How to cope with suffering – a sermon for CAMEO – Luke 21:5-21 by Revd Alex Pease

Luke 21:5-19

I don’t know how many of you have been to Jerusalem, but one of the great sites is temple mount, where the Jewish temple used to stand.  The temple was one of the wonders of the Ancient World.  It dominated the city and was renowned for its beauty and its colossal size in comparison with the houses around it. Its this temple that the disciples are referring to in this passage from Luke.

It would have been difficult for the disciples to imagine that the temple would ever be, could ever be, destroyed.  That the stones could ever be thrown down.  ‘What sort of terrible catastrophe could possibly cause such a thing to happen?’ The disciples might have thought.

And yet, only 30 years after the ministry of Jesus, in 70 AD, well within the life time of many of the disciples who experienced Jesus’ ministry first hand, the Roman general Titus, responding to a rebellion by the Jews, completely destroyed the place, throwing down all the stones and annihilating a million Jews in the process, according to a contemporary historian.  Jewish rule did not return to Jerusalem until 1967.

I think we all live making massive assumptions about the way things are going to be.  Like the disciples, who could not imagine that the temple could be destroyed, we live taking all sorts of aspects of our lives for granted, particularly if we are young…

One of the things that I think we take for granted is our health.  When we are young we think we are invulnerable, immortal even, do you remember that?

And even if we don’t, according to the ONS, we can expect a healthy life until we are about sixty four on average. 

I am sixty two, just getting to the age when my friends are starting to encounter hospital, doctors, drugs, anaesthetics, diagnoses, blood tests, for the first time in their lives.

Now for many of you you will say “so what, I have been living with this for a couple of decades; the word ‘catheter’ has no terrors for me, you might say; that’s nothing…..I can tell you some stories…” you might say.

But if comes as quite a shock for those of us who have lived what has seemed an impregnable life up until then.  But like the stones of the temple which the disciples could not conceive would be thrown down, we often cannot conceive of losing our health so that we are immobile, or receiving that terrible diagnosis which means that our life is going to be a lot shorter than we had expected.

One of the striking images on the television news, in the last few days has been the floods in Hiroshima in Japan: so quickly up to the second floor of many of the buildings.  But I was most struck by the film of the evacuation of a hospital, by boat and by helicopter

Its one thing having a catheter, being tied up to a heart rate monitor, being linked to every possible sort of machine in the most painful way; but then seeing the water pouring into your ward and being bundled into a boat or hoisted up in a helicopter!

Those patients must have felt that the world had come to an end.  It would be understandable if they, if we, were to panic, to be distressed, to be angry, to be miserable as everything that they assumed, which we assumed, would always be fine; that at least the hospital was a place of refuge in their pain and suffering; everything that they had assumed had come crashing down around them, like the stones of the temple.

But Jesus says, rather than put our confidence in our health or anything else, we just assume will be OK;  rather than assume that the river will not burst its banks, rather than assume that when we go into hospital by car, we will not have to leave by boat; rather than assume that all is going to be well, we should expect things to get tough, we should expect the tough diagnosis, we should expect the collapse of our health, we should expect suffering and,  as Christians, we should expect to be hated, persecuted, arrested, betrayed by parents, relations and friends, and imprisoned; we should expect the walls of the temple, we should expect everything that we have always assumed would be just fine: freedom of religion, freedom to disagree, freedom of thought and conscience; we should expect these things to come crashing down.

But in that chaos and pain and misery, there is one firm point,  one solid rock, on which to cling and that is Jesus!

When we are in pain, when we are frightened, when we are persecuted, when we are suffering, we should call out to him for help either audibly or in our hearts..

But you may say ‘he knows what I am thinking anyway…” Yes he does…but he also knows if we are not directing our thoughts to him.

Call out to him audibly or in the privacy of our hearts: in anger, fear, pain, loneliness, depression, any kind of suffering, call out to him as we go to sleep, as we wake up in the morning, in every little engagement with pain during the day.

And then even if we die, as Jesus suggests, verse 17, the Lord’s hand will be upon us and if we persevere we will save our souls and we will gain eternal life at the end


Luke 21:5–19(NRSV)

The Destruction of the Temple Foretold

(Mt 24:1–2; Mk 13:1–2)

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Signs and Persecutions

(Mt 24:3–14; Mk 13:3–13)

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.


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