Luke 21:5-19, 26th Sunday after Pentecost C, November 17, 2013
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
First, a story from the Gather magazine. Alize has endured a lot. She is middle aged, married, and living in Chicago with her two children and two grandchildren. With six mouths to feed, every dime counts. She does her best to keep the family apartment clean, the bills paid, and their bellies full, but sometimes their meager income just doesn’t cover it all.
Worse yet, Alize’s refrigerator broke. Her landlord doesn’t have the money to fix the fridge, nor the money to return her deposit. Without a deposit, Alize can’t move to a new apartment. So, Alize is stuck without a fridge to keep her food safe. She uses coolers to keep a few necessities cool, but she can never stock up on refrigerated goods. She can only buy enough for one meal at a time. Alize is trapped with no apparent way out.
Jesus says to Alize, by your endurance you will gain your soul. Jesus says to her that there is hope. Jesus is able to work through Bethel Lutheran Church’s free kitchen to feed Alize and her family. For one meal a week, Alize does not need to worry how to purchase only a meal’s worth of food. For that one meal, Alize can release her burdens to God.
Second, a story from the Lutheran magazine. Faith Lutheran Church is a middle sized congregation in Lavalette, New Jersey. Lavalette is the town just north of Seaside Heights, where the boardwalk burned just two months ago. Being on the islands off of New Jersey, Faith Lutheran felt the worst of Superstorm Sandy over a year ago.
Much of the building needed serious work, as did the houses of the members, too. During the following year, Faith Lutheran’s 400 members and 200 other volunteers ripped out the walls and floors, cleaned the mold, pressure washed the exterior, and installed new everything. They did what they could on their own, yet removing the mold and rewiring the building had to be done by professionals. The cost to rebuild this church was over $100,000.
Jesus says to the people of Faith Lutheran, by your endurance you will gain your souls. Jesus tells these people that he will give them hope. While all of these people were helping to rebuild the church, they also rebuilt their faith in God. Through their new friendships within the congregation, many new members joined the church – even before reconstruction was finished. In this congregation, the people trust God to help them find new life after tragedy.
The final example comes from Stories of Faith in Action. Followers of Christ is a Lutheran worshipping community inside the Nebraska State Penitentiary. These people have committed some horrible crimes. During their time in prison, they have realized how wrong their actions were, and they are now desperate to receive God’s forgiveness. They are desperate to change their lives so that they can become the people God wants them to be.
Jesus says to the people of Followers of Christ, by your endurance you will gain your souls. Jesus tells them that their repentance and change of heart is all that he needs to forgive them. Jesus shows God’s grace to them every Saturday evening when Followers of Christ welcomes community members inside the prison to worship with the inmates.
Although the process for the community to enter the prison is uncomfortable, complete with background checks and being patted down, everyone knows that it is worthwhile. These community members help the inmates to feel connected to the world outside their walls. Once these inmates are released from prison, Followers of Christ helps them to adjust to their new lives. With God leading them, these released men and women hope never to return to the penitentiary.
Each of us has stories from our past of the challenges that we have faced and the people who helped us through. So also, our congregation has also faced challenges in our one hundred sixty plus years together. Our own choices and other unexpected causes have pushed us off our feet and held us pinned to the ground. We have faced times when there seemed to be no way forward. It is in those moments when Jesus’ words of encouragement bring us hope: By your endurance, you will gain your souls.
In our gospel lesson today, we hear Jesus describe some terrible things that will happen before the end of the world. We will endure much heartache as individuals, as communities, as a nation, and as a world. Our family members will turn against each other. Our towns will become corrupt. Our nation will collapse, and our world will be in turmoil. Wars will rage, and natural disasters will destroy our land. Jesus says that we must endure all of this.
In these times of terror and tragedy, we hear Jesus’ words of hope: Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. Jesus tells us to endure the worst of what we will face because these moments can become important for us. In these moments, we have the opportunity to share the Good News. When we face our enemies, we can find good within them and share the love of God.
Like Alize, we can embrace the ministries around us. Like Faith Lutheran in New Jersey, we can work together towards a common goal. Like Followers of Christ in a prison, we can walk with the least among us and share the love of God. We can do this because God first loved us.
When Jesus says, “By your endurance you will gain your souls,” he means that we must live out our lives on this earth. Every day we live in hope of the resurrection. We will gain our souls because Jesus will give them to us. Our endurance is not a merit that pays for our souls. Instead, Jesus gives us life eternal freely. This gift is for us. This gift is for the world.
Let us rejoice in this promise of life everlasting. Let us rejoice in the new life that we experience in Jesus Christ. Let us rejoice, for our suffering will end, and Jesus will reign. Amen.