Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
In the name of Christ, who guides us through life’s trials. Amen.
You never know where inspiration will come from.
A few days ago, while I was in the office working on today’s sermon, Michael texted to ask how it was going. To be honest, I was struggling a little bit. It’s hard to find a word of hope to grab onto in this Gospel. In fact, the part of the story of Jesus that we read today began with him challenging the hopefulness of the disciples. They were marveling at all that Temple in Jerusalem had to offer. It was beautiful and majestic. It felt like looking at a miracle right in front of them.
But Jesus said no. All that you are marveling at – all the wonder you see and revere – in time it will be nothing. Rubble. It will be torn down so completely that not even a single stone will rest on another.
And if that wasn’t enough to get you down, Jesus went on to say that the destruction he’s describing wouldn’t be limited just to the Temple. There will be wars and natural disasters and famines and plagues…
That’s where I was when Michael texted. How’s it going? The truth was, the going was pretty rough. But I just told him I was still reading. Still researching where we might go together today.
It was in his response, however, that inspiration struck. “Cool,” he said, “I’m baking banana bread.” And it struck me – I can’t think of a better metaphor for the kind of grace that Jesus is offering the disciples in today’s gospel than banana bread.
The thing about banana bread is, it is the last hope for dying bananas. Perhaps we just bought to many and couldn’t get through them in time. Perhaps they were forgotten or misplaced until it was almost too late. But as these bananas lay dying – decomposing and at the precipice of turning into trash – banana bread gives them new life. It’s through their destruction that their path forward is found.
What Jesus is saying here, is that we shouldn’t be fooled by the majesty and the beauty that we cling to. The bananas won’t always be golden and fresh. There will be times when survival will be called into question. We may even wonder if it’s worth it. But “do not be terrified, for these things must take place first.” But even in spite of everything, “not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance,” he says, “you will gain your souls.”
There are possibilities ahead that we can’t imagine. Possibilities that go beyond the beauty and majesty that we’re clinging to right now – possibilities for something entirely new. Banana bread.
But some of the real meat of the gospel today comes with one little line that it’s almost easy to overlook. In the midst of all the struggles and trials that Jesus warns us about, he says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify.” Even in the midst of hardship – maybe especially in the midst of hardship – that’s when it’s time for our faith to shine. That’s when we most need to remember God’s promise.
A few years ago I heard this song that our choir has used as an anthem before called “I believe”. The words are very simple, but the music drives them through profound meaning. The three lines of the song are this:
I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when God is silent.
That is testimony in the face of adversity. But it becomes even more profound when you learn the backstory. These words were derived from words found inscribed on the wall of a cellar, written by an unknown Jewish person in a concentration camp during World War II.
The full inscription is this:
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
And I believe in love, even when there’s no one there.
And I believe in God, even when He is silent.
I believe through any trial, there is always a way
But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter, to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me, saying hold on my child,
I’ll give you strength, I’ll give you hope.
Just stay a little while.
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
And I believe in love even when there’s no one there
But I believe in God even when he is silent
I believe through any trial there is always a way.
May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace….
That is faith. Testifying to the power of light and love and God when they seem so far out of reach is hard. But that’s when it means the most.
The words that Jesus shares aren’t predicting some literal end of days. In fact, they were written several decades after the destruction of the temple by the Roman empire, so really they were a report of what had actually happened. But the real power of this little excerpt from the Gospel is that through all the bad that we can imagine, God will still be real. God will still be with us, giving us words and wisdom. God will still be with us, protecting us and leading us to true salvation – a salvation that is truer than the beauty and majesty of human might that we cling to when the sun is shining.
We know this, not because it’s been predicted, but because it has been seen.
I’ve often said, the promise of God is not that our problems will be made to disappear. The promise of God is that we won’t be left alone. Whatever comes, God will still be with us.
It was true for the people of the first century who saw their world crumbling around them. It was true for all the people who were victims of the Holocaust. And it is true for us. When our world is crumbling around us, God will still be with us. And that is the time to testify to our faith. That’s when it means the most.
Through it all, God’s grace is coming like banana bread – making something entirely new out of something that was passing away. Amen.