2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 & Luke 21:5-19

Remembrance 2022

I wonder what you think when you see All Saints church building. Maybe you don’t think very much at all. But just consider it a moment. Imposing, square, stone, set well in its grounds, overlooking the town, as if it’s been here forever, and always will be. But, of course, it hasn’t been here forever. There has been a church building on this site for at least a thousand years, but not this one. This one is only a couple of hundred years old. Hopefully it will stand for a good long time yet, but time will take its toll.

Jesus and his friends were walking out of the temple in Jerusalem, and they were admiring its construction and beauty, and Jesus rather bursts their bubble, “the time is coming when not one stone will be left on another.” And he was right. Within 60 or 70 years of his death, the Romans had completely destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. The temple that had stood for four hundred years, the centre of Jewish religious life, gone.

As Jesus goes on, he describes other things that are to come in the future, earthquakes, famines, wars. All kinds of instability and conflict. He warns them that as his followers, they will be in line for vicious treatment and persecution. In all this, Jesus encourages them not to be worried, but to stand firm.

We live in a time of great uncertainty. Some of the things that seemed stable, and unchanging, are shifting. Inflation is having a ravaging effect on the stability of the economy. Climate change is threatening the stability of our planets ecosystems. War in Ukraine and growing tensions with China are destabilising international relationships. There is a growing apathy and antipathy towards Christian living in this country, and Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide.

It feels a lot like the kind of time that Jesus was talking about.

Don’t worry, and stand firm.

It seems to me that days like today, Remembrance Day, can help us to do this in two ways. Firstly, we remember together other times of conflict, of difficulty, and of instability, and we remember and honour those who stood firm. This gives us hope that we can get through times like this. It is within us, by the grace of God, to come through difficult times. Secondly, we focus on the value of self sacrifice and the greater good. We celebrate those in the past who gave of themselves, sometimes gave their lives, for the greater good.

And in times like this, when the temptation is to retreat, and to look after number one, we remember that the way through these times is together, looking out for each other, giving of ourselves for each other, sacrificing for the greater good.

In his second letter to the Christians living in the city of Thessalonica, Paul applies some of these principles to the everyday life of a community. The underlying problem here was that some of the Christians in this young church had got the idea that Jesus was going to return from heaven very soon, which meant that there was no point going to work, or doing very much really, because Jesus was coming back. Paul corrects them, and warns them against idleness. More than this, he warns them against the corrosive gossip and backbiting that destroys a community. Rather than sitting around on their backsides, making snide remarks about other people, he instructs them to, “never tire of doing good.”

This is what “not worrying”, and “Standing firm” looks like. It looks like the love of God, flowing through people in encouraging words and practical action.

When things are unstable and uncertain, the temptation is to retreat into fear for ourselves and to look for scapegoats – people we can attack and take our anger out on. This is what happened to Jesus. The people of Israel were living in unstable times. They were an occupied nation, with anxious leaders who were vying for power and influence. He called them out, and threatened the political status quo. They took out their anger at the situation they found themselves on him, and forced his execution.

But his death was more than this. In his death on the cross he became the scapegoat for the whole of creation. He took the consequences of all our anger and sin, and bore it to the cross, where he absorbed it and defeated it. Because of his death and resurrection, the ultimate self-sacrifice, we can be forgiven, and can live free of fear or the need to blame others.

Whatever is going on around us, however unstable it feels, we don’t need to worry, we can stand firm, because we can stand on the foundation of the love of God, demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. From this place of security, we are free to follow Jesus’ example and give of ourselves. We can be generous to the foodbanks, we can welcome refugees, we can be confident in our faith, we can spend time with people who are struggling or lonely, we can accept a drop in our living standards so that others in our country and around the world can live free of poverty.

As we remember those who gave of themselves in war, as we remember Jesus, who gave himself for us all, let us recommit ourselves to follow their example and give of our selves, that others may live free.

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