Harold Macmillan, the former prime minister, was once asked by a journalist what the most difficult aspect of his job was. ‘Events, dear boy, events’ he replied. We live in an unpredictable world. This can be a truly frightening thought, and in the gospel today (Luke 21.5-19) Jesus tackles this subject. Reading his words we may reflect on how little the world has changed in 2000 years. There will be, he says, news and rumours about wars and revolutions. There will be persecution of the Church. People will try to read some hidden meaning into these things, and into natural calamities such as famine or earthquakes. Jesus gives us wisdom for these huge movements of history which can so unsettle us.
Take care not to be deceived (v 8) In troubling times many will try and tell you that this or that is a sign from God. In uncertain times especially, false prophets arise who use a religion of fear to seek power for themselves. Jesus reminds us gently that these people are, quite simply, not him. Such people are not God, not sent from God, but often simply poor confused souls. Especially where leaders try to combine religious and political power we need to be on our guard.
The end is not so soon (v 9) There are some terrible events in our world. Certainly, we need to pause and take stock. But life goes on and has to go on. Those who follow God do not take refuge in talk about the end of the world. Instead they try to work with God that the world may be healed.
Do not be frightened (v 9) It is natural to be frightened, and fear has its place in life. But to stay there is unnatural. Sometimes we have to combat fear, resist it and overcome it. This is easy to say but we have the reassurance of Jesus himself, and his eternal presence with and among his people. He is always near.
Your endurance will win you your lives (v 1) Endurance does not sound romantic, in fact it sounds a little grim. But there can be a beauty in stoicism, or at the very least a dignity. We sometimes forget that the Beatitudes end with the saying that we are blessed when people persecute us because of our faith (Matt. 5.11-12). Rejoice and be glad, says Jesus: for in such times your reward will be great in heaven.
Finally, reading the gospel today we might reflect on the question of where we put our trust. Looking at the Temple, Jesus says that its stones will not last. What about our own church buildings? It is right that we have a holy space, a place set apart in which to celebrate the sacraments and draw closer to God. It is good that we bring to God in art and architecture the very best that we can, to honour him and give him glory. Yet, ultimately we do not put our trust in stones and cement, in wood and plaster. We put our trust in the living God, who came among us in Christ and whose Spirit moves among us and within us still.