Sermon for 25th Sunday after Pentecost 2021
1 Samuel 2:1-10 Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18) 19-25 Mark 13:1-8
A group of chess enthusiasts had checked into a hotel, and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. “But why,” they asked, as they moved off. He said, “Because I can’t stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.” Chess is a brilliant metaphor for so much that happens in the Gospel. Those opposed to Jesus try to play a move that gets Jesus in trouble. The thing about Jesus is that he is a really good chess player. And with some real skill, Jesus does not simply play a move that gets him out of trouble, but also takes the opportunity to establish a vitally important theological truth. Ultimately God is in everything.
Today’s reading is the so-called “little apocalypse.” In 70 CE, the Romans did indeed destroy the Temple. For Jesus, the Temple is a problem. The Temple organization is exploiting the poor. The Temple organization encourages a religiosity that is inauthentic and primarily focused on self and not on love, love that was the foundation of Jesus’ ministry.
About fifteen years before Jesus was born, Herod the Great began to rebuild and remodel the Temple, which had stood for nearly 500 years since the days of Ezra. Herod made the Temple one of the most beautiful buildings in Jerusalem – not to honor God but to appease the Jews whom he ruled. The magnificent building project wasn’t completely finished until A.D. 64. Jesus’ prophecy that not one stone would be left on another was fulfilled in A.D. 70, when the Romans completely destroyed the Temple and the entire city of Jerusalem.
The Western Wall of the Temple is all that remains. The wall is located in the Old Quarter of Jerusalem. It is built of thick, corroded limestone and is about 60 feet high and close to 160 feet long. It is visited by millions of people each year….looking for some of that sacredness. You can feel it in the air as you move toward the wall to pray, a person’s eyes and attitudes seem to change in a matter of minutes. People from all over the world are standing next to you – all of us placing our hope in God.
The disciples wanted Jesus to tell them when the temple would be destroyed. Jesus gave them a prophetic picture of that time, including events leading up to it. He also talked about future events connected with his return to earth to judge all people. Jesus predicted both near and distant events without putting them in chronological order. Some of the disciples lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This event would assure them that everything else Jesus predicted would also happen.
Jesus warned his followers about the future so that they could learn how to live in the present. Many predictions Jesus made in this passage have not yet been fulfilled. He didn’t make them so that we would guess when they might be fulfilled, but to help us remain spiritually alert and prepared at all times as we wait for his return. To encourage us to live to the fullest each day.
This wonderful passage from Hebrews encourages us to do just that. “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” I read somewhere that “evangelism is doing what Jesus did – not getting everyone to think and believe as you do.” So, in provoking, we will have to get deeply involved in someone’s life. We have to get to know them and what is important to them. We listen and we love. In the listening and loving, we are able to see the needs and wants of others. We are able to respond in love, with love, for love.
“Not one stone will be left here upon another…….” Towering buildings aren’t supposed to crumble to the ground. Oceans aren’t supposed to leap out of their sea beds and flood inland miles away. The ground isn’t supposed to shake and quake. The sky isn’t supposed to form a funnel cloud and destroy homes and lives. Yet, we have watched all of this happen from the World Trade Towers, a tsunami floods a nation, earthquakes and tornadoes and wild fires out of control.
The folks that work with survivors report that all express a profound sense of loss. Not only have they lost loved ones and property, but in a deep and abiding sense they have lost their innocence. They now know that something they once believed to be sure – is no longer trustworthy. They have lost a foundational belief upon which they once built their lives. No longer will they be able to step on the ground without wondering, if only for a moment, whether the ground is going to remain stable. No longer will they be able to look up into a darkening sky without wondering if a destructive storm is on the way.
“Not one stone will be left here upon another…….” So what is Jesus trying to tell us? What are we building our faith on – those things we can see and touch? Are we building our faith on ministers and pastors whose broad shoulders and big hearts who are willing to share the burden? Are we building our faith on the church building itself…that these holy walls – walls full of prayers from years of joy and tears? Like the Temple, this building may not always be here. But where is our faith?
In commenting on the immense stones of the temple (many of which weighed as much as a large jet), the disciples were probably anticipating a messianic takeover of the temple. They were dreaming of a life of power, authority and prestige ahead for them. They still did not understand the Kingdom of God. Those asking, James, John, Peter and Andrew wanted the scoop – when and where and how would the temple be destroyed. Jesus gave them a look into the future with no real facts and figures. Jesus didn’t just talk about the destruction of the temple but other events that would lead to the end of the age.
Jesus began with the destruction of future events by emphasizing deception. Many individuals will claim to be the promised one or Savior. All of them will be frauds – but they will deceive many people. I remember the tv evangelists in the fifties and sixties who said if you sent your money to them, and you could place your hand on the television set, you will be healed.
Christians love predicting the end; it has been a preoccupation for centuries. Jesus invites us to take the long view. The end might often look imminent, but it still might be a long way off. The most important idea is that we recognize how transitory the most enduring human achievement is. Even a massive temple with “large stones” can be here one day and gone the next.
When Jesus launches into all the armed conflicts and natural disasters that we will experience, it is alarming. That doesn’t do a lot to keep us calm, considering we have seen so many of these – we have seen so many lives lost and property destroyed. It is hard to find the light in all of this. As I read and prayed over this passage, I tried to figure a way out. Hebrews was looking better and better – the Collect would make a good sermon. But I kept reading and praying.
Finally, I saw a sliver of light, a glimmer of hope. What if we put our faith…our hope….ours dreams on Jesus? What if we shared them in a community of faith? What if my shoulders next to your shoulders helped to lighten the load – the burden of pain and fear and despair and to share the joy? Yes, the knowledge of end times is scary and fearful, but God’s love can overcome the fear. We are in this together and together we can move forward. God is in everything.
The reading from Hebrews reminded us of the need to encourage one another and to meet together regularly. The writer knew of the importance of a faith community – some one to count on and some one who can count on you. We don’t need the temple or the massive magnificent stones to be able to worship. We need God in our hearts and Jesus on our lips praising all that God has done for us. We need to stand together…..so let’s stand together and pray A Litany of Thanksgiving found on page 837 in the BCP.