We wouldn’t need to look through many newspapers this morning before we read reports of the things Jesus says will happen.
We have wars and insurrections; nation is set against nation; nations are divided within themselves. There are earthquakes, famines and floods, there are illnesses which spread like a plague through humans and animals and there are many people who read into all these things the signs that the end times are upon us.
The truth is, of course, that we just don’t know what the future holds for humankind and the words of Jesus to his early followers are as easily addressed to us.
“Beware that you are not led astray; don’t be distracted, don’t be deceived, keep focussed, stand firm and all will be well.”
So we keep focussed with prayer and gifts when we hear of disasters whether natural or manmade. We keep focussed when we pray for peace and reconciliation with justice and mercy. We tend not to believe people who claim to be the reincarnated Jesus.
We keep focussed.
But what about the other half of the warning Jesus gives? These big events of wars and disasters affect hundreds, thousands, millions of people. But between the destruction of the Temple and the coming of the Son of Man Jesus warns that there will be personal suffering for those who follow him.
He talks of arrests and persecutions of hatred, betrayal, trial, imprisonment and execution. But he also says that when these things happen his followers will be given the wisdom and the words they need to tell the gospel story. They just have to keep focussed and stand firm.
The first readers of Luke’s words would have understood them from their own painful experiences. And the promise of Jesus to be with them through their suffering would be an encouragement giving them the strength to do what he asked of them.
Today there are Christians who also understand from their own experience what Jesus is talking about. Christians in North Korea, China, Iraq and many other places whose lives are at risk because of their faith. We pray for them, asking God to give them the strength and wisdom to continue speaking out and telling the Gospel story.
But what about us?
What is it in our lives that is likely to distract us or keep us from telling the Gospel story with wisdom and God’s words? It certainly isn’t persecution and fear. I think it’s more likely to be insidious but lethal distractions. Hidden temptations and misleading signposts that make us treat as important things that really don’t matter when held against the great Gospel story we are called to tell.
The psalmist knows about them: (Psalm 19)
“Who can tell how often they offend?
O cleanse me from my secret faults!
Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins
lest they get dominion over me”
When we allow our secret faults and presumptuous sins to distract us and to get dominion over us we cannot focus on the business of God’s Kingdom.
We get led astray by aspects of our church life which annoy us. We allow ourselves to be angry, critical and judgmental of our brothers and sisters. We put our own likes, dislikes, wishes and feelings above the demands of our faith and lose sight of what really matters.
But there’s good news and encouragement for us as well.
We are assured by Jesus that our sins are forgiven if we recognise them and tell God about them. We too are assured by Jesus that he will be with us in times of trial and temptation. We too are encouraged by Jesus to keep focussed, to stand firm and we’re promised that he will give us the wisdom and the words we need to turn away from the distractions and tell the Gospel story.
He says to us, as to his early followers:
“Not a hair of your head will perish.
by your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Thanks be to God.