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First Impressions: Luke 21:25-36

November 23, 2009

I always dislike preaching the apocalyptic parts of the Lectionary.  The imagery is often difficult.  The people usually have confused and unbiblical ideas about what the text means.  It is difficult for me, the preacher, to bring the right word.  The text was written to people in deep distress, and we are a comfortable people.  If I must preach an apocalyptic text, I would prefer to do it on a Sunday I have arranged to exchange pulpits with a pastor from Baghdad or Kabul.  Those Christians could probably understand the value of the text more than I can.

Nevertheless, this is the text given to me, and though I could choose a less wild or chaotic scripture, I’ll use Luke.  Maybe there is a word in there for preacher and people after all.

21:25-28 These verses describe those terrifying signs that have gripped our imaginations.  It seems significant that Jesus describes widespread fear and anxiety.    While that is an understandable first reaction, it seems that a more thoughtful  Christian response would be a sense of calm and peace.  The idea is that when we are our best selves, we trust that all things are in the hands of the Creator.  Therefore, we truly can “stand up and raise [our] heads, because [our] redemption is drawing near.”

21:29-33 Robert Capon has delivered a beautifully sophisticated discussion of the fig tree image.  The budding leaves of the fig tree are already a participating in summer, because the leaves are so necessary for the tree’s growth.  The leaves are not simply signs of coming fulfillment, but of present fulfillment.

Capon also launches into a discussion of the very notion of parousía as “second coming” as misleading.  Capon writes that Jesus did not come once and will not come again, because Jesus has already been here from the very beginning of creation as the eternal Word.  Jesus is “present to us at every moment, waiting only for us to acknowledge his presence and let him in by faith” (Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 479-83.).

I may choose to combine this idea with the next paragraph’s command to be on guard and alert.  In particular, we can be alert to the presence of Jesus already in the world rather than simply waiting for a future event.

21:34-36 Life can often seem like a continuing, cyclical struggle.  We get up, stagger out of bed and go to work.  The day grinds on until it is time to stumble back into bed.  The next day, the alarm clock rings, and it starts all over again.  By the middle of November, everyone is saying, “Is it almost Christmas time again?  Where has the time gone?”  Life gets away from us because we’re not paying attention.  The word “dissipation” really hits home.  Chores, television, e-mail, paying bills—all those things dissipate our energy, cause us to lose focus.  Who has the energy left to be alert for Jesus’ presence?

We all want lives that are more than simply getting by, that are more meaningful than just cleaning up the details.  An effective sermon along these lines could give some helps.  What can help us rise above the Kingdom of Paperwork and get our vision into the Kingdom of God?  Fred Craddock sums it up nicely while at the same time arguing against the pointless wondering about the End: “The life of disciples, after all is said and done, is not one of speculation or of observation, but of behavior and relationships” (Fred Craddock, Interpretation:  Luke [Louisville: John Knox, 1990], 248.).  Perhaps that is the crux.  Our lives are often more concerned about details, about getting all the ducks in a row, than relationship.  That could preach.

I’d like to hear from some of you who are preaching on the prophets during Lent.  Tell me about your themes and how you’ll integrate them into Advent.

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