The Gospel appointed to be read this Lord's day is harsh, strikingly harsh. One of the theories as to why it is harsh is related to the probable date of Luke's Gospel. Luke's Gospel was assembled probably around 75 AD. This is roughly 40 years or so after the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. If it was assembled at that time, it coincides with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Because the early Christians did not fight for Jerusalem against the Roman Army they were forever barred from Jewish life. So not only was the Temple gone, but a central part of their identity was gone. And, wars fought, revolutions that fail, create times of intense strife and uncertainty.
This teaching of Jesus was temembered with freshness and urgency. The Christians who heard this read could say, "It is just as Jesus said, its happening."
But the point of the Gospel lesson is not just an analysis of the times, the point of the Gospel is good news. The Good news is, "By your endurance you will gain your souls." (verse 19 of chapter 21)
This Gospel lesson has freshness and urgency in our own time. We are living at the end of the bloodiest, most violent century in the record of human history. Since we in the United States of America prevailed in most of the wars and propered in our economic life. We tend not to be aware of the grief, anguish and suffering that most people of the world have experienced. But even here we see it on film and through television. And many of us suffer from diseases. A substantial number are homeless. We are all afraid or at least concerned about violence. We all are concerned for the future. We know, deep down, that the reason we are anxious is because we are paying attention.
And the healing word from Jesus for his time is still the healing word. We still live in Jesus' time.
What can it mean to endure and gain our souls?
Recently at a conference of Episcopalians who are involved in world mission, there was present a young man from the Sudan. He is an Anglican Christian. He and the rest of the Christian population in the Sudan are under severe persecution. He was asked, "what is your favorite book in the Bible?" He responded, "The book of Lamentations."
In silence the conference heard him read his own and some other hyumns of lamentation. They were humns asking God why? Why are we murdered? Why are we enslaved? Why are we starved? But during the very hardest questions asked of God, hope came out of the young man's mouth. It was his hope and trust in God and the sure and certain knowledge of salvation that gave him the freedom to ask the hardest of questions of God. If the young man from the Sudan had not knkown that he is completely loved and forgiven by God, he would not have had the courage to see the horror of his woeld and ask God why?
We are to endure in hopefulness. As long as we endure in hopefulness our souls are God's. There is a text in Matthew's Gospel, chapter 12 verse 31..."Every sin will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit." There is no certainty about what "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is. But there are some who believe that it is the refusal to hope. When we say "it is hopeless" or "there is no hope" we are say that God has no power, we have lost our souls.
It is only the love and power of God that we know through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, the reality that Jesus loved us enough to die for us, that shows what the love of God is. And, God's power is seen in his raising of Jesus from the dead.
Claim and embrace that love for your self. Live in that power. Let your hope in God preserve your soul.