Pentecost 23

– I don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to visit the Newseum downtown DC. Quite a unique museum, dedicated to journalism / hard work of reporting the news. I’ve visited it a few times and one of their permanent exhibitions really stuck with me. It’s about 9/11. There is a video of a journalist and this is what he says. He says: “When there is a disaster, everybody run away as far as they can and running away that’s what everybody was doing on 9/11. Everybody except two types of people: the rescuers and the reporters. Those were running in the opposite direction, coming as close to the disaster as possible”.

– This really made me think. Rescuers, reporters confront disasters and dangers. But what about the priests? What about the Christians? Do we run away or do we stay put, or even try to come closer, and do what we have to do? Of course running away / preserving your life is not wrong! Very good instinct and it can indeed save you. I am not saying to stay inside the house when it’s on fire. But I think the question is: Do we turn our backs? When things go really wrong, when there’s chaos, do we just look the other way or run away or fall into despair, or are we willing to do something about it?

– This could be the question Jesus is asking his disciples today. We are in the last chapters of Luke and indeed, disaster is impending. The unthinkable. Jesus is going to be arrested, condemned and put to death. And so – what are the disciples going to do? Jesus knows that they will be in danger. Because he was hated and rejected, the disciples will be hated and rejected as well. And also arrested and judged.

But this what Jesus tells them: Jesus tells them that it won’t be the end – yet.

– It won’t be the end – yet. Because even when there is a disaster, in the middle of chaos, when we lose everything that make sense, there is still something left, something we can hold on to: And that’s our faithfulness, our testimony. We can still stay faithful to God, to our values, to those we love and we can stay faithful to ourselves. Yes, Jesus is going to be arrested, condemned and put to death – his enemies wanting to erase him completely from the face of the earth, but the disciples will stand and say what they have heard and what they have seen.

And this cannot be taken away from them. And that’s why we still have the Gospels today.

– Jesus tells us today that in the midst of chaos, we can still testify about the truth, stand for the truth, and even more deeply, stand in the truth. A lot of people have a problem with that today…B/c we have made of the notion of “truth either an ideology or a judgment on persons. But Jesus does not ask us to teach general ideas about the world or God, and Jesus does not want us to say who is right or wrong, who is good or bad. But Jesus wants us to tell the truth about ourselves, about our experiences, about our lives.

– You see, we often think that when Jesus asks us to speak in his name / on his behalf, it’s about confessing religious ideas. It’s about saying “Yes, the Bible is 100% the literal word of God and we cannot discuss about that” or “Only if you are baptized you can be saved”. But it’s probably not what Jesus meant when he asks us to speak “in his name”!

When you speak “in the name” of the King or of the State, it means mainly that you speak according to their laws / in faithfulness with their principles. When we speak in the name of Jesus, we speak according to Jesus’s law of love – and – we know that, especially in the Gospel of Luke, it means to take a stand in defense of the poor and the voiceless / and against oppressive powers of this world.

I was reading recently a sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor in which she asks this interesting question: What does it mean to be like Christ? It does not necessarily mean to be super nice. If you’re really like Jesus, it means that there are people who are going to want to kill you because they will be so upset because of you, because you will question their power or because you will denounce their injustices!

– That’s when we do that, that our faith really matters. And that’s when we do that, that our faith is going to upset some people. It’s not our confessing we believe in Jesus or in Buddha or whoever that causes problem. What is going to put us into troubles is how our faith guide our actions. First Christians were persecuted not so much b/c they believed in Jesus, but b/c their faith in Jesus caused them to act according to the belief that all people were equals, they believed they had to take care of the poor, to live moral lives and not to worship Roman gods, not to worship the Emperor…And that’s why they were persecuted, as it often happens when we worship a God of love, instead of worshiping human authority.

– This is what I think the image of the Temple is all about. Jesus is not upset that his disciples admire the beauty or the sturdiness of the Temple. It was fine architecture after all. What Jesus seems to be worried about it that the disciples would rely too much on human powers, either religious or political (The Temple was both). We all do that: We want sturdiness, certitudes, people who can protect us, on whom we can rely on, but as we need that we have to be careful not to give away control and power to people who are going to abuse us or to abuse those who cannot defend themselves.

Jesus warns his disciples against false leadership, against those in power who take advantage of those who believe in them, in politics but even in religion! Paul talks today in the Epistle about those spiritual leaders who were taking economic advantage of their communities, who were “feeding on them”.

– And so we have to be smarter than looking for reassurance in those external powers: Genuine spirituality is about finding the truth on the inside, and not on the outside. We have to let ourselves be led by the Holy Spirit. For that, we have to take a good look at ourselves, be honest and live with integrity and not compromising with corrupted powers and people, would it be only by letting them abuse us, or allowing ourselves to turn a blind eye when others are abused. Truth is not an abstract concept, it’s about being true to what is right in front of us, and inside of us! It’s not easy…Throughout the Gospel, the disciples had to admit a lot of hard truths about themselves, their mistakes, their doubts, their brokenness. It takes a lot of courage to speak about your experience, whether you’re in AA, coming out, confessing a crime or when you are experiencing injustices, discrimination…Yet this acknowledgment is the only way to real freedom and genuine power.

We cannot know the universal truth, but we can be true to ourselves, and when we own our stories, we find power. And even more: the real power could be the power of the truth. Today, Jesus seems to be telling us that there is nothing more powerful than the truth / than acknowledging what is. Truth stands for itself (You’ll be given words and wisdom), when the Temple crumble. And so there is an incredible promise in that. When everything falls apart, if we stay true to ourselves, we won’t fall apart. “You will save your soul” says Jesus. Well, saving your soul isn’t about making God very proud by doing a lot of good deeds, and so God will be pleased and reward you in heaven. Saving your own souls means staying true to yourself in spite of threats, dangers and disasters. If you stay true to yourself, you remain whole – you can’t be destroyed (not a hair will perish!). You stay you. People who have come to terms with who they really are all testify of the wonderful power they found in doing so. The power to live as God has intended for them.

– And the wonder is, it’s actually when we are true to ourselves that we can start saving the world! Or at least bring a real change. Palmer, the author of the book “Let your life speaks” that we’re going to start reading on Tuesday, uses the example of Rosa Parks. He says: As Rosa Parks claimed her dignity and asked for respect by refusing to sit at the back of the bus, she claimed the dignity of the African Americans and ask respect for all of them. Being ourselves is the best gift we can give to the world, we let God shine through us by being true, and it redeems those around us. Truth is about living in the truth. And so it’s not so much about what’s voted at the assembly or preached at the pulpit that matters – or that matters only – it’s really every little thing we do or say in everyday life that matters, when we are honest and true. Only if we are true and honest inside we can bring the real change that’s needed in our society and in the world.

– Faith is not only about having the “endurance to endure”, to find solace in our sufferings. Faith is about finding power for action and for change. Isaiah: God is about to create a new heaven and a new earth! Indeed the message of Advent. During Advent, I would like us to think about that: The power God gives us to change. To change our church, our community, our world. Starting with ourselves. Amen.

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