By The Rev. Sherry Crompton

November 14, 2010

Read: Luke 21:5-19

There is a story told about the monk who once approached Buddha
and asked: Do the souls of the righteous survive death?

Characteristically the Buddha gave him no reply. But the monk persisted. Each day he would repeat the question and each day he would get silence for an answer, till he could take it no longer. He threatened to abandon the path to enlightenment unless this crucial question was answered, for to what purpose, he wanted to know, was he sacrificing everything to live in the monastery if the souls of the righteous perished with their bodies?

Then Buddha, in his compassion, spoke. You are like a man, he said, who was dying from a poisoned arrow. His relatives rushed a doctor to his side, but the man refused to have the arrow pulled out unless three vital questions were first answered. First, the man who shot him – was he a white man or a black? Second, was he a tall man or a short man? And third, was he a Brahmin or an outcast?

So, as you probably gathered, the monk is like the disciples who were asking…when will this be? And what will be the signs? Does it really matter? We do all die. That is one of those certainties of life that we can all agree on.

Fires. Earthquakes. Floods. Tornados. Hurricanes. Tsunamis. Drought. Disease. Famine. War. Persecution and oppression. Prejudice and greed. Political and economic turmoil.

All of them are present in life, and each will take its toll on our lives. Some of us will experience more of the pain than others will. But through it all, God will remain present. God will bring salvation.

Jesus is telling us we don’t need to live in fear of these events. He isn’t telling us to hole ourselves up and shut ourselves off from the world. Nor is he telling us to pretend they’re not real. Disaster will strike. Death rules in this life.
When we are properly prepared, we can speak like Jesus did about the eternal truths of God’s power and love, about the incredible promise of grace and salvation.
We can also learn from what Jesus doesn’t do. When he tells about the coming destruction of the Temple, he isn’t trying to scare us. He doesn’t coerce people into believing his message. Instead he finds a way to share the truth with confidence.
– The truth that God is bigger than anything we have ever seen.
– The truth that God’s Kingdom includes more people than we can ever imagine.
– The truth is we can recognize God’s presence in the everyday events of our lives, as well as in the newsworthy events of our world.

And today may be your opportunity to tell about God’s love.

If it isn’t, today may be another opportunity to search for signs of God at work. Either way, whether we see evidence of it or not, the truth remains that God is here. Whether we accept it or not, God’s salvation is available. And I don’t know about you, but that fact fills me with awe. Jesus says, “not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Endurance.

When you lose your job, or a loved one dies, or you go through a divorce, or you find out you’ve got cancer or some other dreaded disease and your life seems to be in ruins, your first impulse might be to throw in the towel. But, as the dust settles and you start going through the rubble and taking stock of what you still have to work with, you find that all is not lost. There’s plenty left to salvage.

What’s more, as you start putting the pieces of your life back together, something unusual happens – you find out that you’re actually stronger than you were before. You’re more humble, to be sure, but more appreciative of the simple things in life and more sensitive and compassionate toward others who are dealing with losses in their own lives. Endurance.

You are probably familiar with the story of Apollo 13. An explosion damaged the spacecraft, and for awhile it seemed likely that the three astronauts aboard would never set foot on earth again. It was a race against time — they were running out of air.

Finally, mission control did give them a solution — something to try. They had to shut down the onboard computer to save battery power — so they would have to steer their space capsule manually during a thirty-nine second burn of the main engines. They hadn’t practiced that, so they weren’t sure how to do it.

But Astronaut Jim Lovell thought that they could keep their spacecraft pointed in the right direction if they would just look outside the window, find something to use as a reference point, and keep that reference point steady in their window as they completed the burn. That reference point turned out to be the planet Earth. If they could just steer the space capsule so that they could see the planet Earth through that little window, they would be OK.

As you probably know, that turned out to be the answer. They kept the planet Earth steady in their window while their rockets were burning. By doing that, they were able to stay on course. Eventually — against all odds — they made it back alive. Endurance.

Our reference point is Jesus Christ. If we can keep our eye on God, we are heading in the right direction. If we can keep our eye on Christ in the midst of our trials and tribulations, we are heading in the right direction.

We can also learn something from the growth of the Chinese bamboo tree. The seed to a Chinese bamboo tree is planted and watered and does absolutely nothing –or so it seems — for the first four years. Then suddenly, sometime during the fifth year, it shoots up ninety feet in sixty days. Would you say that bamboo tree grew in six weeks, or five years? I think our lives are akin to the Chinese bamboo tree. Sometimes we put forth effort, put forth effort, and put forth effort…and nothing seems to happen. But if we do the right things long enough, the faithful things, if we keep trying, if we keep coming back, if we build a strong root system having faith in the promise of God, we will gain our souls. Endurance.

Jesus promises us: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.” And for that, let us give thanks and praise to God, because that is Good News, indeed. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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