First Reading: Malachi 4:1-2a  1See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2aBut for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13  6Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
Gospel: Luke 21:5-19  5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, 6“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.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And 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. 9“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.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there 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. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I went to high school in a very small town, so small that some would not even consider the place to be a town.  High school classes were combined in such a way that several were offered only every other year and open to two grades at a time.  For example, a student could take physics one year and chemistry the next; advanced algebra one year and geometry the next.

In this school it was impossible to be anonymous, so everyone knew that I was one of the daughters of the school superintendent, whose office was just inside the main entrance of the building.

Some children of administrators seem to play with the power of their parents to try to intimidate their teachers and avoid discipline.  That would not have worked in my family, so it was probably just as well that I’m not generally the kind of person that uses power that way.

That’s background to give you some context for something that happened in English class one day.  We had assigned seats, and students were often going up to the teacher and asking for permission to switch with someone else, for one reason or another.  Finally, the teacher became frustrated with the numerous requests and made an announcement to the class:  For the rest of [some certain time period], you may switch places with nobody!

Despite not being a trouble-maker, I did consider myself to be rather clever!  I looked around the classroom and noted a desk that was empty—or should I say, a desk in which “nobody” was sitting…  I went up to the teacher and said, “You said we could switch places with nobody, right?  So can I switch places with the nobody sitting in front Randy over there?”

Mr. Heitkamp shook his head slowly and said, “You ought to become a politician…”

I’m quite sure that would not go well…

Partisan politics often devolve into quagmires requiring procedures I’m sure I could not convincingly practice.  You see, I know that no party has a monopoly on righteousness, and each has something (or some things) worth supporting.  Each party also has participated in shady business.  With the promises of Malachi in mind, the evils we support in politics, as a people, and as individuals earn those fires of destruction!

I titled today’s message, “Fear,” because there are all kinds of things happening when this gospel was written that caused fear in the hearts of the people.  There are actually some marked similarities to today.

To keep somewhat abreast of what is going on in this country and in the world, I receive news from various sources, emails from various political parties, and I have friends of many affiliations.  I’d like to share with you some language from the bodies of some recent email, though I’m editing what I share so that it’s not obvious which party sent what.

Here’s the first:
The other party will do whatever it takes to erase your voice, erase your vote, and erase your freedom. … They simply don’t care about you.  ALL THEY CARE ABOUT IS WINNING.  It's up to YOU to make sure that never happens, Michelle.  There has never been a more critical time to step up. We noticed your name was missing [the last time we asked].

Here’s another one:
Subject:  The way things are currently looking (hint:  not good)  Michelle, we are facing a critical mid-quarter deadline at midnight, and the way things are currently looking, we will fall short of where we need to be to stay on track for our fundraising goal. So, we’re asking:  With so much happening in Washington today and with 2020 races in full swing across the country, can [our candidate] count on you to rush a donation of any amount before our mid-quarter deadline at midnight? Anything you can give will go a long way. 

And a third:
Will we elect a president in 2020 who will cave to donors, or one that can stand for what is right?

All of them… ALL OF THEM are trying to capitalize on our fears.  All of them are trying to raise the level of our fears so that they can raise more money so that they can do things the way they believe is most right.

I’m not a good fundraiser because I don’t like to make people afraid, and fear seems to be the go-to for most fundraising efforts.  And, at first glance it might seem as if Jesus is doing something similar in our Gospel reading.  Is he raising the fears of the disciples when he predicts that the temple will topple to the ground, when he warns them (and us) of false prophets who will claim to be savior or messiah, when he speaks of wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues; arrests and persecutions?

They might be afraid, but Jesus does not raise up all these issues to increase the fears of the people (or to ask them for money so that he can make all those things go away).  On the contrary, in the midst of all these frightening things, Jesus says, “Do NOT be afraid.”

Church statistics are in decline across the country, pertaining both to the numbers of those worshiping and the finances donated for ministry.  What is God calling us to do in today’s world?  Is it too much to expect people to gather every week?  Is faith itself too high an expectation?  Ought we to give up?

“Do NOT be afraid.”  That’s what Jesus says.  In the midst of all the horrible things that are happening in this world, or may happen in our lives, Jesus will be there in the midst of it with us.

Don’t let people capitalize on your fears.  Don’t let them make you more afraid in order to entice your dollars into their causes.  Don’t cave to the promises of an easy fix that your financial donation will guarantee.  Our ministry is for God’s promise, not for fear.  Dedicate your time and your resources as you believe they will do the most good in this world.  Do not be afraid, because Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior, stays with us, always… in Jesus’ name.  Amen