What is it that you fear for your world? Not just the individual fears of personal pain or death, but what about the really big stuff? War? Natural disaster? Infectious disease? That’s where Jesus goes this week in the gospel lectionary reading, right to the heart of our fears. He starts by pointing to the most glorious bit of architecture around, that also serves as the meeting place for God and God’s people, and says the Temple will be torn down in a great destruction. His followers are shocked. The Temple, the center of Jewish worship, was biggest and best thing they knew about. Jesus says that their world is going to come crashing down, so they ask the obvious question: when? Instead of providing a specific date, Jesus offers a series of warnings. Do not follow the false messiahs. Do not fear the wars and armed rebellions that rage around you. Know that the future holds many terrible things from natural disaster to plagues. Then Jesus shifts gears to get intensely personal. He warns them about coming persecutions they will face, including betrayal by family members, and even the death penalty. In the midst of these terrifying predictions about the future, Jesus offers two guiding principles. Don’t try to do everything on your own, I will support you. And stand firm (or endure, depending on your translation).
I don’t know about you, but this advice is hard for me to stomach. When I think about my big fears, I want to do everything within my power to prepare for them. I worry about my words all the time, and if I have done a good job explaining the hope I have. But then I read this, and I remember that grace is not about my ability or my power to do something. Grace is a gift from God. To stand firm or endure in the midst of trials and tribulations takes a will beyond what I have. I always want to be on the move fixing, encouraging, growing things into a better place. But this too is a reminder of grace. God’s grace is not something I earn or achieve. It is freely given, and provides us with the ability to face struggle greater than even our darkest fears.