Sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost – November 13, 2022
Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
There’s a phenomenon which has developed in the internet age called “doom scrolling,” or “doom surfing.” These phrases refer to the widespread habit of spending excessive amounts of time basting your brain in negative news. I think we could add “doom watching” as well, as many people do the same thing with 24-hour news channels. That device in your pocket and that computer on your lap or on your desk and that TV in your living room have the power to deliver a steady stream of bad news. It comes at us non-stop, and it is usually the worst news that trends and the most berserk voices which get the most attention. And for some reason, we are all glued to it!
This doom scrolling brings us news of wars, of missiles being test-fired, of contingency plans if things go nuclear. It brings us news of crime and riots and shootings, as happened in Ingraham High School last week, with a 14- and 15-year-old being arrested afterwards. It brings us news about the possibility of famine in some parts of the world, especially as Ukraine, the breadbasket of the European continent, has faced immense logistical challenges in getting its crops in and then distributed. It brings us news of earthquakes and fires and hurricanes and other natural disasters, even today as Hurricane Nicole bears down on Florida. On January 18, 2020, it brought us news that a new virus which had already devastated China and Italy had been found for the first time in the United States – in Seattle. Since then, until very recently, our feeds have been full of pandemic related news. That stream even brings us talk of signs in the stars. I heard several commentators noting last week that we would have a Blood Moon on Election Day, and they were speculating, mostly tongue-in-cheek I think, on what that might mean.
On a more personal level, social media brings us news of families that are divided and broken. In church media circles and social media groups, you can find a million posts and articles and podcasts about the challenges facing the church today, from apathy and unbelief to cultural hostility to outright persecution, depending on where you live.
With all of this doom scrolling or doom surfing or doom watching, it can feel like the world is coming apart, and in our gospel reading for today, Jesus says: “Told ya!”
Today we hear Jesus telling his disciples what they could expect in the future. The temple they were admiring, with its massive stones, would be thrown down. Well, that happened. There is nothing left of the temple in Jerusalem except about sixty feet of one limestone wall. The rest was pounded into dust by the Romans in 70AD. “Told ya!”
This bad news was so shocking that the disciples assumed it would usher in the end times, but Jesus said, “Nope, not yet.” He warned that many would come in his name saying they knew when the end was coming. Well, that still happens to this day. “Told ya!”
Jesus says that all kinds of bad things would happen in the world: wars and insurrections, nations rising up against nations, great earthquakes, in various places famines and plagues. He speaks of family members betraying one another and the church being persecuted and hated. This has happened throughout history. There is no time since Jesus spoke these words that there haven’t been wars and rumors of war. There is no time since Jesus said this when there haven’t been natural disasters, or famines, or plagues. In the fourteenth century, the plague was so bad that killed up to 60% of the human population in Europe! Nations and families and the church have always had periods of suffering and struggle, and those continue to this day. “Told ya,” Jesus says. Jesus is brutally honest about the world we live in. He is exceedingly accurate in describing the things that have and continue to come to pass.
But Jesus says so much more than just “Told ya.” Woven into all this doom preaching are reasons for hope. Nestled into this stream of bad news coming from Jesus’ mouth is good news. Jesus doesn’t just give us predictions, he gives us promises!
First, as Jesus is describing this doom-plagued world we live in, he says to us, “do not be terrified.” In spite of wars and insurrections, disasters and diseases, brokenness and hatred, Jesus tells us to not be afraid! These things are going to happen. It does NOT mean the end will follow immediately. It does not necessarily mean the world is coming apart tomorrow. It is certainly not a reason to give up hope. “Do not be terrified,” Jesus says.
A bit later, Jesus says, “I will give you words and a wisdom.” The immediate context here is for when his disciples are dragged before kings and governors, but I think this promise applies to so much more. Our Lord Jesus puts a word in our ears, in our hearts, in our mouths, which confounds our every foe. It is the word of what he has done for us. It is the word that he is Lord and we are his. It is the word of his grace and mercy that defeats sin, death, and the devil. Jesus gives us a wisdom that can withstand every kind of doom that befalls us. He gives us this word as it is proclaimed in worship. He gives us this word in scripture. He attaches this word to water and bread and wine to get it into us in every way possible! The word and wisdom Jesus gives to us is so very powerful.
Charles Spurgeon once said that a Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t. If you are doom scrolling or doom surfing or doom watching and never cracking your Bible or coming to worship or Bible study, the world is going to seem like a very dark place. Hope is going to be very hard to find. You’ll get all of the predictions delivered right to your phone as they come to pass, but none of the promises our Lord Jesus gives.
Bad things will happen, Jesus says, “but not a hair on your head will perish.” There’s another promise!
For those of you who, like me, find fewer hairs on the crown of your head, whose forehead keeps getting bigger, or maybe its all already gone, I want to tell you that this isn’t just about hair! Jesus is promising to preserve our very lives. He is promising that God knows us and cares about us down to the tiniest detail of our lives and will deliver us, making us whole once again, restoring everything in us that is broken or lacking.
These words of Jesus are spoken just days before Jesus himself would go to the cross and die for us. The suffering Jesus would experience was for our eternal salvation. On the Mount of Skulls Jesus took this sin and suffering of this doom-plagued world upon himself. He experienced death for us and rose again to show us all that he has defeated it. He has overcome it all and promises to share his victory with us. And so, though we will all die, we will not ultimately perish. Our death has already been died in him, and only the resurrection awaits.
And so we do not need to be terrified about anything. By turning to Christ’s word and wisdom instead of marinating in the doom all around us, we find that he fills our hearts with a hope and a peace that can withstand any challenge. We will still hurt, to be sure. We will still grieve. But, as St. Paul says, “We do not grieve as those who have no hope.”
Jesus is honest about what troubles we will face in this world, in this life. None of them are new to the human experience. Whenever you hear of them, I hope you’ll hear Jesus’ voice saying, “Told ya!” Because he did tell us this is what it would be like. We should never be surprised.
But he didn’t just give us predictions, he also gave us promises. And so when you find yourself all caught up in the doom of this world, I hope even more that you’ll remember that Jesus also said, “Do not be terrified.” I hope you’ll remember he said, “I will give you words and a wisdom.” I hope you’ll remember he said, “Not a hair on your head will perish.”
I know it feels sometimes like the world is coming apart, maybe even like the end is near. Don’t be fooled or led astray by those who think they know the signs or the time table. Jesus warns us specifically against these wolves who come in the shepherd’s clothing. The Bible is not a book of clues to decipher to give us a hidden message about the end. It is instead a book of promises.
And today Jesus promises us that though the end may yet be far off, the one who holds our lives and our future in his strong hands is very near, and so we do not need to be afraid.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church