23 Pentecost C/November 13, 2022
Lawrence Peter Berra was better known by his nickname, “Yogi.” He was an eighteen-time All-Star catcher for the New York Yankees. He played on ten World Series champion teams. He later coached and managed the Yankees. Berra was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Yogi is famous for many weird and wonderful phrases. They’re called “Yogi-isms.” It ain’t over till it’s over. You can observe a lot just by watching. When come you to a fork in the road, take it. It’s like déjà vu all over again.
Today’s text reminds me of another Yogi-ism. “It’s tough to make predictions,” Yogi once said, “especially about the future.” Ain’t that the truth! We’ve spent a week hearing about failed predictions. Many so-called experts were sure the voters would go a particular direction. But…they didn’t.
It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. But predicting is what we humans do. What’s the weather supposed to be like today? I’m trying to decide what to wear. Where will interest rates be a year from now? I’m trying to buy a house or manage my business. What training or education do I need to get a job when I graduate? When is the right time to retire – if I can retire at all? Doctor, how long do I have?
Predicting is what we do. Neurologists tell us we use more of our brain circuits for predicting than for any other activity. Even our memories exist for the purpose of prediction. If you’ve ever hit a deer with your car, for example, you will always tighten up a bit when you pass that spot. It happened there once. It could certainly happen again.
In today’s Gospel reading, some of the disciples ask Jesus for a prediction. Jesus and the disciples are in Jerusalem. They’re watching people come and go in the Temple. Some of the disciples go full-on tourist. They start oohing and ahhing about the Temple foundation stones. I don’t them blame. Some of those stones were the size of railroad cars. They were cut and moved by hand. I’d be pretty impressed too.
Jesus deflates their delight. “As for these things that you see,” Jesus tells them, “the days will come when not one stone will be left on another; all will be thrown down.” That sounds like a prediction to me. And it sounded like a prediction to the disciples.
They ask the obvious question. When? Teacher, when then will these things be? And what will be the signs that these things are about to happen? Jesus answers the questions. But it’s not the answer we want. Jesus doesn’t give a timeline for escape. He gives a checklist for faithfulness.
How do disciples respond when the world is unraveling? I summarize Jesus’ words with three P’s: perspective, perseverance, and prayer. I hope you can take those three words with you this week. This checklist helps whether the unraveling is personal or communal or global. How do disciples respond when the world is unraveling? We seek perspective, perseverance, and prayer.
We’ve lived through some scary times in the last few years. There will always be those try to use our fears against. Us. There will always be those who try to profit from our fear. There will always be those who use our fear to gain power. That’s true even of people who claim to be Christian.
“Beware that you are not led astray,” Jesus warns us. Many will come in Jesus’ name. Some will claim to represent him. Some may even claim to be him – the one chosen by God, anointed by God, speaking for God. Some will declare that it’s time for the End of the World. Don’t pay attention to them, Jesus says. Don’t go after them.
Stop and get some perspective. Perspective is a “seeing” word. It comes from a Latin verb that means “to look at closely.” We can ask ourselves, “Do I see what’s there? Or do I see something that’s not there?”
We humans always search for patterns. Patterns can help us make accurate predictions. But sometimes we see patterns that aren’t there. For example, there was a total eclipse of the moon early Tuesday morning. I wasn’t up, but I’m pretty sure it happened.
The reddish color of this eclipse gives it the name “Blood Moon Eclipse.” This was the first time in history that a Blood Moon Eclipse coincided with an American election. Some people thought that meant something. They thought it indicated a particular election outcome. It didn’t.
We look for patterns to find our way through crises. Crises come, and crises go. Crises matter. Crises are scary. But they don’t mean that God is unfaithful. Instead, the greatest crisis in the history of the universe broke every pattern. The greatest crisis in the history of the universe is also the greatest sign that God is faithful.
That crisis is the cross on Good Friday. That sign is the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. The Resurrection of Jesus means that no crisis is forever. The Resurrection of Jesus means that nothing good will be lost. That’s how we Christians see the world – from the perspective of the Resurrection.
That Resurrection perspective fuels our perseverance as Jesus followers. Because God is faithful, we stand firm. Jesus expects that following him might get us in trouble. You don’t get hauled in front of the authorities for being polite. We may need to speak truth to power for Jesus’ sake. If that happens, Jesus will not leave us on our own. So, we can persevere.
On Luke 21:15, Jesus assures us of his help. “For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, “Jesus tells the disciples. Jesus remembers the story of Moses in the book of Exodus. God calls Moses to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Moses says, “I won’t know what to say!” God says, “Don’t worry. I made mouths – including yours. When the time comes, your mouth will work fine.”
As a preacher, I experience this every week. I don’t just show up on Sunday mornings and say whatever pops in my head. I spend ten hours a week preparing a sermon. I spend most of that time listening for Jesus amidst all the noise in my head. If I wait, if I persevere. Jesus gives me the words to share with you.
Perspective, perseverance – and prayer. Jesus ends his speech with these words. “Pay attention in every critical moment,” he says in verse 36, “asking to be strengthened to get away from all these things that are about to happen…” This is another version of the Lord’s Prayer – “save us from the time of trial.”
If we’re following Jesus, we don’t have to look for trouble. Trouble will find us. But we can pray for Jesus to keep us out of the trouble we cause ourselves. And we can pray for Jesus to get us into the trouble that will do some good for God’s kingdom.
Yogi Berra also said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” I think that’s what Jesus is telling his disciples. We think we know how things are supposed to go. But Jesus is doing something new. When Jesus dies and is raised, everything will be different.
The most common question I get as an interim pastor is, “What’s next?” I’m here to help you think through that question. I’m here to help you walk Jesus’ path to the future. That path is perspective, perseverance, and prayer. We’re currently in the “perspective” phase. I’m here to help you look at how you’re taking a look.
Maybe you think this is simple. Pastors are like machine parts. You take one out. You put the replacement in. Easy-peasy, and on we go. But that’s now really how it works.
We’ve all been through some stuff in the past few years. Churches are not the same. Churches are not going to be the same. There’s no going back to the way things were. Churches that try to do that probably won’t survive. They certainly won’t thrive.
Thriving churches see things in new ways. We’ll see church as more than an hour on Sunday mornings. We’ll see that Sunday attendance is smaller, but church impact is bigger. We’ll see that both face-to-face and online church are necessary and good. We’ll see that personal connection is critical in an impersonal world. We’ll see that ministry is about partners, not competitors.
That last sentence describes our conversation this afternoon in Red Oak. I hope you’ll be part of that conversation.
Mamrelund can thrive in the future. That’s true even if the future ain’t what it used to be. This congregation has numerous strengths. Worship and music. Facility. Children and Youth. Community involvement and engagement. History and heritage. Love and compassion. Mamrelund is poised to thrive. So, let’s see together where the Spirit wants to lead you.
What’s next? It’s a journey of perspective, perseverance, and prayer. You can help with that third one right now. Let’s pray…