The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Change is the byword of the season. The colors of the leaves have moved from green to red, to yellow and russet brown. Daylight Savings time has arrived and the election results are in….well, kind-of. In fact, today’s Gospel seems tailor-made to address the changes afoot in our world. As I wrote the sermon for today the headlines focus on the war in Ukraine, undecided elections and effects from Hurricane Nicole. There is market volatility, questions about the economy and layoffs at Twitter and Meta. Uncertainty abounds.
Luke, the author of today’s Gospel, understands the challenge of change. Luke likely wrote his gospel around the year 80 of the Common Era. By this time Jerusalem had been laid waste by the Roman legions under the command of Titus. The Jewish revolt of the year 70 had led to massive death and destruction; with the Temple, that grand building that dominated the skyline of Jerusalem, now little more than a heap of stone and ash. What’s more, an increasingly Gentile church found itself separating from the Judaism that gave it birth. And those who professed belief in the risen Christ found themselves persecuted and put to death for their devotion to Jesus. Perhaps even more than ourselves, Luke knew the reality of uncertainty and the chaos and volatility that change can bring.
This morning’s lectionary text begins with some people remarking on the beauty of the temple. The temple, we are told, was “adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God”. Standing before that building, in the time of Our Lord, there must have been no question that this edifice was built to last forever. And Jesus says to the awed spectators: “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.” Well, that’s enough to quash enthusiasm—but not questions. And, not surprisingly, the people ask precisely the same question we would ask had we stood in their shoes: “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” By way of an answer, Jesus says: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 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.” It’s a frightening picture of suffering and chaos.
What follows is an interesting verse. In the midst of these terrifying times Jesus says: “This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
Of interest to me is the word “minds”—specifically, “Make up your minds.” The word that we hear translated as “minds” in Greek is kardia, which means heart. Biblical Scholar Chelsey Harmon writes that the decision to translate kardia from heart to mind is “likely because our thoroughly modern understanding of the human person is that we are controlled by our brains, or the mind, and scholars have translated this passage in a way that they think would make the intent make sense to the modern reader. (She continues). But by doing so, we may be shortchanging the very thing we need in order to trust in Jesus’ promise enough in order to endure. Until very recently, the heart was understood to encompass the whole inner life of a human being; it was the seat of our existence; physically, spiritually, and mentally. It was the source of our wills (what we do), our thoughts, imagination, and memory as well as our affections (what we feel). The heart, in many ways, is the seat of our being. It is what enables us to discern what is most important and to focus on where to place our hope as well as our trust.
And focus is an important theme in the reading for today. In the midst of uncertain times and an unsettling reading, how do we let go of our fear and trust in God?
Have you ever wondered why ballerinas don’t get dizzy when they spin? Ask most of us to twirl around and within a few seconds the vast majority of us would wind up on the seat of our pants---quite fun as a child, but rather frightening as an adult. The reason ballerinas don’t get dizzy is because they pick a stationary spot in their environment and focus their attention on that. So, when they move their body in a turn, they also move their head in order to visually locate that spot again and again. Training their attention on a focal point gives them a sense of visual stability while the world swirls madly about them.
Choosing a point of focus is the key. Where should we focus when the world about us has turned to chaos? In today’s Gospel reading Jesus gives us an answer. The operative word in the lesson today is “I”. Specifically “So make up your minds (or hearts) not to prepare your defense in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” In other words—the key to what saves us and gives us stability as the currents swirl about us in ever faster eddies is to trust Jesus. Jesus is the focal point upon which we are to focus. Jesus is where we are to look when it comes to finding a place in which to settle our hearts and find our hope.
I remember a children’s homily of several years ago, asking the young people of the church where Jesus could be found—and watching a young boy point to his heart and say: “Right here. This is where Jesus is. In my heart. I carry him wherever I go.” That’s wisdom—and that’s focus. That’s hope and confidence to carry wherever the varying winds of the world might send us. This is what Jesus is offering us this morning. Not simply words of assurance—but himself. Jesus in our hearts in the midst of changing times. In Our Savior’s name. Amen.