I went to bed last Tuesday night without watching any election results. I knew that I had done my part. I cast my vote, but beyond that, there wasn’t anything that I could do. So, I decided that I wasn’t going to lose sleep over it. I knew that I would wake up Wednesday morning, find out the results, and then life would go on. That is what I did. I woke up Wednesday morning and discovered that half of our country thought that a new day had dawned for us, and that the other half of the country had begun to wonder, like the disciples, if this was a sign of the end. All the while, a question kept running through my mind, “Does this really change anything?” It is the same question that ran through my mind when I read our passage from Luke’s gospel.
Jesus is with his disciples and they are marveling at the beauty of the Temple and how much it stood as a monument, or testament of their faith in God. Jesus looks at the Temple, and in a knowing way, gives a very somber warning to the disciples. It is all going to be gone one day, he tells them. Every stone you see will be torn down. As expected, the disciples want to know when it is going to happen. They want to know what the sign will be to indicate that the end is happening. Of course, Jesus doesn’t give them an answer, but even if Jesus had given them an answer would it have changed anything? Suppose that I stood in the pulpit one Sunday morning and said, “I’ve figured it out. I have consulted the Scriptures. I have searched the heavens for signs. I have prayed without ceasing and I have had visions. I can tell you with complete certainty that in 2 years, 4 months, and twelve days from now, Jesus will return and the end will be at hand.” Let’s suppose I made that declaration and let’s supposed that you still considered me to be sane, and correct, would it change anything? My answer is no. Knowing when the end is going to be will not change the fact that between now and then, life as we know it will simply continue to go on as it has been for generations upon generations. Between now and then, people will still get married, have children, go to school, get a job, and retire. Between now and then, people are going to get sick, lose jobs, watch their dreams go by the wayside, and they are going to die. Between now and then there will still be times of war and times of peace. We will still be a country divided and still be a country trying desperately to find some unity. People will do heroic things and save lives while others will act out their evil intent and take lives. Between now and then, people will still win elections and others will still lose them. As the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time for everything and everything will still happen, because life will continue to move on. Knowing when the end is going to be is not going to change anything. Now, some of us may be thinking, “Maybe I will change if I knew when the end was going to be.” I suppose that is a possibility. We would go one of two ways. If we knew that we had 2 years, 4 months, and twelve days, we might just decide to live it up. We might decide to try and fulfill every wish and desire of our heart, jump out of airplanes, take trips around the world, eating every slice of cake and desserts that we have been giving up for years. While we are at it, we can even go down that list of all the things that we aren’t supposed to do if we are good Christian boys and girls. Wouldn’t that be great? And then, with two minutes to spare, we will come running into this sanctuary and like a baseball player sliding into home plate, we will slide down this aisle on our knees yelling, “Forgive me Lord.” “I made it.” “I’m safe.” We could choose to go that route if we knew when the end was going to be. Or, we could go the other way. If we knew when the end was going to be, we might decide to get our act together. We might decide that we need more check marks in the good column of our lives. You know, tip the scales in our favor. Sort of like doing extra credit at the end of the semester so that our grade will be a little higher. So, we vow to be nicer to others, to do more charity work, to be more giving and less selfish. We review that list that Jesus gave us in Matthew 25, you know the one about feeding the hungry, giving something to drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, inviting the stranger to come in, visiting the sick and those in prison. We would do all of those things and more. We might even decide to put away, once and for all, that list of things that we aren’t supposed to do if we are good Christian boys and girls. Then with two minutes to spare, we will come running here into this sanctuary with our tally sheets in hand, making sure that we have counted all the hanging chads, and we will breathe a sigh of relief. “Ok, I’ve done enough. “It’s close, but I’m going to make it.” “I’m safe.” We might change if we knew when the end was going to be, but I have a sneaky suspicion deep in my gut that if we aren’t going to change before we know, then we probably are not going to change after we know. Instead, we will continue to live our lives, doing the best we can with the time that we have. Knowing when the end is going to be is really not going to change anything. Because you see, it’s not about when. It’s about who. Knowing when is not what matters most. It is knowing who that makes all the difference in the world. The who is our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus gives a most somber warning to his disciples about the end, but at the same time, he gives a most wonderful promise. That promise is that he will stand with us when that end comes. Listen again to what Jesus says. “Don’t be afraid. I will give you words and wisdom. I will make sure that not a hair of your head will perish. I will make sure that you will gain life. Because, I will always stand with you. Most of the scenes that Jesus describes in this passage are scenes of Christian persecution. And, while many, in the first century, and in every century of the church since then, have had to come face to face with these persecutions, the chances are low that those of us sitting here in this congregation will have to face such moments. But, that doesn’t change the fact that all of us face uncertainties in the future that sometimes scares us. When the doctor calls and says, “I would like you to come in so we can talk about your test results,” we face an uncertainty that scares us. Every year when I get a check-up, my doctor reminds me of all the tests that she wants me to start having once I turn fifty. I am not looking forward to that.
Sometimes as we get older we have to let go of and give up certain things in our lives, like our strength, our independence, maybe even a memory or two. And, when we have to let go of those things, we are left holding onto some uncertainty which can be scary.
Sometimes we go to bed thinking that one person has been elected president because that is what all the polls and media outlets told us was going to happen, only to wake up and find out that someone else has been elected president. Suddenly we are face to face with some uncertainty. And, if some of the Facebook posts that I’ve read can be believed, some people are scared.
In all of those moments of uncertainty, Jesus tells us not to worry. It doesn’t mean that we won’t, but he tells us not to worry anyway. And, it’s not because Jesus is going to keep us from those uncertainties. We still have to face them. We still have to face the hardships, and the challenges, and the trials that come to everyone. God’s people never have been and never will be exempt. But, Jesus tells us not to worry because he is standing right there with us. As Toppy has wonderfully reminded us on so many occasions, “God is right here.”
A number of years ago, I was with a family who had gathered at the bedside of a loved one who was soon to be going home with the Lord. In that moment, an image from Psalm 23 kept coming to my mind. “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” Up until that day, whenever I had a mental picture of that verse, I always saw two people standing there, Jesus and the person who was walking through that valley. But, on that particular day, as we all gathered around the bedside, I saw something different. I saw that we were all standing in that valley together, with our friend who was going home, and of course, Jesus was standing with all of us.
What is so wonderful about Jesus’ promise is that it is more than a promise to be there at the end. It is a promise to be there every step along the way. After all, Jesus said, after his resurrection, “I will be with you always, to the close of the age.” So, it’s not a question of when. It’s a question of who. And, the who is Jesus, who stands with us today, and tomorrow and everyday into eternity. And, for that, we give thanks.