The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Peering-in to what we cannot fully know

with 3 comments

Coins Iudea CaptaWhat do these coins mean?

Worship of Sunday, December 3, 2006 (Advent 2 C)

New Oaks Church, Washington, IA USA

Call to Worship: Georgann Haeffner

Monte: It is the first day of Advent – preparation for the commemoration of the coming of Jesus Christ to Bethlehem. In a hymnal index, this week, I saw these words: Jesus Christ, Advent, first; Jesus Christ, Advent, second. Had not occurred to me to call preparation for the next coming of Jesus the second Advent. But that is where the Scriptures take us today, and so that is the them of our songs: the Advent to come.

Louder Shout
It Is Well
Forever
As the Deer

Prayer
Welcome
Sermon
His Eye Is On the Sparrow
Giving
Blessing

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Sermon:

Luke 21:20-36

20″When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25″There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32″I tell you the truth, this generation[a] will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34″Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Richard Swanson tells how, in the late 19th century, in the western and southern United States,

…nation after nation of Native Americans took up a dance. . . This dance anticipated a return of tradition and safety, a return of the old ways and the old members of the tribe who had died long ago. This dance anticipated the overturning of all that had worked together to destroy the old ways, including especially European American power. Among the Lakota this anticipation had made an inexperienced Indian agent nervous. Where others with more experience saw an understandable deep dissatisfaction and a desperate attempt to reclaim what was slipping into the past, Agent Royer . . . saw a full-fledged uprising. He called for military assistance and mismanaged the situation until military intervention was deemed necessary. From there, things rapidly became worse. It all ended with the slaughter of defenseless people in the Wounded Knee Massacre. Tellingly, European American sources at the time pointed out quite clearly, to quote Agent McGillycuddy in 1891, “Up to date there has been neither a Sioux outbreak or war. No citizen in Nebraska or Dakota has been killed, molested, or can show the scratch of a pin, and no property has been destroyed off the reservation.”
In the frozen aftermath of the senseless and unprovoked slaughter that followed the rise of traditional hopes, James Mooney arrived to study the Ghost Dance religion among the Lakota. He notes that it was hard. “To my questions,” he reports, “the answer invariably was, ‘The dance was our religion, but the government sent soldiers to kill us on account of it. We will not talk any more about it.’ ” [Provoking the Gospel of Luke: A Storyteller’s Commentary, Year C, by Richard W. Swanson, p.17]

My dad never spoke much of his trauma – the Second World War. Like the Lakota, soldiers mostly didn’t speak of it. In later years, he began to get together with others who’d been there, old men now. The bond between dad and those with whom he served was still strong – the unspeakable bond of those who have seen was humans should not have to see – who have made decisions humans should not have to make, and who live with the smells and sights of those decisions forever etched on their minds.

Dad quietly mentioned, one day, that the Nazis in Italy had forced Italian bicycle troops to go into combat ahead of them against the Americans. Dad served in the 1st Armored Division: tanks. The slaughter must have been unimagineable.

Swanson also learned from his father about that war, and about how we who have not been there cannot really know.

Two old men were talking. One day during the invasion of Normandy they had captured two German soldiers. They ordered them to raise their hands high. They might have begun to do that. Or they might not have. They might have been reaching for weapons. Or they might not have. They might have been as terrified and twitchy as the young men holding rifles aimed at their heads. “I just didn’t know,” said one of the men. “I didn’t know,” said the other. And then they wept. That is not something you see too often, one of their generation weeping openly. They wept, alone together in their remembering of that day when they were so much younger.
“l told them they did the right thing,” said the young woman telling me the story later on. “I told them they shouldn’t feel bad at all. They just did their duty. They should be proud.”
And then she went silent, though she had not wanted to. When the men had finished weeping, they had said nothing to her. Someone else had said something about a cup of coffee, or about checking on his wife.
Because (as near as I can tell) the young woman had misunderstood the story from beginning to end, the old men might just as well kept silent: a kind of functional silence reigned in any case. It was a double-sided silence, if you will. On her side, she could not hear what they were saying because she could not have been there. And because the old men saw that they were not likely to be able to explain what had just been misunderstood, on their side they held their silence and waited for the misunderstanding to subside.

* * *

We’ll be spending the coming year together in Luke’s gospel.
It’s a Jewish story of an observant Jewish rabbi in the center of the Jewish world. It is much more Jewish than Mark’s gospel, which we just finished. It starts and ends in the Temple. Jesus is much more in Jerusalem, as a boy, as a young man, traveling- perhaps annually- with his parents to the temple. And the Temple is the center of the world to his family, as it was to all Jews.

Temple destroy blackJesus went back to heaven in AD 29 or 30. Over the next 30 years, political unrest grew. Romans at one point tried to put an emperor statue in the Temple. Assassins worked the crowds, killing Roman sympathizers. It turned into full-scale revolt.

At first, the Jews were winning. But around Passover of A.D. 69, Romans brought three legions, surrounded the city. They let Passover pilgrims in but not out, to put pressure on the food supplies. Jewish Zealots, looking for ways to get their countrymen to fight, burned the food supplies so they’d have no choice.

Finally Romans have had enough, build siege towers, take the city. Soldiers are furious – and brutal.

Temple destroyed

Temple Destroyed (Hayez):

Soon the Temple, to which many have fled, is in flames.

What we would today call a genocide takes place: Between 60000 and 1.1 million Jews die (the normal population of Jerusalem was probably 50-100k). Sometimes, there were 500 crucifixions in a single day.

Arch of Titus

The Romans will build an arch to commemorate the general, Titus. Still standing in Rome today, it shows the menorah and silver trumpets being carted off by soldiers in olive-leaf crowns.

Coins Iudea Capta

And the Romans would make commemorative coins. Under the palm tree – the national symbol of “Iudea” – a woman cries, a man stands with his hands tied behind his back.

The city is unrecognizable. Those Jews who survive, scatter – including those Jews who were followers of Jesus.

Now look again at Luke 21:20-24, Jesus speaking 40 years earlier:

20″When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

[Time line on flip chart]:
Here is Jesus speaking, maybe, A.D. 29.
Here is the destruction of the temple, A.D. 70.
But look – A.D. 70-100 – and here is the gospel of Luke.

Jesus had said it in AD 29. Luke wrote it sometime between 70 and 100.
Some of those who first read these words had witnessed the surrounding of Jerusalem. They had seen its desolation. They were among the ones who had fled for their lives. Or perhaps, like me, they were among the next generation: those who grew up not speaking of what their Dads had seen. Like soldiers, like the Lakota, they were the survivors of a horror that humans should not have to see. Perhaps Luke is among the first to dare to say it.

Let us approach it with care, as outsiders, who don’t understand.

For in this case it’s even more than that. Not only did the Jews lose their nation, their worship, the center of their world – they lost their history.

Consider the reading for today from Jeremiah 33:*

14 ” ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

15 ” ‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.

16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it [a] will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.’
17 For this is what the LORD says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, 18 nor will the priests, who are Levites, ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.’ “

Was there a time of safety to those original readers of Luke? Hadn’t the promise of David’s inheritance failed? Was there anyone in the temple making sacrifices? There wasn’t even a temple!

Imagine how today’s Psalm would have sounded:

Psalm 25 (NIV)
Of David.
1[a] To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;

2 in you I trust, O my God.
Do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.

3 No one whose hope is in you
will ever be put to shame,
but they will be put to shame
who are treacherous without excuse.

4 Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths;

5 guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.

6 Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.

7 Remember not the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you are good, O LORD.

8 Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.

10 All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful
for those who keep the demands of his covenant.

Among we who are Christians, the assumption is made that something else was meant. But to them, it must have simply been thought that their stories were no longer true. What courage it would have taken for a first century Jew to read these words and not find them mockery! And, how many times since, in Jewish history, has that been so?

But not all that will happen on earth happened that spring in Jerusalem. It is not finished yet. We have our part to live out. Back to Luke 21:*

34″Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

And how would that be? How do we keep from going to sleep?

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13:
9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.*

How are we made ready for the Lord’s 2nd Advent?
– the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else
-May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy

It is about being strengthened in love, and its result: blamelessness and holiness.

So we’ll be looking at Luke. Let’s look at it carefully, humbly – as outsiders looking in, as Gentiles looking at what is mainly a Jewish story set in a time of unspeakable loss. We’ll be trying to know things that are beyond us. Which is how it is with the Bible.

And how do you bring a positive lesson from this dark story?

Here’s how: I don’t know what the future holds. But I know that our spiritual ancestors walked through the worst, and God was enough. Faith survived. His promises proved true.

Whatever you and I must face in the future, God will be enough.
Giving
His Eye is On the Sparrow – Elisabeth Tinnes
Blessing – Pastor Sharon

*New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Advertisements

Written by Monte

December 8, 2006 at 1:08 pm

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thanks a lot, Sudiegirl and Imran! S, I don’t mind at all. Imran, you are always so kind to me!

    Monte

    December 11, 2006 at 11:50 am

  2. Very very very great post Monte.
    God Bless You :D

    jugnoo

    December 9, 2006 at 8:46 am

  3. This was very inspiring.

    If you don’t mind, I’m going to send your blog link to my pastors – our church uses blogs and the Internet in many ministries.

    sudiegirl

    December 8, 2006 at 2:47 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: