This is the penultimate week of the Christian year: the gospel passage for today challenges us to think about what Jesus said about the end times and consider what this means to us who live in the world.
When all that we know and trust in is shaken, we seek the rock-steady assurances of God.
Prayer of Approach
God of glory, we come to you
with our hope and our despair,
our joy and our sadness,
and all the things we carry.
You know these things better than we do
and we trust you with them.
We want to draw near to you,
and to know your presence in our lives.
There is a higher throne
Than all this world has known
Where faithful ones from every tongue
Will one day come.
Before the Son we’ll stand
Made faultless through the Lamb
Believing hearts find promised grace
Hear heaven’s voices sing
their thunderous anthem rings
through emerald courts and sapphire skies
their praises rise.
All glory, wisdom, power
strength, thanks and honour are
to God our King who reigns on high
And there we’ll find our home
Our life before the throne
We’ll honour Him in perfect song
where we belong.
He’ll wipe each tear-stained eye
As thirst and hunger die
The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King
We’ll reign with him.
Keith Getty / Kristyn Lennox Getty
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Eternal God, you are the source of all life, the fount of all wisdom, the wellspring of all grace. Your days are without end; your loving mercies without number.
We depend on you and remember your goodness to us and to those who have gone before.
Your story has been told in every generation:
the Lord Jesus Christ lived among us, full of grace and truth.
Revealing your tender mercy, he healed the sick, comforted the broken and lost: in humility washed the feet of his disciples calling us to follow his example as one who serves.
You are our God, ahead of us leading, guiding us, calling us.
You are the Lord God, the all-wise, the all compassionate and we lift our voices in worship today and forever.
Lord, for the times we have been over-impressed
by the way things look
and have forgotten to look for you, we are sorry.
For the times we have tried to be strong without you, we are sorry.
For the ways we have been unkind to other people, we are sorry.
Forgive us and welcome us back.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven
hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
on earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread,
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours,
now and for ever. Amen.
I cannot tell why he whom angels worship,
should set his love upon the human race,
or why, as shepherd he should seek the wanderers,
to bring them back within the fold of grace.
But this I know, that he was born of Mary,
when Bethlehem’s manger was his only home,
and that he lived at Nazareth and laboured,
and so the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is come.
I cannot tell how silently he suffered,
as with his peace he graced this place of tears,
nor how his heart upon the cross was broken,
the crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, he heals the broken-hearted,
and stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
and lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
for still the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is here.
I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
when, at his bidding, every storm is stilled,
or who can say how great the jubilation
when all our hearts with love for him are filled.
But this I know, the skies will sound his praises,
And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
and earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer:
‘At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is king!’
William Young Fullerton (1837-1932)
Malachi 4: 1-2a
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.”
Luke 21: 5-19
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
The scene is set in the temple in Jerusalem which at the time of Jesus was one of the wonders of the world. Its construction was begun by the Hebrew leader Ezra 6th BC to be a replacement for Solomon’s Temple after the Babylonian exile, then centuries later it was overhauled and extended by Herod the Great in the 20 years before Jesus was born. The temple dominated Jerusalem and you may recall that in the temptation narrative Jesus was urged by the devil to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple.
The temple was the heart of national life and the centre of cultural and religious identity. For some of the disciples it this might well have been their first visit to Jerusalem so it is little wonder they want to take in the splendour of the landmark they’d only ever heard about through the testimonies of others.
We understand that. No first-time visitor to London would want to miss the landmarks. Think Westminster Abbey, the Elizabeth Tower and Palace of Westminster, the cenotaph and government buildings, historic and contemporary and we start to get an idea of its significance of the temple in Jerusalem being all these important places rolled into one.
The temple was God’s home on earth, the sign of his presence and confirmation of the Jewish people as his. A statement of they are and who God is. For those hearing Jesus’ words, any suggestion of the temple’s destruction inevitable equalled the end of the age.
This is a difficult passage to make sense of and in these gloomy days of November at the end of a challenging year we share some these feelings of being unsettled.
The metaphorical stones we have that come crashing down might be represented in buildings – our homes if we have to relocate to receive care, or our church if the structure develops a fault. They might be our work; over the last few years many businesses have had to downsize, relocate or close. When institutions are vulnerable, we all feel unsettled. When someone’s world comes disintegrates through no fault of their own, we look around to see where our security is.
This passage is sited in Holy Week. Luke has described Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, him throwing out the money-changers and having his authority questioned. We read in chapter 20 about the parable of tenants, the discussion regarding legitimacy of paying taxes to Caesar, questions from the Sadducees about resurrection and marriage.
We read of Jesus’ observations about the generosity of a widow as she drops two small coins into the temple treasury but it isn’t clear whether anyone is listening. The disciples are gawping at the stonework.
This passage illustrates a contrast —
On the one hand, the Temple stonework and ornamentation. It is beautiful and striking: its stones huge and immovable, its walls adorned by the gifts of grateful people. Such gifts are evidence of the faithfulness of God, and the grounding for God’s people’s future hope. However, this temple will be destroyed. These certainties undermined. Even the testimony of the gift givers will be called into question. The things relied upon and take for granted – successful harvests, the rule of Rome, the ground itself will be no more.
On the other hand, there is a name: the name of Jesus who is the Christ. At this time his name is not beautiful, massive or as yet adorned with the testimony of the years. However, Jesus is the basis of hope today and for all times. Indeed, it is the rejection of Christ that is presented by Luke as the explanation for the overthrow of the old certainties. This horrifying future is in the context of a passion narrative of betrayal, trial, humiliation, and crucifixion. Rejection of the Messiah leads to destruction but faith in the name of Jesus Christ brings life.
One evening last week I heard the news that one of the prominent leaders of a church in my first circuit in Kent had died, just a few weeks after the death of his wife. I started to wonder how that little village church might be feeling and the future of Methodism there. About an hour later, my Goddaughter texted me to say that she was to be received into membership at her church in Worcester. Sadness and joy in the same evening!
We, as the disciples did, live with these contrasting roller-coaster feelings. When everything feels like it is crashing down or without hope we are invited to trust in Jesus, the cornerstone.
Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken. Isaiah 28:
Faithful One, so unchanging,
Ageless One, you’re my rock of peace.
Lord of all I depend on you,
I call out to you again and again.
I call out to you again and again.
You are my rock in times of trouble.
You lift me up when I fall down.
All through the storm your love is the anchor,
my hope is in you alone.
Brian Doerksen (b 1965)
Lord, when everything is changing
and some things are gone for ever,
you are the rock beneath our feet; you are our firm foundation
and the loving voice that guides us.
We pray your blessing and protection for:
every place where there is a war…
every person who has had to leave home
because it wasn’t safe to stay…
every person in prison…
each one who is lonely or unhappy…
each one who is ill…
all who need new courage…
all who care for someone ill…
We bring all these prayers in the name of Jesus our Saviour.
Sing we the King who is coming to reign;
glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain!
Life and salvation his empire shall bring,
joy to the nations when Jesus is King.
Come let us sing: praise to our King,
Jesus our King, Jesus our King:
this is our song, who to Jesus belong:
glory to Jesus, to Jesus our King.
All shall be well in his kingdom of peace;
freedom shall flourish and wisdom increase;
justice and truth from his sceptre shall spring;
wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King:
Souls shall be saved from the burden of sin;
doubt shall not darken his witness within;
hell has no terrors, and death hath no sting;
love is victorious when Jesus is King:
Kingdom of Christ, for thy coming we pray;
hasten, O Father, the dawn of the day
when this new song your creation shall sing;
Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King.
Charles Sylvester Horne (1865-1914)
Lord, as we go to live and work and serve,
give us determination, focus and motivation.
Where we feel weary or fed up,
lift our spirits and reignite our enthusiasm.
Fill us with a passion for you this week, we pray.
(Prayers adapted from the Methodist Diaconal Order and rootsontheweb.com)