Sermon Pentecost 26
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The disciples were with Jesus in Jerusalem. They were marveling at the size and beauty of the Temple. It certainly was something to see. They weren’t just admiring it because they were small town folks who never went to a big city. The Temple was magnificent by anyone’s standards.
This was the second Temple to stand on this site. King Solomon built the first one and it lasted 400 years until it was destroyed by the Babylonians. After the return from exile, the Jews built the second Temple around 516 years before Christ. It stood unharmed for 400 years before being desecrated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, an evil ruler who put his pigs in there.
When he was overthrown by the Maccabees, the Temple was restored and rededicated and doubled in size. The place was huge. There were four retaining walls encircling the base, each one about fifteen hundred feet. That’s 500 yards, or the length of five football fields for each of the four sides. The walls were made of stones that weighed up to 100 tons each.
The temple itself was built of white marble on top of those walls and towered sixteen stories high. It wasn’t just huge, it was ornate. The outer doors were covered in gold plates and there was gold trim everywhere. It was so shiny that you couldn’t look at it on a sunny day. There was so much white marble that it looked like a snow covered mountain from the distance, and it was just as fancy on the inside as it was outside.
The Jerusalem of Jesus’ time was about the size of Grand Island. The Temple was the center of life in the city. Approximately half the people in the city did some sort of work that related to the Temple. There were craftspeople, blenders of incense, dealers in sacrificial animals, innkeepers, and of course the money changers, and that’s not to even mention the priests and the levites.
The Temple leaders were in charge of ritual and sacrifice, the financial system, and the Temple police force. It is not an exaggeration to say that Jerusalem was a Temple with a city attached. The Temple was the center of their world. The religion had become the economy.
There is no surprise that the disciples were admiring the beauty of the Temple. Jesus’ response is a surprise though. “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.”
These words would have sounded very harsh to anyone in Jerusalem at the time. The Temple was the center of their lives. It had stood for hundreds of years. It was the focus of their religion and their economy. Their livelihoods depended on it. Their world revolved around it.
Yet, we know what happened. The Romans invaded Jerusalem and leveled everything in the city, including the Temple, some 40 years later, in 70 AD. Luke’s first readers lived in the time after the fall of Jerusalem. They likely struggled with the many changes in their lives and wondered what the world was coming to. The center of their universe had been destroyed.
Jesus went on to tell his disciples about disasters and calamities and wars and all kinds of terrible things that would happen. He wasn’t making an exhaustive list of what was coming in the end times. He was describing the way things have always been and they way they will be until that day when he comes again.
From the beginning of recorded history there have been natural disasters. Remember Noah? All the ancient Near Eastern religions of that time have a story about a great flood.
There were plagues in Egypt at the time of Moses. There have always been wars. Every time something disastrous happens, the people who are affected realize that the world as they knew it was coming to an end. Their lives would always be defined by that day. There would be the time of life before the disaster and the time of life after the disaster.
Every time something disastrous happen, there is someone who predicts that this is the end of the world. Jesus says to ignore those false prophets. They don’t know what they are talking about.
The people of the Philippines have experienced a disaster that will forever mark their lives. We cannot help but be affected by the news of all the death and destruction caused by typhoon Haiyan, the largest storm to hit land in recorded history.
Just hearing the voices of the people who are thirsty and haven’t eaten in a week, breaks our hearts. Seeing their pictures is overwhelming.
Natural disasters and wars never fail to stun us with their human tragedy and destruction. They raise profound questions and profound emotions.
But they are not the only things that can unbalance our lives. There are many personal tragedies that change the center of our world. There is the loss of a job. There is divorce. There is death.
These are times when we cry out to God that we just plain don’t understand. We want to know why this happened. We want to know why it happened to us. We add our cries of lament to those of our ancestors in the Bible and throughout history.
We remember Job and his suffering. We remember his friends. They were the ones who thought they knew why things happened. They were the ones who turned out to be wrong about everything.
We remember Jesus told us to expect that life would not be easy for us. He told us to beware of prophets who think they have the explanations for everything. Jesus never suggested that any of it was God’s punishment or even God’s righteous indignation.
Jesus did give us a message about how to behave in the midst of trying times. He said to consider that these are times to testify to your faith. This seems to be a very hard thing Jesus is asking us to do. In the midst of times where we want to cry out to God, to yell “Why me, Lord?,” Jesus tells us to testify, to bear witness to the love of God.
Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will say. The Holy Spirit will give us the words, words so good that our opponents won’t be able to contradict us.
When we see tragedy, Jesus tells us give what we can, to help those who are hurting, knowing that whatever we give, we give to him.
Jesus foretold the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the wars and disasters that are an inevitable part of our life here on earth. Jesus told us something very important to do when we hear about wars and disasters. He said, “Do not be terrified, when the center of your universe is destroyed, when life as you knew it is forever changed.”
Do not fear because there is another Temple, one that will last forever. In that Temple the sacrifice is pure and holy, and by the grace of God, humans will have clean hearts. There we meet the one true God.
This is not a Temple built with human hands. It is not a vast structure larger than sports stadiums. This temple is the body of Christ. In the body of Christ, not a hair of our heads will perish. God will give us the endurance to gain our souls.
God’s temple economy is one of mercy and justice. The doors of this temple are always open. All are welcome here as one family, the body of Christ.
In this temple, in God’s economy, nothing is ever lost – not our labors, not our suffering, not our prayers, not our gifts to help our suffering neighbors. All that we give is placed on the altar, in thanksgiving for Christ’s sacrifice. In this temple, the saints and angels will sing Alleluia with us forever. Amen.