5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!’ and, “The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Last week, some families got together here at church to listen to a recording of a speech by Glennon Doyle Melton. Some of you may know her; she writes the popular blog called Momastery, and she has shared through her writing her personal struggles with addiction, bulimia, anxiety, depression, relationship issues, and parenting. She describes life as “brutifual.” She made up the word to describe how the brutal and beautiful aspects of life are intricately and always woven together tightly. Denying one is to deny the other.
I recommend the speech that she gave at the Westminster Town Hall forum downtown. You can find it on the Minnesota Public Radio website. One thing she talked about that I found especially helpful was a mistaken assumption that many of us have about parenting. As parents or grandparents or other adults in the lives of young people, we might assume that our primary job is to protect our children from pain. Keep them from suffering. But that’s not only not possible but also often unhelpful. She said it was never our job as adults—or even our right—to protect our children from pain but instead to point them to it, to help them face it, to help them work through it, to let them know that they can do it and they’re not alone. Life is often difficult; if we ignore that fact then we can never learn or grow or heal.
The truth is, it’s not just in dealing with children that we’re often tempted to avoid facing the pain in our lives. Glennon Doyle Melton said that that’s because as soon as we start to feel difficult emotions like sadness or loneliness or fear, then the world starts showing us easy buttons. Do you remember that commercial from years ago with the easy button? The idea was that as soon as things get stressful you could hit the big red button and everything was all better. Well, we might be sold easy buttons in various forms. They take the form of food, booze, shopping, unkindness, sex, or scrolling through a Facebook feed—anything to numb or avoid the feeling. But those easy buttons prevent us from learning from the feelings or the realities of the present moment.
The same is often true when it comes to our friends. When someone we care about is hurting, it’s so tempting to offer some meaningless platitude or try to fix the problem for them. That’s really about making ourselves feel better, though, to disconnect ourselves from what they’re going through. It does nothing for them. Instead, what we’re called to do is to sit with each other’s pain, to “weep with those who weep” as the Apostle Paul said. Not fix it. Just sit with it, bravely and lovingly. Glennon Doyle Melton offered a great definition of friendship: “it’s just two people sitting and not being God together.” That’s something we can do, right?
Still, this is something that I, for one, am still learning to do. Now, there are always plenty of opportunities to sit with others in difficult times, when people grieve the death of loved ones or struggle with relationships or worry about work. And now this week, I have heard from several people that they feel afraid following Tuesday’s election. It’s not just because of the results, but the incidents and comments made both before and after the election have revealed in a new way—at least to some of us—the misogyny, racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia that do exist in our country. When it comes to these things, there can be a temptation to explain, defend, fix, or assure. I believe what we’re called to do above all is to sit with one another and listen. We provide space that is safe and compassionate. Then we can see what there is to learn. But the healing and new life don’t come until we have acknowledged the pain.
When the disciples traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem, as we heard today, they were understandably amazed by it. “Look at the huge stones,” they said. Jesus, though, seemed unimpressed and tended to point out other things at the temple—a vulnerable widow making her offering, for example, or the moneychangers taking advantage of pilgrims. But when it came to the temple building itself, he said, “don’t get too attached. It won’t last.” Now some scholars believe the Gospel of Luke was written after the destruction of the temple by the Romans, and that may be true. But I also think that Jesus knew where things were headed with the temple. He knew it couldn’t stand for too long. And he certainly did not identify the basis of his faith with that structure.
For the disciples, though, it was unimaginable that they could lose the center of their religious and civil life. “When will all this be?” they asked Jesus. And when Jesus answered them, he didn’t say, “I’ll protect you from it all,” or “Here’s how it will be and here’s how you can prepare in order to avoid the worst of it.” As much as we might want it from Jesus, he did not give them an easy button. He was honest with them and said there are difficult things ahead. Your life of faith will bring you into hard situations and conflict with others. There will be suffering. He didn’t minimize the challenges at all. Like a parent, he pointed them to the pain. But he also assured them that they would not be alone. Suffering is not a sign that God has abandoned you. Don’t listen to any false prophet who tells you otherwise. No, even when it feels like things are falling apart all around you, God will remain with you. God is present in this and every moment. In God you will find strength and help for the life to which you are called. And God will do new and marvelous works for you and through you that you would have thought unimaginable.
In their Jerusalem walk through the temple, Jesus helped the disciples wrestle with a question that we might ask today as well: how are we to live in a world that is both beautiful and brutal? It’s an important question. And I think the students getting confirmed this morning can help us to answer it. Today, with watery crosses on their foreheads, they affirm God’s promises made for them in baptism and recommit to living their baptismal covenant. Specifically, there are five commitments they make today.
First, they promise to live among God’s faithful people. They say they’ll stay in relationship with other people who also travel this journey of faith. They’ll sit and listen to others tell of their joys and their pain. They’ll share their own. They’ll participate in community where all are welcome, without exception.
Second, they will hear the word of God and share in the Eucharist. They will come to worship to be reminded that God’s love is unconditional and to be set free from guilt and fear and anything that would hold them back from really living.
Third, they will proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed. They’ll help others to know that they are valued, that they matter, and that God’s love is always more inclusive than we imagine. They’ll do their best to show this with what they say and what they do and by speaking up when others are mistreated, bullied, and abused.
Fourth, they will serve all people, following the example of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. In faith, we bear one another’s burdens.
Finally, they will strive for justice and peace in all the earth. As I said to the students at dinner last night, I doubt there was ever a time in history when this commitment was more needed. Our Lutheran theology reminds us that God desires our involvement in government and civil societies as much as in the church. God cares about the physical needs of all people and all creation and invites us into liberating, life-giving work.
These are some big commitments that the confirmands are making today, and I know that they are ready to make them. I also think we should let them lead us all into doing the same because this is what a life of faith looks like in our brutiful world, God’s good and broken creation. We do our best to follow through on these commitments. And when we fail, we trust in God’s grace and start again. God’s call comes to us new every day. It comes to us in this very moment.