Reading Luke and Acts in 2020
Week 21 | Luke 21
Luke 21 Reflections and Questions
By Rev. Michael McCord
Three Readings: Call to Repentance, God With Us, and Be the *With
Papa Joe Hendricks was my Old Testament professor during my freshman year at Mercer University. He was a man of great stature (both physical and moral) who’s inspiration still lives today. Papa Joe was an extraordinarily influential voice in the story of Mercer’s integration as he provided protection and encouragement to Sam Oni, Mercer’s first African student. As you can imagine, in 1963, this kind of leadership in Macon did not go unnoticed. Papa Joe experienced physical threats and terrible accusations throughout his enduring commitment to advancing civil rights in Middle Georgia and beyond.
I remember my first day of OT with Papa Joe like it was yesterday. He walked into class and took several long pieces of chalk and shaded much of the chalkboard like a crazed five-year-old. He then wrote the word “Tohuwabohu” at the top of the board, slyly looked around the room, and then with a smile raised his shaking hands in the air while yelling the word aloud, “to—hu—wa—bohu!”. He then took an eraser and carved out a clean circle amid the chaotic chalk scribbles and described to us the creation story as that of a creator pushing back or making room for order in the formless void of chaos that existed all around. The Creator, then, could be seen as one who holds back the destructive forces of chaos so that life could take root.
Papa Joe would later describe how Mercer’s experience with civil rights in the ’60s was a moment when the tohuwabohu crept back into the world and wreaked havoc in our lives.
Sometimes our actions and inactions allow the chaos to return. Sometimes we are called to help restore order during the storm. Most of all, though, we are reminded that we are not alone; God is with us.
The following reflections are intended to guide you through three separate readings of Luke 21. You may choose to perform all three readings on the same day, or you may decide to experience these readings across several days. Either way, I encourage you to experience this chapter by reading it through three different “lenses” and consider the various ways this text may be speaking to us.
First Reading: Repentance
While Luke 21 opens with a moving story of a widow’s gift, a story we will return to later, it moves quickly to an apocalyptic narrative that foretells the destruction of the temple and scenes of struggle that seem to depict utter chaos, or perhaps tohuwabohu. Generally speaking, this kind of literary device draws the reader into a state of repentance or recognition of their faithlessness.
Sometimes chaos makes a return to our lives through our own doing. We attempt to do life all on our own. We become absorbed with achievement and power. Perhaps we believe being right is more important than being in relationships with others. Nevertheless, we make decisions along our way that wreak havoc on us and those around us. Sometimes the hurt we experience calls out to us to seek repentance, to renew our trust in our Creator, and to experience restoration in our lives.
Read chapter 21 with an eye towards repentance and look for ways the story encourages us to reorder ourselves. What does chaos feel like to you? In what ways have you contributed to your own hurt? If there is one small, achievable thing you could change in yourself (that would reduce the harm you are experiencing), what would it be?
Remember these words from our communion liturgy, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”
Second Reading: God With Us
Honestly, I cannot imagine a more powerful moment to read an apocalyptic (an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known) narrative than during a pandemic. As I reread this passage, I could not help but think of how the descriptions so profoundly resonated with the experiences of widespread illness, death, social distancing, canceled life events, and the pervasive sense of uncertainty that we face today.
Sometimes the chaos enters our life unexpectedly and at no fault of our own.
I find it interesting that in the midst of this dread-filled foretelling that Jesus shares a parable about a fig tree. “When they (fig trees) sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:30-31). I think this is a reminder to us all that God is with us, and perhaps we should be looking for signs that the kingdom is near.
Read Chapter 21 with an eye towards the “God with us” and see how that presence might remind us that we are not alone. Are there ways in which you see God’s presence in the chaos? How have you experienced God in your struggles? Look around your home today and choose a small object that you can carry with you for a while. Allow this object to become an Ebenezer, a physical reminder of God’s presence in your life.
Remember these words from “A New Creed” from The United Church of Canada
We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
Third Reading: Be the *With
It seems both prophetic and powerfully hopeful that Luke 21 begins with a story about a generous widow who embodies faithfulness. The story is a vivid reminder that amid the chaos, there are those with faith so deeply rooted that they give all they have for the sake of others. This is the story of the widow’s mite.
Sometimes we are called to be the *With Us.
At the end of Matthew’s gospel, there is a familiar passage that has given me a new perspective about life together. At the very end of the Great Commission is a line that reads, “and remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Growing up, I read this last phrase with a sense of existential hope that there was an omnipresent creator always in our midst. As I have experienced life, I have come to recognize that the *With has been realized through influential figures like Papa Joe and lesser-known widows who have changed my life.
Here’s the thing. God is with us, and sometimes it is experienced through the lives of those who embody love and redemption. There are times where we are the recipients of this kind of presence. Other times we are called to be the widow and offer all we have for others. These are the moments we are called to be the *With for others.
Read Chapter 21 with an eye toward seeing your place as God’s presence in the story. How have you experienced God’s presence through people in your life? Where are places you might be called to be *With others during their chaotic moments of life? Find a lip balm (like Chapstick) that you can carry in your pocket (or bag) as a reminder that you are called to be the balm for the world, an embodied presence of the Creator in the middle of the tohuwabohu.
Remember these words from Matthew 28:18-20:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Rev. Michael McCord is Executive Director of the Georgia UMCommission | Higher Education + Collegiate Ministry.