Look Up, Not Down
The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
November 16-17, 2013
“Look Up, Not Down”
Last week at dinner one evening, one of my daughters shared a story of what she saw happen after school that day. School was over and one student was walking down the sidewalk, mobile device in hand, intent on the text message he was either sending or receiving, looking down rather than up. (You probably know where this is headed.) And because he wasn’t watching where he was walking, guess what? He walked smack into a light pole. Ouch! “What happened then?” we all asked. My daughter said he just sort of shook his head and kept going. Text-walking: it’s a new phenomenon for the digital age we live in. It’s when we’re looking down, not up, distracted to the point of endangering ourselves or others because we’re completely oblivious to what’s going on around us. We know texting while driving is really dangerous, and is against the law in many places, but texting while walking? How many of us have seen somebody do the very thing my daughter talked about: walk into a pole, trip over something, miss the curb – all because they were text-walking? And how many of us have been that somebody who walked into a pole, tripped over something, or missed the curb because we were text-walking? When we’re distracted and not paying attention to what’s going on around us, when we’re looking down instead of up, there’s going to be problems.
On this Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost with the church year quickly drawing to a close, Jesus calls us to look up, not down. He calls us to be aware of what’s going on around us. He calls us to pay attention and not be distracted so that the signs which point to his coming again will not catch us off-guard and unprepared. He tells us: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Now in these days before the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus calls us to look up, not down. That is the theme for the message this day. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Recently I watched the movie, “Olympus Has Fallen.” Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie, cover your ears. The storyline is how a terrorist paramilitary group invades Washington, DC, captures the White House and holds the President hostage along with other key national leaders. Much of the White House is destroyed. The good news is that the bad guys get taken out, but at great cost. Can we imagine such a thing happening in real life? Could the disciples imagine their beloved and beautiful temple and city of Jerusalem destroyed, with destruction so complete that “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6)? Jesus’ words are fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the temple and city are destroyed by the Romans – that much we know from the course of history. There is an immediate fulfillment with the destruction of the temple and city, but Jesus’ foretelling of wars, persecutions, and those cataclysmic things in the natural world is yet to be fulfilled. Before the coming of the Son of Man who will return in a cloud with power and great glory, “there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). Our natural reaction to such distress, anxiety and uncertainty would probably be to freak out, or at the very least to turn in on ourselves and become fearful. At such times, our body posture tends to sink in on itself: we look down rather than up. But for the believer in Christ, all of this is good news, not bad, because it signals that Jesus is coming at last. That is why he tells us: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Jesus calls us to look up, not down.
The words of today’s psalm echo Jesus’ words in the Gospel: “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:7-9). In the midst of the judgment against the arrogant and evil doers on that great and final day, the Lord reminds us in today’s Old Testament lesson: “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2). Even when things seem to be breaking apart, the very foundations of the world appear to be shaking loose, and betrayal comes at us from every side, we can straighten up and raise our heads; in fact, we can rejoice and be glad! Our confidence is that even in crazy times like this the Savior will put the right words in our mouths to bear witness to him. As Jesus has promised, the day of salvation is close at hand and so we look up, not down.
The day of salvation began when Christ hung upon the cross, looking down, rather than up. Bearing our sin and disobedience in his own body on the tree of the cross, Jesus’ head was bowed down under this crushing burden. He looked down so that we might look up. He died that we might live, now and for all eternity. Now as we wait for Jesus to come again, we don’t just sit around idly twiddling our thumbs. We have work to do until the day of Jesus’ coming! There’s a whole world out there sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death desperately in need of hearing that Jesus loves them and gave his life for them. As the closing words from today’s Epistle lesson remind us: “As for you, brothers [and sisters], do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13). We think especially of the people of the Philippines after the terrible devastation from super typhoon Haiyan. Until Jesus comes again, we are Jesus’ hands and feet and mouth in the world, serving and loving in his Name. And as we love and serve in Jesus’ Name, we look up, not down, always keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Amen.