World on Fire Luke 21
Think of today's text. We have Jesus warning his disciples of a time to come when the world would catch fire with wars and upheaval, a time when people would be quick to say, "This is it! This must be the end!" Jesus paints a vivid picture of a time when creation is revolting through natural disasters, humans are terrorizing each other and even belief in God is under attack. Such "days will come," says Jesus. And indeed they have. Jesus' words were looking forward to two things. Most immediate was the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. -- an event so earth-shattering for the first-century Jew that indeed it would seem as though the end was near. But also in Jesus' mind was the era we find ourselves in today. It's an age where, although we belong to God, we find ourselves in a world that's groaning as it awaits the end, the return of Jesus. We wait amid hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, embassy raids in Benghazi, school shootings in suburbs and bombs at the Boston Marathon. How are we, as followers of Christ, to navigate such a volatile landscape? We wonder how we are to live in a world that's on fire at times. The answers can be found in Jesus' own words. No sooner does he give a dire, but dead-on, description of life in our world than he issues a clear and simple approach for how his followers should live in said world. And, while it may come as a surprise to some, Jesus' instructions say nothing about living in a constant state of fear or building a bunker in the backyard. No, Jesus' approach is more about dealing with your heart and mind than digging holes and stockpiling nonperishables. First, Jesus -- by outlining in broad strokes what will happen -- is telling his people to live with readiness and awareness. Denial is a common coping mechanism in us humans. It's common to scan the headlines as you check the news on your television each morning and think, "Nope -- that's not going to happen here." Followers of Jesus are to realize that it -- the tragedy, the evil, the persecution -- can happen here, where we are. Again, Jesus is not calling us into a state of paranoia, fear or hyper-vigilance. He's simply asking his people to be honest; to realize that this world is groaning and churning under the weight of sin and despair, and that such groans will only get louder until Christ returns to quiet them. If we do so, we won't be surprised or have the rug pulled out from under our faith when we feel the effect of them. But, and this is a memo that many seem to have missed, Jesus is not, with these words, giving us permission to spend our days wringing our hands and wondering when the next apocalyptic shoe will drop. If anything, he's telling us the opposite. In verse 14, he says, "Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer" when trouble arrives. Instead, live with your eyes wide open but your heart at peace, confident that God will give you what you need to tackle the troubles of a deteriorating world when it comes knocking at your door. Jesus reminds us that adversity often creates a platform, a platform upon which some will emerge and stand as a force for good. Part of the attraction of the movie The Hunger Games is that its heroine is so unlikely, yet so perfect. Katniss transforms from an awkward girl with a knack for hunting into a woman of incredible skill and character who has blessed her oppressed people. The same is true of followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus challenges us to remember that our struggles in this broken world are platforms. "This will be your opportunity to bear witness," he tells us (Luke 21:13). We can better navigate a world that's on fire when we realize that each time we're singed by its fires we have an opportunity to show those without hope that despite our circumstances there is always a reason to hope. There is a mission and a purpose behind every evil we experience in this world. Just as Katniss had an audience that was inspired by her uncharacteristic creativity, compassion and skill as she fought for her survival, there is a world -- a child, an unbelieving friend, a coworker -- watching, and potentially benefiting from, the faith-filled, God-glorifying way in which you fight for yours. Finally, Jesus urges us to live with a constant focus on how this story will end. Admittedly, all of this is easier said than done, which is what makes Jesus' last piece of advice so critical. He calls us to live with our hearts and minds anchored in the fact that in the end, no matter what happens, we will be okay. Sure, the storyline might get scary, but when the last page turns his people win the battle. Jesus spoils the ending -- well, not really -- by promising that, "not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives" (Luke 21:18-19). What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail? What would you try if you knew for a fact that it would turn out just fine? How would you walk through life if you had assurance, a deep, abiding assurance, that when all's said and done you'll be safe and satisfied? It's a beautiful question, isn't it? Sure, the world around us is insane, but in the middle of it all, Jesus is inviting us to ask this question: "How should you live in light of the fact that I've guaranteed your survival?" One way to stay sane is to keep flipping back to the "end of the book," so to speak, to God's promises in the Word and God's proof in our history, such as the empty tomb, in order to slow your heart rate and recalibrate your mind when you find yourself in a truly intense chapter, or a really crazy scene in your life. If you go see the movie and get all worked up as Katniss is fighting for her life, just remember this: she lives in the end. And so will you. The same could be said of how we are to view our own lives. Sure, the world is on fire. But through it all God is utilizing and developing us, his people. Let us be satisfied with that and let us clamor for the final installment, upon Christ's return. No, not because we are readers held in suspense, but because we are blessed to know the great and wonderful things that are in store. May we be ready and aware, but not obsessed and afraid. May we make the most of our platform when our time of trouble comes. And may we keep our hearts tied to the promises of tomorrow so that we are not overwhelmed with the temporary troubles of today. That's how we live when the world catches fire. Amen.