Do not be led astray

November 11th, 2016

Luke 21:5-19

5When 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.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And 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.”10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there 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.13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Our Sunday worship plans and sermon content is planned out months in advance. In fact, we pretty much know what is coming up in worship and in preaching a year in advance.

On the other hand, Wednesday evening worship is sort of ad-hoc. We map out who is preaching well in advance, but we don’t necessarily name the content or focus. And frankly, we don’t plan too much ahead. If I am preaching on Wednesday, I usually look at that week’s lectionary text on Monday or Tuesday.

And so it was on Monday, with some surprise and a little bit of humor, that I saw this week’s lectionary reading from the Gospels was Jesus’ end-times sermon from Luke 21.

On Monday, I figured Wednesday’s sermon would be a sort-of light-hearted affair. I was going to make a joke about the Cubs winning the World Series and this historic election resulting in the first female president. What surprising times we live in?

I was planning on making that sort of light-hearted appeal to the election because I thought the election was all but over. I am not talking about my personal feelings or opinions on the candidates, but about the polls and forecasting. Monday afternoon, and for the past few weeks really, the professionals were telling us that this election was decided. Political scientist were suggesting Secretary Clinton had a 75-80% chance to win. I was not expecting anything surprising Tuesday evening. Again, not my personal views on the candidates, just my sense of what the experts were telling us was going to happen.

Then we started getting these surprises. Florida was closer than predicted. North Carolina was closer than predicted. Virginia went for Clinton but was close. Then Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan. All of the sudden. It happened kind of quickly. All these things were told about a Clinton home run were obviously not true. Not only was it not true, but in fact, Trump might win. I went to bed about 1am. At the time the conclusions were pretty well known.

If you were watching the news or following online, all of the professional folks had a dumbfounded look on their face. In fact, the world was so much in shock by these outcomes that the stock market went crazy. Trading was shut down overnight. No matter where you stand, it’s not a stretch to say that Tuesday’s results were wildly surprising. No one, even professionals, saw this coming.

And so, it’s less tongue-in-cheek, and much more interesting to have landed on these words from Jesus the Wednesday following one of the most stunning political outcomes ever imagined. In some sense, Jesus here confirms what we learned last night. There is a deep unpredictability about the world. Jesus, of course, is not predicting “end-times” as many popular pastors have tried to insinuate. Rather, Jesus is painting a hyperbolic picture of the stark realities that separate Jesus-followers from society at large.

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. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, … they will arrest you and persecute you… you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify…You will be hated by all because of my name. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Chaos will come. The world is unpredictable. When chaos comes, when you feel unease about the world, beware that you are not led astray. Beware that you are not led astray by pollsters and political scientist who think they know what is coming next! Beware that you are not led astray by political candidates on the right or left! Some will be more/less likable. Some will be more/less electable. Some will be more/less follow-able. But don’t be led astray.

For us, this evening, I think Jesus’ words cut three ways.

First, you could be really excited about Trump’s victory. Many of you voted for him. Maybe begrudgingly. But you believed you were supposed to vote for him and support his positions. And now you’ve won. You very well could be thrilled with the surprising outcome of the election. … But do not be led astray with the joy of victory such that you forget that over half the country did not vote for this man. Over half the country has genuine concern about his personality and ongoing comments, especially toward minorities. Over half the country is worried about what his election means for them.

Second, you could be really disappointed with Trump’s victory. You believed in Secretary Clinton. You voted for her. And you were under the assumption her victory was all but settled. And now this man, who feels like an unreasonable candidate, has been elected. And you probably feel angry. How could this possibly happen? … But do not be led astray by your anger at defeat such that you ignore the realities that mark the lives of those who did choose this man to be their president. Those people opposite you are also made in the image of God. Do not get carried away with anger.

Finally, there’s a third option — probably the one that most appeals to me — and that is the option of apathy. I am shocked at the outcome of the election. I did not think, at least we were all told, Trump had no chance to win. And now we have this split popular vote. The ongoing vitriol on both sides. It’s all depressing to the point of losing touch. … But do not be led astray by indifference. There is a temptation to believe everyone is manipulative and abusive. All politics is corrupt. Our country is divided and hateful. Why even bother? Do not be led astray by apathy.

Those are the three temptations that face us today.

And yet, no matter where you stand — 1, 2, or 3 — I think Jesus’ words are the same. When surprises and chaos come, including in political elections, you will be given a particular type of opportunity. You will be given an opportunity to testify to your faith. Not with loud speeches or by thumping by a Bible, but by your persistence and endurance. When chaos comes, stay the course. Do not be led astray by enthusiasm, by anger, or by apathy.

Stick to your original calling. Our calling, as disciples, has not changed since Tuesday, or Monday, or 9/11, or the Civil Rights movement —

 ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27)

 …Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:27-31)

Don’t be led astray by enthusiasm for victory, by anger at loss, or by apathy and indifference. Love God. Love Neighbor. Love Enemy. And by your endurance as disciples of Jesus Christ you will help to gain souls.

Jesus is Lord. Our Lord. The Lord. Today. Yesterday. And Tomorrow. Amen.

This article originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission.

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