treachery, family disarray, being reviled and even killed. This is not a very comforting religion and it does not preach comfort. Far from being dulling opium that might help one cope with the pain and stress of life, it is a call to open your eyes and view the suffering around us without any false hopes or illusions.

2. Yet it was not just Karl Marx that had not taken account of this aspect of Christianity: a failure to hear this part of the message of Jesus is all about us, both among those who reject his gospel, and among those who are loud in claiming to be­lieve in his message.

3. On one side we have people who every time they hear about a disaster (natural or manmade) immediately say that ‘that shows there cannot be a god’ or ‘I cannot believe in a god as if there is a god such-and-such could not happen.’ They know the mind of God so well that they can know what God can and cannot do.

4. Then there are Christians who go round predicting the end of the world and giving timetables and sequences for predic­tions that show ‘the end is coming’. Again, these people know the mind and plans of God so well that they can tie God down to days and dates. The fact they get all these pre­dictions wrong and have to start over afresh in each gener­ations with their so-called ‘study of the bible’ does not seem to deter them. In fact, they think the scriptures are some sort of secret code that only they can crack, rather than the church’s records of its early faith.

5. In the face of all such people, there are those of us who have to tread the path of endurance. We do not know the future; we do not claim to know the mind of God or to fathom his mystery; rather in the midst of suffering to look to the Christ whose own path ended on the cross. But in following this path, seeking to love neighbour and God, walking humbly and acting for justice, we see through that suffering to the new life. We are people with eyes wide open, called to have moved beyond optimism and pessimism. But we are people of hope.

6. For us who fear his name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in is rays.

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Scriptural Reflection

Lord, we quite rightly wonder at human achievements today –
       *  the exploration of outer space and of subatomic particles;
       *  supermarkets and shopping centers stocked with goods of every kind;
       *  all the modern means of communication: faxes, satellite television, the internet.
They are the temples of our modern world and we are like the disciples of Jesus,
remarking how they are adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings.
Remind us that all these things we stare at,
the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another.

“We remain in the midst of contradiction, in peace, knowing that it is fully solved,
but that the solution is secret and will never be guessed until it is revealed.” …Julian of Norwich

Lord, we remember times of deep crisis in our lives –
       *  a family break-up;
       *  we fell back into a sin we thought we were done with;
       *  we could not get out of depression;
       *  a national crisis seemed without solution.
Many came with easy solutions, saying, “This is it!”
and promising that the time of deliverance was near at hand.
But you sent us someone like Jesus who told us not to be frightened,
that these things must happen and the end was not so soon.

“The Church is still there. Everyone else may have moved, but the Church is right in the center.”     …Josephite priest in Los Angeles, May 1992
Lord, we thank you that in many parts of the world where there are wars and revolutions,
where nation is fighting against nation and kingdom against kingdom,
where there are earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there,
fearful sights and great signs from heaven,
the followers of Jesus are not frightened
but remain where they are and continue to do his work,
knowing that these things are things that must happen,
but the end is not so soon.

“Politics encircles us like the coils of a snake from which one cannot get out
no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with that snake.”     …Gandhi
Lord, we thank you for those who enter public life
unafraid that they will be brought to judgement by everybody,
seeing it rather as an opportunity to bear witness.

“We may not be able to dictate to the world, but we must speak to the world
out of our own frame of interpretation.”         …Lloyd Best, Carifesta V, August 1992
Lord, we who belong to smaller nations
often feel ourselves standing before the great powers of the world
and being judged by them.
Give us the grace to discover the wisdom and eloquence
that you yourself have given us
and that no one can resist or contradict.

Lord, when we are young we think that we become great through our achievements.
Life has taught us the truth of Jesus’ words:  it is by endurance that we win our lives.

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HOMILIES:

1.     John Speekman:

The Extinction Protocol is a favourite website of mine. It documents all those phenomena which might threaten humanity. Here are a few recent headlines from the site, just to give you an example of what you might find there:

  • Panic and fear, as double measles outbreaks hit Britain and Queensland
  • Africa’s Western black rhino officially declared extinct
  • New breed of poison-resistant ‘super rats’ spreading across the UK
  • Doomsday volcanoes on the planet are awakening in record numbers...
  • China unveils strategic map for a nuclear submarine attack on U.S. cities
  • Southern Australia (Gippsland) is being rattled by hundreds of quakes - and scientists aren’t sure why.
The interesting thing is that the ‘Categories’ sidebar on this website is remarkably similar to today’s Gospel which mentions: wars, revolutions, great earthquakes, plagues, famines, fearful sights and great signs from heaven. They are all there – but with one big difference. 

Note a further headline from The Extinction Protocol:

  • New reality show highlights preppers preparing for doomsday
The article goes on to say: For some people, the end of the world as we know it is upon us, and there is no better time than now to start preparing. Such is the concept of National Geographic Channel’s new reality show Doomsday Preppers, which profiles Americans who have taken extreme measures to plan for a forthcoming apocalypse.

I’ve actually watched a couple of these shows and found myself more than a little uncomfortable with some aspects of what these folks are up to. Not only are they storing huge amounts of food, which seems a praiseworthy thing to do, but they are also purchasing all kinds of deadly weapons to protect them. 

The philosophy behind all this, of course, is the repugnant heresy and scourge of our modern age: the greatest good is life – my life, to be exact – survival at any cost – my survival, that is. Through the periscope of my bunker I will watch you and your children starve and then shoot you if you approach my storehouse of food and drink.

What they don’t seem to realise is that even now, already, they have retreated into their bunkers, already they are pointing a gun at me, already I am a threat to their survival, already I am their enemy and already their survival is more important than mine. For preppers with a gun we are already at war. 

So what is the 'one big difference'? Acknowledging the same catastrophic scenarios Jesus simply counsels: do not be frightened.

Faced with the reality of wars, revolutions, great earthquakes, plagues, famines, fearful sights and great signs from heaven and even betrayal, persecution and death Jesus tells us: do not prepare your defence. 

The critical difference, of course, the essential and irreconcilable difference between the preppers and Jesus is that they are wanting to keep their human life safe while Jesus wants us to keep our eternal life safe. This is what he means when he foretells that the Temple (everything) will be destroyed but: not a hair of your head will be lost.

Jesus does not advise us to build bunkers or store food or turn our backs on our neighbours. Jesus’ earnestly desires that we get our heads straight about one unchangeable truth which is that: everything will be destroyed; but that for those who listen to and keep his words: not a hair of your head will be lost.

Jesus relativises wars and earthquakes and persecution and humiliation and loss of life as things that must happen before the great moment of his appearing. He exhorts us to keep this carefully in mind because he himself will give us all that will be necessary at that time. 

For those who believe physical safety, self-preservation, is the greatest goal of human life, the greatest enemy will be volcanoes and earthquakes, famines and floods. Anything which endangers their mindless clinging to the things of this world will be seen as an evil.

For those who believe the Good News all these terrible things are not the real enemy; in fact, they are a unique opportunity to give witness to faith in Christ.

So, as one priest blogger said recently: If you are frightened of the future, of the wars and storms and catastrophes that are coming, of gigantic meteors or plagues of viruses, of starvation in famines, of tsunamis or civil chaos or solar flares or any other horrible possibility – there is only one thing to do – find a priest and make a good confession.
2.     David Vincent Meconi, sj 

Purpose: Change is the one, sure condition of the Church militant.  Throughout the Gospel of Luke, however, Jesus is portrayed as one shoring up his followers in confidence, and in the stability of his love, so as to be able to endure any affliction or challenge.  Today, St. Paul asks us to take inventory of how we are working for the Kingdom, while the Gospel asks us to put all of our trust in Christ, and his promises that he is the Lord of all things, even the trials and tribulations of our age.

Today’s readings open with an ominous warning of blazing fire.  We learn quickly, however, that these are not the kinds of flames that devour and destroy, but which heal those who stand in awe of God’s name.  Pope Emeritus Benedict offered that such fire is really the love of Christ, who is out to burn all detritus and waste from our beautiful souls, offering the opinion:

… that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God (Spe Salui §47).

Made in his image and likeness, we are made to become one with God (cf. Gen 1:26-27).  In our sins, we play around with the possibility that maybe this or that creature could replace God as our model and goal.  We think, “Maybe that career, or that romance, or that amount of money, could be the thing which could truly fulfill me”, and so we latch inordinately on to sex, money, and honors.  This is precisely why we need the purgatorial fires of Christ’s love.  Only in the surety of perfect love are we free enough to allow ourselves to be transformed, however “painful” that process might be.  When we know we are loved, we open our hearts and, thus, allow them to be repaired.

Paul can thus be straightforward with his “brothers and sisters” at Thessolonica,  challenging them to greatness because he loves them.  He calls them to work tirelessly for Christ; personifying the fires of the first reading, Paul realizes that all else must burn away as one gives one’s life to labor with Jesus.  He, therefore, exhorts all of us to toil with unquestionable example, and undying solicitude, for those in our care.  In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola has the retreatant imagine, “Christ our Lord present and placed on the Cross.”  Gazing upon this supreme act of love, Ignatius asks one then to:

  • Look at myself: What I have done for Christ?
  • What am I doing for Christ?
  • What ought I to do for Christ?
And so seeing him as such, and so nailed on the Cross, to go over that which will present itself.  The Colloquy is made, properly speaking, as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant to his master; now asking some grace, now blaming oneself for some misdeed, now communicating one’s affairs, and asking advice in them.

Notice how St. Ignatius defines prayer as simple conversation between friends, as well as between one who needs advice and counsel, and one who is able to advise and absolve perfectly.  It is in such friendship and trust that true conversion takes place.

Today, we hear echoes of these solemn admonitions in Pope Francis’ simplicity and desire for all clergy to live more simply and more credibly in the eyes of the world.  The Holy Father teaches by example: that all the ordained should live without undue privilege, and with more deference to conform to the lives and challenges of those put in their care.  The day of the pampered cleric is, hopefully, over and all who are now called to the priesthood are willing to lay aside their riches, honor, and pride.

The Gospel, accordingly, teaches us to consider people over places, and human dignity above religious ritual.  “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”  As beautiful as our church buildings are (and should be), as lovely as the prescribed rituals of our Church are (and must be), we are always to be reminded that, in the end, only the holiness of persons matter.  For the Christian, there are technically no holy places, only holy people; what makes this pilgrimage place or worship spot “holy” is not the topography, but the Person of Christ in the Eucharist, around whom all liturgical space is to be built.  Of course, architecture and ceremony can be ways of realizing sanctity, but they can also be possible impediments and distractions to what really is important in the Christian life.  Once again, C.S. Lewis is so good on a topic so essential:

There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But, it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors … Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.  If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ uere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden (The Weight of Glory).

God saves the world, not as spirit, and not from heaven.  By assuming to himself the very stuff you and I take for granted each day—our humanity, our relationships, our worldly activities, the care of our bodies, and training of our minds, and so on—the Son of God redeemed the world by offering his mortal body to the Father.  This is the true notion of sacrifice and, thus, the true purpose of religion: to consecrate ourselves in Truth, and thus be offered as a gift to the Father by pouring ourselves out in the service of his people, and to the glory of his name.

This Sunday’s readings, hence, instruct us how we cannot become saints in part. The fire of God aims to burn away all that is not yet his in our lives.  We can spend this life in the pursuit of the popular small goods, like social invitations, buildings, degrees, and material comforts, or we can spend our lives heroically in imitating Paul, and all the great saints, by serving God in benignity, humility, and the confidence that comes from knowing that he is Lord of heaven and of earth.
 

3.     Connections 

THE WORD:

Many Jews believed that the end of the world would be signaled by the destruction of the great temple at Jerusalem. That is exactly what happened in the year 70 A.D., when more than a million Jews were killed in a desperate siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.  It is against this background of this event that Luke writes his life of Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple and a chronicle of catastrophes.  But Jesus does not teach dread here but hope.  Trying to calculate the end of time is a waste of time; the signs of the apocalypse -- war, plague, earthquakes -- will appear in every age and there always will be self-proclaimed “messiahs” who will manipulate such events for their own power.  Jesus assures his followers that those who remain faithful to the vocation of discipleship will have nothing to fear when the end comes. 

HOMILY POINTS:

Jesus calls us not to be obsessed with the “stones” that will one day collapse and become dust but to seek instead the lasting things of the soul, the things of God.

In the most difficult and paralyzing moments we face, Jesus promises us that when we act out of selfless love to seek first the good of another, we will find the words and actions that heal and lift up.  God remains present to us in the goodness within ourselves and in the caring compassion offered by others.

Despite the wars we fight, the earthquakes that shake our sureties, the disasters that topple our secure, self-centered worlds, we can always rebuild our lives on the stronger and timeless things of God: compassion, reconciliation, friendship, generosity.

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1.     Andrew Greeley: 

Background:

The question of whether Jesus actually used the apocalyptic rhetoric attributed to him in today’s gospel is still debated. Some think that he did not, that he was more concerned with God’s love for us than he was with the destruction of the temple or signs in the heaven.   

 They argue that the rhetorical style of signs and wonders in the heavens was part of the culture of the time (and not just among the Jews) and that it meant indeed the end of the old creation but the beginning of a new creation.  

However, it is not impossible to believe that Jesus used this mode of speaking to indicate that with his message of God’s love a new creation had begun.

Story:

Once upon a time a new alderman was running in a certain city. He promised that his business would not solicit clients from the ward and indeed not accept them if they came. Moreover the also promised that he would give his aldermatic salary to the neighborhood. He’d turn it over to a committee of clergy from the ward to use however they saw fit. No one believed him. Why was he running for alderman if he didn’t want the money? He replied that he was running  because he thought he’d love the job. What are you going to live off, they demanded. Off the income from my business, I don’t need any more money.  Still no one believe him.  

All politicians were interested in making money, weren’t they? Sure they were. Look at all the scandals in the papers. Nothing ever changes. Cynicism is the only way to react to someone who promises a new beginning. Well, the candidate won in a run-off, but even those who voted for him were convinced that he was a crook.   

Funny thing, though, he did give his first year’s salary to the local clergy and he didn’t do any business with firms in his ward. Even today, people still don’t believe him.

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2.     Have you ever tried to make a prediction?

Here are some predictions from the past. All from people who were trusted individuals:

Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, in 1943 said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

Popular Mechanics magazine in 1949 made this prediction: "Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons."

There was an inventor by the name of Lee DeForest. He claimed that "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility."

The Decca Recording Co. made a big mistake when they made this prediction: "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." That was their prediction in 1962 concerning a few lads from Liverpool. Their band was called the Beatles.

As the disciples walked out of the Temple in Jerusalem Jesus paused with his disciples, looked back at the Temple and predicted, "Do you see all these great buildings. Not one stone will be left on another." To the disciples this was bedrock. Nothing could bring down these walls. "Look, teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" they said to Jesus...
The smallest stones in the structure weighed 2 to 3 tons. Many of them weighed 50 tons. The largest existing stone is 12 meters in length and 3 meters high, and it weighed hundreds of tons! The stones were so immense that neither mortar nor any other binding material was used between the stones. Their stability was attained by the great weight of the stones. The walls towered over Jerusalem, over 400 feet in one area. Inside the four walls was 45 acres of bedrock mountain shaved flat and during Jesus’ day a quarter of a million people could fit comfortably within the structure.
You can then understand the disciples surprise. As they walked down the Kidron valley and up mount olive Peter James and John wanted to hear more.
Jesus’ prediction that a structure so immense would be levelled to the ground seemed implausible. But they pressed Jesus for more information. They wanted to know when. What would be the sign that this was about to take place. In their voice was fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that their lives were about to change forever. Jesus had not made any predictions like this one. This was different. This, they could understand.
Forty years later Jesus’ prediction came true. In 70 AD the Temple was destroyed by Rome.
But the Church of Jesus Christ – founded on the bedrock of faith – still stands.
Despite persecutions, despite divisions, despite criticism, opposition and mockery, despite all the forces the world can muster against it, the Church still stands,
It may lose direction at times; it may appear to have suffered setbacks; it may have been considered to have made grave errors of judgement – but it still stands, and still seeks to do God’s will and realize Christ’s divine manifesto.
Napoleon, writing in exile on St Helena, wrote these famous words:
“Alexander (The Great), Caesar, Charlemagne and I have founded empires.  But on what?  On force!  Jesus alone founded his empire on love; and at this hour, millions of men would die for him.  He is everywhere proclaimed, loved and adored and his sway is extended over all the earth”
The Church still stands – and it always will…as long as there are people ready to profess their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
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3.     Fighting back against falling back?

 Spring forward; fall back.

 These past couple of weeks your bio-rhythms have been batty, fighting back after "falling back" or maybe even "falling flat." 

Retreating one hour in order to get back to "Standard Time" is supposed to make our mid-winter mornings less dark and dismal. Unfortunately, as anyone who lives above the 45th parallel knows, those brighter "a.m.'s" come attached to distinctly darker and longer "p.m.'s." And even that extra morning light really only lasts for a couple of weeks, at best.

It isn't easy to readjust the "circadian" rhythms of our bodies. Not even by just an hour. And if you are not afflicted with SAD, "seasonal affective disorder, where the lack of daylight hours brings on depression, lethargy, and genuine "SADness," losing the light still brings all of us physical challenges and changes.
 

You cannot wake up "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" to birdsong when all the song birds have flown south and the only feathered friend you see on your morning commute is the occasional owl.

It is hard to argue with the family dog when the open door for a gloomy, rain-soaked "morning" walk is rejected with horror and he beats a fast-track back to his snuggly-ball doggy bed. 

Besides over-priced trips to sunny lands abroad and fried-sun states at home, scientists prescribe doses of specific wave lengths of light, available in special light bulbs, to help our bodies fight off the SAD-slump fall-back. More recently, nutritionists have recommended we up our intake of Omega-3 oils - those "good" fats found especially in oily fish and English walnuts. Salmon, the fish with the most unchangeable body rhythm of any scaly swimmer, is especially high in these Omega-3 fatty acids. Apparently it takes a crazy, obsessed-by-tides-and-rhythms fish to help our bodies combat the changing tides and rhythms that the turning world has unleashed upon us.

Cold, dark days make us want to hunker down and veg out. The feeling that all there is ahead of us is a cold, dark future can bring on a kind of human "root vegetable" behavior. The just finished political races bombarded us with bad news. Employment numbers are slightly improving but not encouraging. The future of the economy does not look rosy. Getting up every morning, keeping motivated, giving all we have to our family, our church, our community, is not easy under these dark conditions.

The concluding commands made to the Thessalonian community in this week's epistle text addressed the threat of "idleness" to the life of the faithful... 
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 4.     Stop Speculating!

Here, in my judgment, is one of the subtlest temptations that faces any Christian in any era: If we are not careful, we can get diverted here from what Christ has called us to do in this present age. This happened in Thessalonica not twenty years after Jesus died, and Saint Paul met the issue head on. Some of the folk there got so caught up in expecting and predicting the imminent return of the Lord that they had ceased to do any work and degenerated into idle busybodies who prattled only about the future (2 Thessalonians 3:11). Paul rebuked this tendency to let an over-interest in "the last things" divert us from faithfulness to "the first things." 

There is an old story about a warrior who was struck one day by a poisonous arrow. This man happened to be a speculative sort of person, so as he lay on the ground he mused to himself: "I wonder what kind of wood this arrow is made of? What sort of birds, do you suppose, the feathers come from? I wonder what type of man shot this arrow - tall or short, dark or light." His comrades, who saw his plight, could bear it no longer, but cried out in frustration: "For God's sake, man! Stop speculating and pull out the arrow!"

Need I say more?

Gary L. Carver and Tom M. Garrison, Sermons for Sundays in Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Building a Victorious Life, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

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5.     Consider the Joy!

Consider the story of one young man. He was often sick as a baby. He was always small, puny some would say. As a youth he was always frail and delicate. He was not able to play sports with the other boys his age. Eventually he entered the ministry. But his health was so fragile, he was unable to serve his growing congregation.

Amazingly, he did not dwell on his troubles. In fact, his spirit soared. His only real complaint was the poor quality of the hymns of his day. He felt they did not convey hope and joy. Someone challenged him to write better ones. He did. He wrote over 600 hymns, most of them hymns of praise.

When his health collapsed completely in 1748, he left one of the most remarkable collection of hymns the world has ever known. His name was Isaac Watts. In a few weeks we will be singing one of his most famous hymns, "Joy to the World!" Isaac Watts discovered joy in his life because he knew that God would never desert him. He was able to live his life with all sorts of health problems feeling close to God and Jesus. He had joy deep in his heart. 

Timothy J. Smith
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6.     When All Hope Seems Lost

Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City during the Depression, and he was quite a character. He would ride the city fire trucks, take entire orphanages to baseball games and whenever the city newspapers went on strike, he would get on the radio and read the Sunday "funnies" to the children.

At any rate, one bitter cold winter's night in 1935, Mayor LaGuardia turned up in a night court that served the poorest ward in the city, dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. After he heard a few cases, a tattered old woman was brought before him, accused of stealing a loaf of bread.

She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick and her grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, insisted on pressing charges. "My store is in a very bad neighborhood, your honor," he said. "She's got to be punished in order to teach other people a lesson."

The mayor sighed. He turned to the old woman and said, "I've got to punish you," he said. "The law makes no exception - ten dollars or ten days in jail."


But even as he spoke, LaGuardia was reaching into his pocket and pulling out a ten dollar bill. "Here is the woman's fine," he said, "and furthermore, I'm going to fine everyone in this court room fifty cents for living in a city where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant."


The following day, the New York Times reported that $47.50 was turned over to the bewildered old woman. It was given by the red-faced store owner, some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations and city policemen - and they all gave their mayor a standing ovation as they handed over their money.

That's how it will be with God's world. Just when it seems that all hope is lost, and goodness and mercy shall never win, the Great Judge will come to set things right, deciding for the hungry and the meek of the earth.


Erskine White, Together in Christ
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7.     With a Good Ship

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once told of encountering a hurricane while on a cruise in the Atlantic. After the captain managed to sail around the danger, he and Dr. Peale were visiting with one another.

The captain said he had always lived by a simple philosophy namely that if the sea is smooth, it will get rough; and if it is rough, it will get smooth. He added something worth remembering: "But with a good ship," the Captain said, "you can always ride it out."

Our ship is our faith in Christ. With a good ship, you can always ride it out. Life is unpredictable. God is with us. Not a hair on our head will perish.

King Duncan, Stay Alive All Your Life, Cited by Steve Lambert
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8.     The Best Conclusion

C. S. Lewis said that when the author appears on the stage, you know the play is over. This is how he understands the doctrine of the Second Coming of our Lord. It means that he who has begun a good work will bring it to the best conclusion of which he is capable. After all, no one has ever claimed that this planet earth was intended to exist forever. In what is called by scientists "the second law of thermodynamics," it is clearly predicted that the energy supply of this planet will eventually come to an end, which means that a conclusion of life as we know it here is inevitable. The concept of the Second Coming merely affirms that such a conclusion will be purposeful. The drama of history is not going to just fizzle out or end in a whimper! It is going to come to the kind of climax that he who conceived the drama wants for it.

Gary L. Carver and Tom M. Garrision, Sermons for Sundays in Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Building a Victorious Life, CSS Publishing Company 

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9.     Don't Panic

"Don't panic!" Those are the words I frequently say when someone has come to see me and they are in the midst of a crisis. They may have lost their job, had a marital crisis, a problem with a child, or found themselves in serious financial trouble. They are anxious. It seems like the world is caving in on them. They feel lonely and afraid. They can't see any way out of their predicament.

It has been my experience over the years as a pastor that when folks are desperate they tend to run, quit or act in haste. I am not discounting their pain or minimizing the crisis, rather I am merely helping them to see that their perceptions have exaggerated the crisis. Or, they have a distorted perception of reality.

This was the case with the disciples. They were being persecuted by an oppressive government. They were powerless and under immense pressure. All seemed dark and hopeless, so much so that they wondered if the "end" was near. They were desperate, blinded by their anxiety and totally unable to see into the future.

They are no different than us. Whenever things are happening in the world of epic proportions, like hurricanes, wars, catastrophes or plagues there are those who believe that the world is coming to an end.

Keith Wagner, Are You Having an Anxiety Attack?
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10.  Tie in to the Destruction of the Temple 

In the Hobbit by JRR Tolkein, Bilbo Baggins has met Gollum for the first time. Bilbo is lost and needs to find his way out of Gollum's cave. Gollum will show him the way out if he can answer a riddle.

This thing all things devours,
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stone to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

Bilbo is stumped... 

Do you know the answer? Take a moment to try to figure it out before looking at the answer below.

The answer to the riddle is "time". It's so true. Time will devour all living things, as well as everything else. If you live long enough, you can see some of the effects of time. Drive through a rural area sometime and take a look at the barns, sheds and possibly even houses that are deteriorated with time. What you see there is taking place all around you. Some things perish quickly (maybe even were designed to do so). Other things, like the great Egyptian pyramids, seem to stand the test of time. But, given enough time, everything will crumble. And when Jesus returns, we'll be made aware of just how temporary the things of this life are.

"All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endure forever." (I Peter 1:24-25).

*****
From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

Anecdote:  1:  The theater is on fire: The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, tells the parable of a theater where a variety show is proceeding. Each act is more fantastic than the last, and each is applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager appears on the stage, apologizing for the interruption.  He announces at the top of his voice that the theater is on fire, and begs his patrons to leave the theatre immediately, without causing a commotion. The spectators think that it is the most amusing turn of the evening, and cheer thunderously. The manager again feverishly implores them to leave the burning building, and he is again applauded vigorously. At last he can do no more. The fire races through the whole building engulfing the fun-loving audience with it. "And so," concludes Kierkegaard, "will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators" (Resource, July/August). Today’s readings warn us about a similar fate if we are not well prepared when the “Day of the Lord” dawns quite unexpectedly, marking the end of the world. 

  2: Be patient and be faithful waiting for Christ’s Second Coming. Remember Albert Einstein’s words after the Second World War: “As a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities were immediately silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities were silenced in a few short weeks. Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it, because the Church alone has had the courage to stand for intellectual truth, and moral freedom. I am forced to confess that what I once despised, now I praise unreservedly.” The Church had the moral courage to resist a dictator, and it saved the lives of so many Jews because it believed in the assurance given by Jesus in today’s Gospel.

3: Beware of false messiahs: In 1978, the whole world was shocked and dismayed by reports from Jonestown, Guyana where the Rev. Jim Jones had led hundreds of people into one of history’s darkest mass-suicides and mass-murders. These were not ignorant, primitive savages in a far-off land. They were American citizens who had fallen under the leadership of a madman. We don’t see many signs nowadays of the Moonies. Their founder Rev. Moon and his Unification Church have faded into the background. At one time he boasted considerable political support. He invested heavily in the elections of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Rev. Moon built an empire by putting young people out on the streets selling flowers. Moon preached that a new messiah was soon to come. He claimed that new messiah was a man born in Korea in the 20th century. False messiahs are forever with us. We need not even deal with such self-deluded creatures as mass-murderer Charles Manson who gathered a group of seemingly intelligent young adults as his followers. Manson once said, “My philosophy is: ‘Don’t think.’” That is the philosophy subtly expressed by all false messiahs. Don’t think. Reason is the enemy of all fanatics. But false messiahs do come along every once in a while. That is why Jesus warns his followers about false messiahs in today’s Gospel.