Proper 28 B
Eternal God, heavenly Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, grant us grace to see death as an opportunity for resurrection and transformation, grant us courage to face the tearing down of walls and foundations and buildings. Help us to build anew that which sings your praises. Amen.
Did you hear what the disciple said at the start of the gospel passage this morning?
"Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!"
After a long day of sitting in the Temple, listening to the scriptures and the teachings of the priests and Jesus, this is the intellectual brilliance that is chosen to be recorded. Look at the huge stones!
Having been to Jerusalem last year, I cannot deny that they are huge stones. They are described in the Old Testament as being 8 to 10 cubits long - putting them between 12-15 ft long. And they were all quarried, moved, built together without any of today's technology. No cranes, no trucks, no lifts. They formed the foundations of the temple and the surrounding city. For some of the disciples who were rural country or fishing men, the huge stones and the city itself would be quite the sight to see.
The Temple was the center of Jewish religion and culture, the backbone of what held the Jewish people together. The Temple was the power and authority of the hierarchical structure of the Jewish government. It was the history of the people, the story of the people of Israel. The center of their life and identity. A big deal. And not just any big deal, THE big deal. And so they are anxious about it. There is obvious and understandable anxiety around Jesus, a man they are following, a man they are putting a huge amount of trust and faith in, a man they have invested a lot of physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual currency into, Jesus, saying that the icon of the Jewish culture is going to be destroyed. The idea of the destruction of the temple probably felt like the end of the world to them. Imagine the dismay if a major political figure said that the American flag was going to crumble to pieces, not just one American flag, but all American flags. It would be the destruction of a symbol, an icon, it would in some ways represent the destruction of the nation. And that is what the disciples want to know about. It would seem to be their story as a people coming to an end.
But, the disciples are focused on the wrong part of the story. And Jesus tries to tell them that. The story of the people of Israel will continue on long after the temple is destroyed. Jesus tries to remind them to not to go chasing after prestige, material things, and power. He tries to remind them of the real story, the full story, the fully real story of God transforming the world. That God has been transforming the world in a process of death and resurrection, in a process of forgiveness and sanctification, in a process of redeeming love. Through every story of pain and suffering and confusion in the bible, the Israelites wandering, Jerusalem destroyed and everyone being exiled, being conquered by the Roman Empire, God has been present and followed through on the promise to look after and care for His people. And the disciples are part of that story. Jesus tells them to stay true, to stay the course, because suffering is common to every age of humanity and that is no reason to despair. God is still at work in the world.
But for the disciples, anxiety and uncertainty were getting in the way. They wanted to be sure about what they thought was coming. When will Jesus overthrow the current Jewish and Roman rule and reign? How will we know, Jesus? What signs will there be so that we know, so that we are completely sure, and right, and ready?
Jesus mentions false leaders, wars, earthquakes, and famines as things that distracted the disciples from the real story and rightfully so! How often do we become focused on the wrong parts of our stories? We forget that God is at work in our lives and transforming us and the world around us. We are immensely good at distracting ourselves with false promises, shiny things, new technology, quick laughs... even today we distract ourselves with the same old things: false leaders, wars, earthquakes, and famines! The United States has been involved in wars in every decade since its founding. We have had earthquakes every year, in fact every day since Jesus uttered these words, so much so that the National Earthquake Information Center locates about 50 earthquakes each day. And there are 15.3 million children in the US alone in food insecure homes. And then we have events like school shootings and those attacks in Beirut and Paris this week. Sorrowful horrors. They are all big deals. They make us question and wonder about our safety and the state of the world. But they still aren't the most important part of the story going on in the world right now.
The most important part of the story going on right now is that God is transforming the world and God is calling us to be a part of the transformation. We can be a real part of God's transforming work in the world by following Jesus through all the conflicts, persecutions, and troubles. The world NEEDS this transformation. We are not perfect, we are not yet fully healed and sinless. Transformation always comes with detractors, naysayers. Haters gonna hate, as hip hop reminds us. But there has to be a clearing out of things that have not been found useful or good to make way for new good things to come. Transformation is difficult. It comes with anxiety and uncertainty. It comes with a stepping out in faith and trust in God. It comes with an eye on the goal and an eye on the process. Transformation comes with REAL conversations, discernment, and prayer about what is truly going on in our midst.
We are being transformed as individuals and as a community. We are being transformed into the kingdom of God. We go through all the stages of life, death, and resurrection, in our transformation, and we never look exactly the same as we did in the beginning. It is not a circle. Our transformation both individually and communally builds up the kingdom of God. Our individual transformations affects the whole because we are one body in Christ. And because we are one body, even those we do not recognize or those we think of as strangers are a part of God's redeeming work.
We gather together each week to remember the focus, the important part, to remember the whole story. That God created us and loved us so much he sent His Son to redeem us and the Holy Spirit to sustain and transforming the world into the kingdom of heaven.
God is transforming the world through death and resurrection. Are you part of God's transformation of the world or are you holding back?