24. Januar 2020

Sermon on November 17th, 2019

Sermon: Frank Moritz-Jauk

Yearning, Rootedness and God’s Work, Luke 21, 5-19

Dear Congregation, today we are celebrating with some siblings the acceptance of their membership into the United Methodist Church. For some we would really have to add, official acceptance, because we have known them for a long time.

As always, acceptance is preceded by a course, which last many weeks. The course serves to make one’s own points of view and beliefs conscious. What do I believe in? How do I think God? How do I understand the Bible? In addition, they learn about the history and the organization of our church. This is meant to make people realize what they confess publicly and what they are getting involved in. We are playing an open hand here and I am always very touched about the open discussions.

The passage from today’s sermon comes from the Gospel according to Luke. I would like to raise a few points regarding today’s acknowledging members: yearning, rootedness in the Scripture and the hope of God’s work.

At first, these rather soft themes may not really work together with this rough, gruff and perhaps hard-hitting text. Where there is talk of destruction, wars, epidemics and death.

However, when I look at the first section on the admiration of the Temple and Jesus‘ response, I hear a request that I am familiar with. Of which I mean that Jesus expresses it again and again: the orientation and the yearning for the Kingdom of Heaven.

I could perhaps put the following propositions aside for the prophetic announcement of Jesus, which may not be in the right text now, but which perhaps may clarify the concern: „You admire these stones and this magnificent ornamentation.  Yes it is beautiful but it was created by humans and nothing that humans create is eternal. Do not be so caught up in the here and now but strive for a truly just world. Keep the longing in you, that this Temple, magnificent as it is, is only one station in time and that the completion of the creation is yet to come.“ 

In me, that is, in Jesus, being completed, we could say today.

Unfortunately, Christianity has often misused this juxtaposition of Jesus and the Temple to construct a superiority of Christianity over Judaism.  There are numerous examples of this in art and we can not and do not want to repeat this today. For me, this outlook from Jesus remains that the world as we experience it is not perfect, but that we should keep that yearning for perfection within us. I understand that I should neither rest on my laurels nor settle for the circumstances I find. I especially hear that I should not be frustrated with the world and the cruelty as it is.  My yearning which I like to keep awake, is the yearning for perfection and overcoming, just like Jesus announced. What that may look like, I’ll come back to at the end of the third point.

What addressed me in the second point in the text we heard today, is the warning against heretics. This is a term that is more common in the Bible, so let’s translate it today: the warning against people but also doctrines or promises that want to replace Jesus. I do not know if any of you have read the Revelation. The Revelation is the last book in the Bible and as to the interpretation of the coming judgement or the end of the world, this book has been misused or misinterpreted again and again. Not all historical events have been associated with the eschatological ruler. And here it just feels good to know or hear again today, what Jesus himself says on this subject.  „There will be many who come in my name, and say the time is here. Do not run after them!“ This knowledge helps us and makes it clear again how important it is that we are rooted in Scripture, in the Bible. That we are witnesses and testimonies, the trials and tribulations of the people, the promises which have been delivered to us. This does not mean, that we should accept them. This is sometimes not possible because we must first, „translate“, the Bible stories. It is necessary for us to be aware that these texts originated in a completely different time and partly convey the state of knowledge of that time. We especially must learn, that many stories in the Bible are multi-layered and want to transport content that is not designed according to the black and white motive. So are either right or wrong. This is difficult for people of today with our way of thinking. We often think legal – which means either – or. It is either so or so or just different and not so. 

God himself points out in the story of the Burning Bush, that things, especially God himself, are not formed according to the either-or principle. I will be who I shall be, that is the name of God (2. Moses 3, 14) and makes it clear that God is greater and wider than we humans can imagine. We need this confrontation with the biblical word because that helps and strengthens our faith. For many centuries, the people of faith have always sought to hear the voice of God from the Bible so that God’s word becomes audible in the human word. 

My third and final point is about God’s work.

If we look at the last section of today’s text, then one can see in the description of the persecution of the disciples an incredible scary scene. Jesus‘ disciples were brought to justice and thrown into prison, they were betrayed by their neighbors and many of them were killed. Above all, they were hated by all people.

And on the other hand, there is the opportunity to testify to the Gospel, to the assistance of Jesus himself, who put words of wisdom into the mouth of the disciples and of the certainty that no hair would be lost from their heads.

We see that even here, and either-or approach could not do justice to such a text. From our perspective today, Jesus spoke prophetically when it comes to the persecution of early Christians by Roman rulers. If one thinks about Paul’s missionary journeys, about the spreading of the Gospel and the first congregation, then I ask myself, what does it mean that „all“ people will hate you? All people will hate you.  One at least has to exclude the people who converted to Jesus. 

Throughout this description, the most important message that I hear is the assurance that in this situation, God, Jesus,  will not abandon his disciples.  

So, I am assuming that God, Jesus, will not let us down, even as successors.  So we can reckon with God’s work again and again and again in the most varied passages of our lives. Even and especially when it comes to the proclamation of the Gospel. Because it is true that we enjoy freedom of religion in Europe, but it is equally true that we live in Europe in an increasingly secular world. Secular, that means worldly. It means a world without religious beliefs and explanations. It is a good pledge that Jesus himself assures us that we remain able to speak.

With that I come to the conclusion and yet I still owe an explanation about what all this can look like. How can I keep my yearning alive, how do I remain in connection with God’s word and how do I live the hope of God’s work?

Wesley would answer: by using the means of grace. By praying to God and reading the Scripture.  By looking for a community with God and with people who believe in God. By trying to do good and letting evil go. By staying in a lively relationship with God. As far as you are concerned.

I believe that God would like to fulfill his promises compassionately and friendly. We need to give him a little opportunity to do this. I really often have this image of a mother or a father in front of me and also know the passage in the Bible which talks about it. (Mathew 7,9). How little does it take for us to love our children? 

Then why should this be different with God?