Weekly Seeds: Make Up Your Mind

Sunday, November 13, 2022
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost | Year C

Focus Theme:
Make Up Your Mind

Focus Prayer:
Embodied God, you have made us your temple. Dwell in us when we are beautifully adorned and dwell in us when we are thrown down. Dwell in us. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Luke 21:5–19
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “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.”
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 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.
9 “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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12 “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. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

All readings for this Sunday:
Isaiah 65:17–25 and Isaiah 12
Malachi 4:1–2a and Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6–13
Luke 21:5–19

Focus Questions:
1. How does your faith inform your choices?
2. What aspects of life do you separate from faith considerations?
3. Have you made a commitment to follow the way of Jesus and to be a vessel of Jesus in the world?
4. How does that commitment change your understanding of your identity and purpose?
5. How does that commitment inform your understanding and perspective on the church?

By Cheryl Lindsay

During Old Testament I in seminary, a classmate asked our professor, Dr. Dan Hawk, if he believed that God knows everything that is going to happen before it happens. Dr. Hawk responded with a question for us to ponder. (Paraphrasing) Does God know the future or does God knows us for well that God can predict how we will respond to any given situation?

Free will and the creative movement of God strongly suggests that the future unfolds before God as it does for us. It isn’t that God has a crystal ball like the fortune tellers in movies that reveal the actions and activities to come. Rather, Creator knows creation…and that knowing is complete, intimate, and all-encompassing. That lens encourages us to confront our participation in a predictable future.

Luke’s gospel account takes us on the journey to Jerusalem through much of its narrative. We have finally reached the precipice of the climatic event in the ministry of Jesus. The passion has not begun but Christ has entered the city. He has dedicated the journey toward Jerusalem to preparing his disciples to continue in his name after his earthly participation concludes. Now, Jesus returns to the synagogue and is teaching among the other scholars and experts. This event serves as a bookend with his entry into the temple on another trip to Jerusalem for a festival observance. That time, he traveled with his parents. This time, he is surrounded with the family he has assembled. There is symmetry and closure found in his final appearance in the temple. His earlier foray occurred when he was twelve years old, a year marked for coming of age in many religious and secular traditions. Jesus’ rite of passage did not place him in the temple as a student but as a teacher in another reversal found in the Lukan narrative.

This time, Jesus is an adult and has been heralded as a conquering king upon entering Jerusalem, While Jesus moves through that crowd, he does not receive that crown. His mission’s next step takes him to the temple to continue framing the events to come, specifically but not exclusively to his disciples.

In the temple, Jesus discusses the temple. Those in his company had been speaking of its beauty and the gifts within it dedicated to God.

Luke is not the first to link Jewish rejection of Jesus with the end of the temple cult. He simply elaborates a connection already present in Mark….For Luke, as for Mark, admiration of the temple cues Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse.

Jocelyn McWhirter

The temple is a temporary structure, vulnerable to destruction. From his words, it is not clear if the temple will succumb to natural forces or human machinations. Still, it is clear that Jesus predicts complete destruction. Its beauty will not preserve it, and the dedication of it will not protect it. Naturally, the disciples want to be prepared not only for the magnitude of this destruction, they want to know when and how (by sign) it will happen. Jesus is predicting the future, surely, he knows the when and how as much as the what and why.

In his response, Jesus responds while avoiding a direct answer. He warns his disciples against false prophets and false predictions. He also offers further detail that becomes more and more ominous. It isn’t just the temple that will fall. Destruction will not be isolated or emanating from one source. Both human hands and natural disasters will conspire to make creation a very dim place to be. The disciples themselves will not be exempted from ruin. Their fate provides an appointment with suffering, arrest, ostracization, and even death. He continues to prepare them for the realities of the ministry they will continue and build in his name. Following Jesus is perilous, and they have been warned.

The warning of the realities to come for them sounds familiar because it is also a warning of what is to come for him. Jesus will be arrested and persecuted. Jesus will be handed over to those in authority and brought before the ruler of the day. Jesus will be betrayed…by these very disciples…and put to death.

It is curious to wonder if the disciples remembered these words of caution as the events of the passion unfolded for Jesus. As they dispersed after his arrest, did they fear that Jesus’ prediction would become true imminently? Did Jesus extend this prediction in order to encourage them to protect themselves until their time arrived? Was their dispersal an act of cowardice or part of God’s plan for the continued embodiment of good news in the world?

This discourse began with admiration of the temple, a central symbol within a central symbol. Jerusalem, as the Holy City, represented the identity and sovereignty of a people. The temple, within that place, represented the abiding presence of God in the center of the center of their communal life and identity. And here is the Embodied Presence asserting that this holy symbol shall be destroyed completely as they explain the same manner in which they will be destroyed. Yet, there is a word of encouragement, for while the temple is temporary and perishable, Christ is not nor is the Body of Christ.

Like many stories in the biblical narrative, the Lukan account is shared not from the perspective of the time the events occurred, but in light of the conditions during its recount. Years of political unrest in Rome led to rebellions and sieges:

There was not much left. More than one hundred thousand people had died during the siege; thousands more had been slaughtered once the city walls were breached. Much of the destruction centered on the revolutionary headquarters: the temple and its adjoining fortress. The fortress was dismantled, and the temple, recently renovated by Herod the Great, was burned. The loss of the temple struck a devastating blow to Jews everywhere. With it went a major economic center and source of national pride. With it went the daily sacrifice, the solemn festival observances, and the performance of personal rites. With it went the visible symbol of God’s presence. And with it went first-century hopes for redemption by a messiah who would defeat the Romans and restore Jerusalem to its former glory. The revolution, fueled by such hopes, had ended in bitter disappointment.The loss of the temple was devastating not only for Jews but also for Christians. Some Christians may have been tempted to believe that one of the revolutionary leaders was the Messiah. At least two of those leaders seem to have made royal claims.Surely the revolt presented the best opportunity for God’s anointed king to fulfill prophecies of victory over the Gentiles and restoration for Jerusalem and the temple. Now, with Jerusalem laid waste and the temple in ruins, all bets were off. Restoration had become much more difficult to imagine.

Jocelyn McWhirter

Luke reminds them of Jesus’ prediction prior to this passion. The temple’s destruction was predicted. God had a plan for it. At times, Christians speak of God’s plan as this inevitable series of events designed before time began. But, what if God’s plan is not that different from ours…subject to change, made with anticipation as much as expectation? What if God’s plan is different and distinct from God’s will? Does God will destruction, suffering, and ruin…or does God wisely and providentially plan for it?

Jesus assures his disciples and, through Luke’s recount, hearers in the first century through our time that despite the certainty of disaster and hatred, we prevail. Christ will be with us in tangible ways when we encounter opposition. When we follow Jesus in our own passion journeys through suffering, trials, and even physical destruction, our souls remain secure. In this, we receive a testimony–a dedication as glorious as any precious gift given to adorn the physical temple and more enduring.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
— Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

For further reflection:
“Do not allow any negativity or ugliness in your surroundings, or anybody at all, destroy your confidence or affect your growth as a blooming flower. It is very normal for one ugly weed to not want to stand alone.” ― Suzy Kassem
“Confidence? Some of the most destructive things in the world are done with utter confidence.” ― Donna Goddard, Purnima
“Once you have invested some time and energy on a path, you no longer want to know the right path. You just want assurance that your path is the right path.” ― Shunya

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.