Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said,“As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life. (NIV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus the Christ, our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Why do bad things happen to good people?
That is a question, alright. Yesterday in Paradise Hills (a local San Diego neighborhood) a man shoots his estranged wife and their four children and then himself. All but one of them died. The lone survivor, a 9 year old, is in critical condition. I’m pretty sure they were good people. I know for sure the little kids were. This week a 16 year old walked into his school and shot his classmates. Two of them died. They were all good people. A wrong way driver crashed into a car with a mom and her two kids on Friday night on Highway 54. Thankfully, they all survived. At least so far. I’m pretty sure they were good people too. And these are just the ones that made the news. All over town there are people hurting because they have been betrayed, taken advantage of, stolen from, lied to or otherwise victimized. Why do these bad things happen? Why must we suffer so?
It is an age-old question to which there is no easy answer. Someone gets angry and lashes out. Someone acts irresponsibly and does harm. Intentional or unintentional, the harm is done and the pain is real. But sometimes it is more complicated than that. There are those who suffer because of illness. There are those who suffer because of someone else’s illness. Watching a loved one battle a terminal disease like cancer leaves us feeling so helpless. Mental illness and addiction wreak havoc in many people’s lives.
Problems and pain happen in this life. Suffering so often goes with it.
In our gospel text today, the disciples are admiring the temple. It makes them feel secure. It is so big and so beautiful and so grand. They are certain it will last forever. They would be wrong, of course, and Jesus knew it. It would happen in their lifetime. The disciples would see it first-hand. The temple would be destroyed in the year 70CE by the Romans, a mere 40-ish years after Jesus was crucified during the Siege of Jerusalem in the First Jewish-Roman War. Jerusalem was sacked. The city was a mess. There was not enough food. Everyone suffered for months and months.
Jesus acknowledged that there would be wars and rumors of wars which would stir up fear and hatred. There would be natural disasters that would cause devastation. There would be hardships and problems enough for everyone. It all sounds very familiar. Every age has its crises. No family escapes having some kind of troubles.
Not only that, then there was the persecutions. Christ followers would be persecuted by secular authorities, arrested and hauled off to jail. They would be hounded by religious authorities. Their families would shun them for “leaving” the faith of their ancestors to follow this rabbi who taught such radical notions. Life would not be easy for these Christians. A person cannot help but wonder, “Why, God? Why do you let these terrible things keep happening to your people?” A person cannot be blamed for shaking their fist at God and accusing God of ignoring their plight.
But that brings us to the question that Jesus would eventually answer. Not so much “Why do bad things happen?” but “What do we do when bad things happen?” What do we do when bad things happen to those we love? How do we cope when bad things happen in our own lives? How do we comfort those who get hit with one bad thing after another?
Where do YOU turn when you have been hit in the gut by life? You have choices. You can turn to power—lash out in anger, go get a gun, take it out on someone. You can yell and scream and curse. You can blame everyone and their brother. Or maybe you end up depressed, which psychiatrists tell us is anger turned inward. You can feel sorry for yourself and whine and complain. You can shut yourself away from life. You can lean into your faith, turning to prayer and reading the scriptures, spending time with God. You can dig deep into your character and rise above what is happening to you and reach out to help someone else who also has it bad or even worse off than you. You can ask for help from your neighbor or friend or family member or even a professional. You may end up doing more than one of those or even all of them to some extent or another.
I am here to tell you, however, that some of these choices will lead you to greater suffering. They will not satisfy you like you thought they would. And of them will help you endure and even thrive in the long run. Do not be deceived. Only one of these choices will lead you to freedom. If you choose to lean on your faith, you will be free. It may also lead you to dig deep in your character. It may lead you to greater community by asking for help and admitting where your spirit is broken. Asking for help may seem like weakness, but it isn’t. It is strength for you. Showing your true situation my seem too vulnerable. We fear it will drive people away. But in actuality, it draws people together; good people, kind and wholehearted people will not further victimize a person when they are down. Leaning into your faith and being open with what is going on in your life may bring up emotions that you will have to reckon with. All that is good. All that is part of the process and on the path to recovery.
But it will also give you a testimony.
It will give you a story to tell about how God has given you the strength and the will to endure, to love instead of hate, to reach out instead of give up. Lutherans have historically not been very forthright about telling our story. Maybe it is just the Lutherans I have known, but we have too easily kept this good news to ourselves. And somehow that makes it seem less real. We are diminished when we don’t tell our story.
Jesus was talking to his disciples. And through his words, Luke was talking to his community of faith who were facing terrible persecutions. We Christians have it good here in America. We can worship as we see fit. We don’t have to worry about being executed for speaking about our faith. We don’t have to worry about what we will say to the authorities when our life is on the line. Jesus was giving his followers the best advice for that situation: don’t worry about what you will say, the words will come. Just keep speaking about what you have seen and what God has done for you. No one can take your experience from you. There are those who will try, and they may appear to be successful for a time, but the truth will prevail. It was true for them, facing martyrdom. It is true for us facing whatever challenges we end up having to face in life.
“Stand firm, and you will win life.” is what Jesus said. Stand firm in your faith.
The truth will prevail. You might well suffer in the short run; maybe even for the rest of your life, but the truth will prevail. The truth will not be lost. And so whatever it is in your life, remember that you are not alone. And whatever it is, rest assured, there is nothing God cannot redeem. So stand firm, and be prepared to tell your story. God will see you through it. Freedom will be yours when you live by faith.
(silence for reflection)
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.