Pentecost 25, November 18th, 2012
St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Waterford, WI
“It Gets Better...”
“It Gets Better...”
Tell me if you've had this experience. Someone tells you a story – maybe a funny story – about what happened to them. They describe in detail how it all unfolds, and how a series of unfortunate events just keep on coming, one thing after another. And just when you think the story is over, they say, “wait... it gets better”. Usually that means, wait, it gets worse. And that may happen several times in the story... “Wait... it gets better”
Today's Gospel reading is kind of like that. Jesus is with his disciples in Jerusalem, and they gawk like tourists at the impressive architecture of the Temple. And surely it was one of the most massive and imposing human achievements they would have encountered. I think of my family's recent trip to the top of the Empire State Building in New York. My children looked down with glee to all the people who looked like little ants down there. It was really worth the trip. These disciples of Jesus are similarly impressed with Herod's renovations of this second temple which were in full swing. But Jesus wasn't so taken in.
“You see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another here, they'll all be thrown down”. What a killjoy Jesus seems to be. But our Lord knew what was coming. For in 70 AD, just a generation or so away, the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Roman armies, who finally had enough of Jewish rebellions. They would destroy the city and bring down that massive temple. And it would never be built again. To this day, it's been everything from a pile of rubble, to a garbage heap, to now – a shrine to a false god. But no temple. And Jesus saw it coming. But it gets better....
His disciples take him aside, wanting to know more – dates and times and when and how all this will happen. Morbid curiosity? Self preservation? Who knows their motivations, but Jesus tells them what they needed to hear, even if it wasn't what they wanted to hear:
It gets better. Not only will the temple go down, but there will be all these false teachers pretending to be the Christ. Watch out! Don't listen to them! Don't fall for it! Thanks for the warning, Jesus. But wait. It gets better....
Then you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. You think there's a time of peace, but no. Fighting will continue, both far and near. But it gets better... earthquakes... famines... but this isn't the end, either. It gets better. It's like a woman going into labor, which, I am told, is quite painful. But each contraction, each step in the process, gets worse and worse...
Be on guard! Watch out... for it gets better.... these things I tell you about aren't just for some other people out there. These things will happen to you, too! They'll drag you before councils, beat you in synagogues, and you'll stand before governors and kings and have to testify. You'll be delivered over to judgment, even to death, he basically tells them. And was it ever true. We know from the church fathers and early Christian history that the apostles were all to meet a martyr's death, with one exception, John. And John was exiled to a prison island. Even families will be torn apart in these troubled times, giving each other over to death. Jesus doesn't sugar coat the future for his disciples. Nor would he for you, either.
You, Christian, will not have an easy row to hoe, either. Jesus promises that followers of his will have crosses to bear. He calls us to repentance. He doesn't preach a prosperity Gospel of wealth and riches to the true believers, but instead says blessed are the meek, the lowly, the poor in spirit. He doesn't promise a rose garden, an easy street, a plush and comfy life free of hassle. The world hates us, because it hated him. Christians, even we, the children of God in Christ, will suffer, get sick, be persecuted, and eventually die. We are sinners, after all, and we've earned our wages of death. And we live in a world that is broken, troubled, laboring. But there is an end. And in the end, it gets better. And now, I mean better, not worse.
Jesus says to his disciples in John 16, “In this world, you will have troubles. But fear not, for I have overcome the world.” And in our reading, he concludes with this promise: “The one who endures to the end will be saved” Elsewhere Jesus promises mansions in heaven. That God will wipe every tear from our eyes. We read old testament promises that the righteous will shine like stars forever. We have hope for that day, that glorious day when he returns. Scripture tells us precious little about the glories our heaven and eternity. But what it tells us is precious. And yet... it gets better.
The comfort of God in Jesus Christ is not only for that future day, it is present, even now.
We have our baptism! We have the sign and seal of God's grace upon us in a washing of rebirth and renewal. We belong to him. Our life as his child has already begun, at the font, and it will last forever. When guilt and shame burden you, remember your baptism. When it feels like God has abandoned you, remember your baptism. When you wonder and doubt if you, such a sinner, can even be saved, remember your baptism. But it gets better...
We have his body and blood! Yes, he does not leave us to starve in this wilderness as we wander, but sustains us with his real presence, continually nourishing us with what we need the most – himself – and the forgiveness, life and salvation he delivers. Here we confess our unity with God and one another. Here we are strengthened in body and soul for days of our journey. But it gets better....
We have his word. A precious gospel, which encourages and equips us in this labored world. A hope and promise which points us forward to better days, because it always brings us back to that dark Friday where our sins were crucified with Christ. The cross, the open tomb of the resurrected Christ, and the promise of his return to judge the living and the dead and bring us to his kingdom which will not end.
This Gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth. It began with the disciples. It continued throughout the ages. Before kings and rulers, in the face of persecution and martyrdom. The Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel, giving men words to speak, words that point to Christ crucified for sinners, words that create faith and bring hope. The same Gospel preached by those apostles is the Gospel that rings out from this pulpit, here in Waterford. It's the same Gospel of Jesus Christ to be preached around the world, and even in Singapore. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in whom all things truly get better, for he makes all things new. In him, there is an end... an end to all labors and troubles. In him, there is a hope and promise, even when the foundations of your world are shaken, when the walls come crumbling down. For he is with us now, even to the end of the age, with us through all the troubles, holding out our only hope. And we will be with him forever, for he will come again on that great and glorious day. Remember that day, when your days seem dark. Remember his promise always, and know that in Jesus Christ, it gets better. Amen.