Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church

God Our Strength

Luke 21:5:19

Our text this morning is one of those strange passages that is labeled eschatological... and/or apocalyptic in nature. Those are big words so I checked Webster... just to be sure I understood the meaning. Eschatology means the study of the end times... the end of the world... or the end of time as we know it. Apocalyptic also has to do with the ultimate destiny of the world... but it is prophetic and foreboding in nature... predicting imminent disaster or final doom.

Now I don't know about you... but I've never been really crazy about this type of Bible passage... it's usually very mysterious... and difficult to understand. And sometimes... like in the book of Daniel... and Revelations... it can seem pretty wild... like a bad dream... or a science fiction movie.

Has anybody here see George Lucas' Star War series back in the early 1980's? It takes place... "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." Actually it's super science fiction that supposedly takes place sometime in our distant future... a future that only exists in the mind of Mr. Lucas... but one that truly comes alive on the big screen. There were three movies done originally in the series... Episode IV: A New Hope... Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back... and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. In 1999 Mr. Lucas expects to release Episode I: The Phantom Menace which I am sure will be followed by Episodes II and III... another triology.

In spite of my apathy toward Biblical apocrypha... I have to tell you that I really enjoyed these movies and I'm looking forward to the coming episodes. These movies are high tech apocrypha... based on the possibility of doom and disaster if evil forces win over good... and that, I think, is at the bottom of these words we hear Jesus speaking in our gospel passage this morning.

The passage starts out simply enough... the disciples are admiring the beauty of the temple... which was still under construction. Actually... before their time the previous temple had been quite spectacular. One description I read says that the courtyard walls were of white marble. There were huge stone columns supporting the porches which surrounded the temple... and great marble tables where the sacrificial animals were prepared. The outside walls of the temple stood more than 100 feet high and they were covered with sheets of gold... so bright in the sunshine that you had to shield your eyes to look at it!

You might wonder... as I did... how they were able to build such a magnificent temple. Well, it seems that under Roman rule everyone had to pay an annual tax to support pagan temples... but the Jews were allowed to use their tax money on their own sacred place. However... that temple was plundered about 55 years before Jesus was born. Apparently... the victors carried away gold estimated at $75 million dollars.

King Herod... began rebuilding the temple about 20 years before Jesus was born... and the construction took 46 years. No doubt the new structure was also quite impressive... it was much larger than the old... and covered with white stone. It too was a structure to be admired. I can imagine that Jesus' prediction about the destruction of the temple must have floored the disciples... here it wasn't even completed yet and he is talking about it's destruction!

Well, they obviously didn't like the sounds of that... and they began asking all kinds of questions. When is this going to happen? How will we know when it's about to happen? Just like people everywhere... they didn't like the unknown and the unexpected! Jesus doesn't really answer their questions in our text but in the verses immediately following Jesus does give the disciples some so called "signs of the times"... and every since those words were written people have tried to predict when the end will come.

We've had some pretty horrible experience with that during our lifetimes. There was Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre... David Koresh and Waco, Texas... and most recently... the Heaven's Gate mass suicide... just a few of the examples of the tragic results of people reading the "signs of the times" and following a so-called "messiah" to their doom.

And that's one of the warnings Jesus gives his followers in our text... beware of false teachers who claim to know when the end is coming because it just isn't so! Sometimes we are so desperate and fearful that we will latch onto anything that seems to give us some knowledge of the unknown. We long for something secure... something we can depend on... someone who can reassure us... and tell us what to do in troubled times.

And Jesus says that there will definitely be troubled times! There will always be troubled times. His words in this passage are particularly apropos for the people Luke was writing to... they were undergoing ridicule and persecution for their faith... and they did live to see the temple destroyed. That happened in A.D. 70 when Rome squelched a Jewish rebellion and occupied the city... and the Christians had to flee for their lives.

Jesus speaks words of doom... and yet words of hope... when he says, "Do not be afraid when these things happen... this is not the end! In fact... this is a time of opportunity... a time when you can demonstrate your faith... a time for you to witness to others."

Now... to tell you the truth... I'm not sure which we are more afraid of... horrible things that happen to us... or having to witness to our faith! Well, anyway, Jesus says not be afraid because when bad things happen to good people... when you and I are our weakest point... he will be there for us... he will give us wisdom and words... something that will witness to others about our faith and trust in him... something that cannot be refuted by our worst enemies... or the worst disaster that may befall us.

Have you experienced this truth yet in your life?... that at your weakest point... God's strength is manifest? I can't tell you how to do it! I wish I could... but I can tell you that you must, in fact, experience... and accept... and acknowledge your weakness. As long as we feel strong... capable... adequate... we will not know God's strength supporting us. That's not to say that he isn't supporting us all the time but the awareness of that support... the experience of that support... the witness of that support is missing because... because we still think... at some level... that we are doing it ourselves... that we are in control. Believe it or not... we must loose control in order for God to be in control!

Although you may have missed the connection... this is once again a stewardship sermon. Has your giving to God ever been sacrificial. By that I mean you didn't now how you were going to do it in your own power. Have you ever given until it hurts? Have you ever stepped out in faith... giving something you are not sure you have... only to learn that God is there to support you?

And I'm not just talking about money. Have you ever discovered that God has given you a gift... something you didn't even know you had... something that you thought you couldn't do in a million years. That's what sermon writing is like for me. You see I had great difficulty BS'ing my way through a term paper in school... how could I possibly write a sermon every week? That's what a gift is... something you could never do on your own. Something you can only do in God's strength. Do you believe that God will give you the strength to make a real sacrificial commitment to him? Amen.

A Sermon Preached on November 15, 1998
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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