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November 17, 2019
To our children who just received their Bibles –
Did you know that in 1450 a man named Johann Gutenberg invented the
movable-type printing press, and in 1455 he produced the first book ever
Does anyone know what that book was?
Yes, the Bible, and ever since Gutenberg first printed the Bible in 1455,
some 564 years ago, the Bible has been the most printed book every year
ever since, even until the present day, even more than Harry Potter or The
Lord of the Rings, even more than Dr. Suess or John Grisham or Stephen
And hear this, for those of us with a smartphone…
I read recently that, if you combine all the Bible apps together,
the Bible is the most downloaded app of all the apps available! That’s
Watching the children receive the gift of their Bibles reminds me of one of
our family stories about a certain night time prayer I would offer when I
was a young boy. I don’t remember offering the prayer, of course, but I
have heard my mom tell the story many times.
For those of you who know me well, you know that I don’t miss too many
I like to eat. I am not a picky eater. I try to eat healthy food, most of the
time, but I will eat most anything offered to me, especially cookies.
Some of you know that I also love to sing.
Like some of you I will sing in out loud in worship or sing in the car.
I will sing along with a good song, no matter what the genre.
During my childhood years, I sang in the church choir, and I learned, as did
many of you, the old favorite, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible
tells me so.”
Food, singing, and the Bible – all important elements of my life, from my
earliest days until now.
So, as the story is told, when my mother was putting my sisters and I to bed
Mom claims that I would often offer the following prayer:
“My Bible, my supper, Jesus loves me. Amen.”
“My Bible, my supper, Jesus loves me. Amen.”
As Presbyterians, we center our worship and seek to center our lives on the
We consider that the Bible is so central that this would not be Christian
worship without the Bible being read and proclaimed.
The symbolism of processing in the large Bible and placing it front and
center should not be missed.
The relative size of this pulpit is significant.
It’s not about the preacher, but about the importance of the Proclamation
of the Word.
It should also be said that the Bible is not easy, and the Bible is multivalent –
that is, almost any passage of Scripture can be interpreted in various ways.
There is most often not one simple answer.
Have you ever seen that bumper sticker with a picture of a Bible that says:
“God said it; I believe it; that settles it”?
I don’t like that bumper sticker.
Any form of serious Biblical scholarship is not flat or one-dimensional.
The Bible is probably the most unsettling book that ever has been printed.
In the Presbyterian Church, we don’t encourage a quick settlement of
We encourage hard questions. We encourage wrestling with the text.
We encourage wrestling with each other over the text.
We encourage wrestling with God when we come to a challenging passage.
Today’s reading is one such challenging passage.
Jesus is speaking about the end times and the persecution of the faithful.
He is warning his disciples that those who stick to their faith in challenging
times will be persecuted and attacked if they do not go along with the
whims of the unfaithful.
Hear the Word of God from Luke 21:5-19.
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.’
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.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
‘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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Friends, we just gave these words to our children.
We just handed Bibles to third graders, Bibles which include these difficult,
but true words…
Disciples of Jesus Christ, during certain challenging times in human
history, you will be arrested and persecuted.
You will be handed over to be beaten and imprisoned.
You will be brought before governors and kings.
You will be betrayed by family members.
Some of you will be put to death.
You will be hated because of the name of Jesus.
Yet not a hair of your head will perish, and by your endurance you will gain
These are difficult words. These are words that many probably do not want
their third graders to hear.
None of us want to hear that we will suffer for the sake of the Christian
None of us want to hear that following Jesus may lead to persecution and
Some years ago, Dudley Larus, one of our leading elders, inquired with me
about starting a new Bible Study group.
Dudley tells the story that I warned him at that time.
“Be careful”, I said. “If you study the Bible, it will change your life!”
And it did. It changed his life.
Dudley says my warning, or what I might call my “encouragement”, held
Reading the Bible, and studying the Bible with others, will change your life.
The Bible comforts and confounds us;
the Bible directs us and confuses us;
the Bible engages us and conflicts us.
Reading the Bible transforms us.
Often the Bible sends us in directions far different from what we hear
from the prosperity gospel preachers on television.
The Bible leads us to live lives of righteousness…and lives of justice.
Those two words are paired over 200 times in the Old Testament.
The Bible directs us to sing praises….and to care for orphans and widows,
and to welcome the immigrant and the stranger.
The Bible says that we read our Bibles and pray….and speak the truth to
power, even at great personal risk.
The Bible encourages us to kneel before the cross in worship….and to take
up our cross and follow Jesus.
One of the most intriguing aspects of today’s text is Jesus’ encouragement
NOT to prepare our defense in advance.
Jesus says, when you are persecuted, when you are brought forward to
testify, DO NOT prepare your defense in advance.
When you find yourself being attacked,
when people are uttering all kinds of false statements about you,
trust in the Spirit, lean on the Spirit,
and God will give you the words to say, just like the prophets of old.
I could not help but connect this passage I was studying this week with the
A 33 year state department official was asked many difficult questions on
She did not seem to go on the offensive, nor did she seem to have a
Her long term experience in the diplomatic world seemed to guide her
carefully worded responses.
For each question asked, Marie Yovanovitch seemed to be a credible
witness who had become caught up in something much larger than herself.
Her commitment seemed to be to testify to the truth of her own experience,
as best she could.
What might it mean for the average churchgoer to approach persecution or
attack not terrified, not with a defensive posture, not with a ready defense
for whatever someone says, not with our “dukes” up, ready to fight,
but committed to truthfulness and endurance.
What if we considered any personal attack or persecution an opportunity to
testify, to testify to what is good and true, to testify what we stand for,
and an opportunity to seek to understand what the other person stands for?
Have you heard of “Cancel Culture”?
Recent articles have described this very disturbing trend among young
people in the United States.
When someone feels like they have not been considered by another,
or knows that they disagree with another about some important issue, they
They cut off all ties, not just on social media, where they cancel their online
connections, but they cut them off personally as well.
They act as if the other person does not exist, even if they share the same
classroom or lunch room.
Yesterday afternoon, we held a beautiful memorial service here for Rev. Bill
Goodwin. Bill was 93 years old, many years retired from serving as a
United Methodist pastor.
Bill served a number of congregations in Texas over a span of more than 40
There are many aspects of Bill’s character and service that were admirable,
but perhaps none as telling as the nature of one of his closest friendships.
Bill was fast friends and regular conversation partner with someone whose
political views were the polar opposite of his.
Bill and his friend did not allow their different views of politics to spoil
Their relationship with one another as human beings with mutual respect
came before any political disagreement or any theological or biblical
In the Presbyterian Church, as I have said before, we assume that there will
be difference in these pews.
We assume that you will disagree with your neighbor about many things.
We assume that people of good faith will not always come down at the same
place on issues of great importance.
We also are aware that people of good faith will at times be “cancelled” or
persecuted or attacked by others.
Jesus said, DO NOT prepare your defense in advance.
Don’t put up a wall against your neighbor.
Don’t assume a defense will be needed.
Don’t show up armed to the teeth.
Any persecution, any attack may be an opportunity to testify,
to share with others what you stand for, to stand up for what is good and
true and right.
In the Presbyterian Church, we do not talk much about the second coming
Most of us don’t stockpile food or weapons in preparation for the end
times. Most of us don’t worry about Christ coming again every time we time
hear of war or rumors of war.
Even so, there is an encouragement in Luke 21 for us who may feel too
complacent or too secure.
Just after our text for today, Luke told his readers what Jesus had told his
disciples a generation earlier.
When the challenging days come, ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not
weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this
life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.
For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.
Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all
these things that will take place,
and to stand before the Son of Man.’ Luke 21:34-36
Whether life is going well or we are facing persecution of some kind
or we have been betrayed by a friend or family member,
or we are undergoing some other kind of tribulation,
the Bible encourages us to live our lives according to the way of Jesus
Christ, to live each day the best that we can.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, in every age, in every circumstance,
we are called to be hopeful, not fearful.
We are called to be peaceful, not anxious.
We are called to enjoy the goodness of this life, but not enjoy to excess any
of God’s gifts.
We are called to be intentional with how we spend our time,
generous in how we expend our resources, and faithful with how we live in
Whether the earth will last another million years or just a few more weeks,
we really do not know.
Whether the current troubles we face, whether in our nation or personally
or at work, will get better or will get worse, we really do not know.
What we do know is that the Bible tells us to stay awake, to be alert,
to keep living our lives faithfully and well, and to watch out for false
prophets who would lead us astray.
And the promise is that when we lean on the grace of Jesus Christ,
when we read our Bibles and trust in the Spirit to give us the words to say,
when we are willing to testify to the truth when all the world is falling apart
around us, then our endurance will be rewarded, and our very souls will be
To God alone be all glory, power, and honor, now and always.
Rev. Dr. J. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church, Decatur, Georgia