Sermon - 11/17/19
2019.11.18 01:05:17

Proper 28/C (2019), Malachi 4:1-6; 2 Thess. 3:1-13; Luke 21:5-36


Tradition,              [W]e command you… keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not according to the tradition that you received from us (v. 6).


The tradition to which St. Paul refers is the church’s apostolic teaching, most probably our employ of the law’s 3rd use as guide in our new creation. But in a broader sense Paul urges diligence in word and sacrament focused on the centrality of Christ in whom we have Eucharistic “remembrance” of his word.


Today’s Gospel recalls Jesus’ word about two related, but distinct events; Rome’s destruction of the OT temple and its ravage of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Both explicate Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and coming again.


When Paul wrote to the Thessalonian congregation (ca. 52 AD.), Jerusalem and its temple were vibrant centers of an aggressive Judaism, flush at having rid itself of a meddlesome Messiah.


In the 40-year period between Jesus’ crucifixion and Jerusalem’s destruction we discern deep tension between synagogue and NT house church; the crux being, denial or belief in Jesus’ once for all atonement and resurrection.  


The Greek church would have been aware of the disciples’ observation from today’s Gospel, about the temple’s noble stones and votive offerings (Lk. 21:5; cf. Mk. 13:1; Mt. 24:1) (Gospels are early post-resurrection Scripture, John A.T. Robinson). Herod’s reconstructed and refurbished 2nd temple was one of the so called “wonders of the world”; its demise unthinkable, as was Jerusalem, the center of Judaism in Rome’s empire.


At the time of Paul’s letter, twenty years after Jesus’ resurrection this magnificent temple would have existed in contrast with his word, “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Lk. 21:6).


As with Jesus’ disciples Greek NT congregations would also have inquired of the temple’s demise, “when and what signs?” (v. 7). But neither Jesus nor Paul were constrained to satisfy the date picker’s curiosity; rather the purpose of their teaching was to assure the church’s spiritual preparation for the Last Day. To this end Paul urges faithfulness and warns of laxity in matters of the apostolic tradition.  


In these end times, the “time of the Gentiles” (v. 24) announced by Jesus began with the devastation of 70 AD.; but our situation is a bit different, after all, that destruction has long passed. Instead, our question today is; “why should the demise of the temple and Jerusalem concern us at all?”


Some in the congregation of Thessalonica had become “idle” toward the church’s tradition and word, even as some today’s congregations are lax toward the apostolic tradition; thus, the need in these last days to warn and urge an attentive faith.


God’s plan of salvation has been unfolding over the millennia. Graciously he does not surprise. By his word men are amply warned of events that otherwise would disorient and terrify.


Noah witnessed to the Antediluvians; Sodom was warned by Lot and angels; Moses commanded Pharaoh by a multiplicity of signs to let the People go; Israel before and after entering the Land was warned to choose the way that leads to life or risk God’s abandon; Elijah and JB, the preeminent prophets of repentance, heralded Messiah’s coming and a New Covenant.


So, what does Jesus’ warning of Jerusalem’s destruction betoken for us? 2,000 years has passed; still, given our sinful inclination to distraction and idleness, and our busybody nature, we need an to be aware of Jerusalem and the temple’s spiritual significance. Their destruction was not a one-off event; rather both portend universal judgment still to come. By these events we too have been warned.


Jerusalem, rejected its Messiah, it was no longer “the Holy City” becoming his “City of Wrath”, an archetype of final judgment on the world’s unbelief. That Day will come suddenly, and for the unprepared who idly held Jesus’ word at naught, a terrifying revelation.


On this 2nd Last Sunday of the Church year Lutheran congregations traditionally have read the account from Jewish historian Josephus of Rome’s Jerusalem sack. The reading is graphic of mass starvation, wasting and bloated death, thirst, the stench of hygienic failure, communal madness, family betrayal, suicide, and mothers who cooked their children.


On breaching the citadel walls, the Romans reduced the temple to rubble for a second and its final time, “not one noble stone left upon another and every sacred offering profaned.” Thus began “the appointed time of the Gentiles” (v. 24).


The church observes the Cross historically; it is the apex of time and eternity manifesting both law and gospel in God’s creation. Jesus is “the Stone the builders rejected” (20:17) in whom God’s presence now dwells. Rejecting God’s salvation confers judgment.


Today’s Gospel describes God’s moving-day. Jesus’ final act in the temple during Holy Week was sitting in judgment of it. Before the treasury, Jesus identified himself with an impoverished widow who donated all she possessed to God’s dwelling.


The woman’s offering was excelled only by Jesus’ zeal his Father’s house (Ps. 69:9). On arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus cleansed the temple before its abandon for the place of God’s new Temple, his own crucified body, in which he gave God all. After his self-donation on the cross for the sin of the world there now remains only one condemning sin: man’s impenitent unbelief.


The Baptized in their house churches for 40 years after the Resurrection, modeled their lives on Jesus’ sacrificial life according to the “tradition of the Apostles”. They endured assaults, marauding nations, earthquakes, famines, disease, persecutions, imprisonment of leaders, terrors, observing great signs in heaven (Lk. 21: 10-12); not the least of which, would have been Caiaphas “seeing the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt. 26:64). This was not the “Parousia”, but Jesus nonetheless coming in Power in the sight of his church directing us to the terminus of “the appointed time of the Gentiles”.   


In Jerusalem Christians endured privation but charitably supported by European brothers and sisters for remaining faithfulness in word, prayer, and sacrament (Acts 2:42).


On and before the temple’s destruction the signs experienced by the Jerusalem church were those of the Crucifixion: torn temple curtain, shaking earth, risings from the grave, persecutions, inquisitions in the synagogues, and betrayals by family and friends (Mt. 27:51 ff.) culminating with the sign of the Gentiles, the Roman devastation.


One day in 70 AD. the Apostles, elders, and deacons of the Jerusalem church discerned the sign of God’s imminent vengeance, But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near” (Lk. 21:20).


At that sign, Christ’s church gathered and separated from synagogue and temple. Christ’s new Israel fled (vv. 21, 22), and exodus under the providential protection of word and Sacrament.


Moving-day for the church comes amid violence (Mt. 11:12); it is how the Kingdom draws near its remnant. During this “time of the church” the Holy Spirit stays the full intensity of devil violence. Vengeance is disorienting, heartbreaking, and painful, especially on account of old attachments from which we are being weaned.


JB and Jesus were killed for giving notice of a New Covenant and eviction the old cultus; so also, we expect abuse on account of our Baptism into his sacrificial flesh.


Throughout the assaults on the church, Jesus in our midst assures us and urges perseverance; to put aside idleness and be prepared. On an appointed day there will be a final, violent ingathering and another exodus out of this dying world.


Unlike the old temple, our Residence cannot be dismantled. Our home consists of in-Spirited stones built on Christ for forgiveness and holiness before God. We reside within the pale of a Mighty Fortress.


New birth comes to the woman in tribulation; so, in these last days we watch, without fear of it, prepared by God’s forgiving word to endure in faith, not idle toward the tradition of the Apostles. Amen.





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