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.
The last few weeks we have seen some of Jesus' direct confrontation of the temple leadership who had manipulated the teachings of God for their own power. But we haven't talked about the actual temple. According to Robert Linthicum, "The image of the “temple”, of course, was symbolic of the priestly power structure of Israel. It not only provided the priestly services of worship but it was the governmental center of the nation, as well. When Rome conquered any nation, it attempted to rule that nation through the perceived indigenous leadership of that nation. So when Rome annexed Israel to the empire, it contracted with the priestly system (with the religious temple leaders) for the day-today governance of that nation, with the Roman procurator responsible only for managing that nation’s direct relationship with Rome (payment of taxes, protection of the rights of Roman citizens, maintaining a military presence and Roman law). Therefore, to the Jews, the “Temple” symbolized much more than simply the worship center of Israel, for all recognized it was the primary political and economic force of the nation, as well."[i]
So when I say, 'Jesus' direct confrontation of the temple leadership'– I mean, Jesus was confronting the central political and economic power of Israel. The temple structure had grown more grandiose as the decades passed- to show off and secure the offices of those in power, much as our main buildings in Washington DC are "awe inspiring" to help enhance the power of our political leaders...
But let's get to the story. Jesus and his disciples are walking by the temple, and the disciples begin pointing out the ornate stones and wondrous architecture of the temple, Jesus balks... Jesus tells them, "None of this is going to last. The system that has merged Godly worship with governmental corruption will be overturned- and all of this will be leveled! Every stone torn down!"
Of course, the disciples would have had a tough time believing this. The temple was monstrous- and the systems secure. Besides, God lived there! Nothing would happen to upset that... right?
We know in hindsight, that is exactly what happened- the temple was destroyed in 70ce, and life as it was known to Israel, was no more... But Jesus was not just predicting the end of the temple- he went on to predict the end of the age. And that, my friends affects all of us... but unlike the disciples, we have little trouble believing this prediction.
I'm going to ask you a very personal question: Who watches Dooms Day Preppers? We have a whole culture that is built around this stuff- Nation against nation- famines, plagues, buildings being leveled- Come on, we have that going on now don't we? In fact, following the AIDS crisis, (the last recent plague in American history) and especially after 9/11, Americans know what it is like to live in terror... fear gripped and maintains a stronghold on our country and we joined much of the world; waiting for the next eminent strike.
And that fear feeds our own greed. Humans who feel helpless and fearful, try to gather as much as they can- seemingly gaining control of what we can- "The more stuff I have, the better off I'll be if something happens... when something happens..."
And that is the real question isn't it? How long before we as the human race, self destruct? Because if we somehow manage to NOT blow ourselves up, we face planetary calamity from climate change, or eco system collapse; we're destroying the food supply, the water we drink, the air we breathe and to make it worse, we don't anticipate any of it getting better! So it's not "IF" it happens, but "WHEN?"
And, just like in Jesus' day, none of this will be God's doing... it is all brought about by our own selfishness and quest for power- our systems are corrupt and broken, and perpetuate a society of haves and have not's... a far cry from the shalom community we heard read for us this morning... where the Wolf lays down with the lamb and all people are fed, and housed, and are healthy...
What do we do in the meantime? Because thinking of the end times this way- that it is all inevitable, we are tempted to jump on the bandwagon of, "I am going to get as much for me as I can- get as much for my kids as I can, so whatever time we have left here on earth, we can enjoy!"
Yet, Jesus calls us to something else in the meantime. Jesus calls us to be like him- to be truth tellers- to speak to the powers that be and stop the corrupt systems that oppress and dominate the weak. And he tells the disciples, "you'll be punished for doing it- you'll be persecuted, ostracized, even arrested or killed..." As Robert Linthicum reminds us... 'nobody likes a truth teller... But take heart, this is the way you gain your soul... in other words, buying into the system that you know is corrupt just to save your own skin isn't the way to live- and you will never have peace that way... whether we are talking about world peace or inner peace.
And I don't know how many of us that will happen to and I'm not here to guilt you that if you haven't been arrested you aren't doing your jobs and all that... because you know me well enough to know that I don't believe all of us are called to be a Martin Luther King- but we are all called to be peacemakers. And that work in you was begun the moment you said yes to God in your life, in whatever form that was in.
Maybe you can't see it- but God can- and God has been drawing you, and molding you and shaping you to become the agent of Peace that you were designed to be from the beginning. And yes, that may take a long time- most of us are a work in progress. But I challenge you this morning to think about this as it applies to your own life. And while you may not be there yet, there are things you can do while you're growing... and since the end of the age isn't today (that we know of) there are small things we can do in the meantime.
And I already hear you- "I'm too old," "I'm too young," "I'm not spiritually mature and I don't know enough scripture," "I don't have enough resources, time, energy, money..."
Let me help you out... (You knew I would, didn't you?)
For those of you who think you're too old- that "my time is past, and I did my job, and at this stage of my life it's somebody else's turn, and besides, I don't have anything of value to contribute anymore..." Too old? Since when did God say anyone's call was done once they turned grey? (or not) No matter how old you are, you have a lifetime of experience to share with people- maybe you did once speak truth to power, maybe you even suffered for it... maybe you saw others doing it, and was a supporter... whatever your life experience, find someone and share it with them. The older members of our community are the keepers of our history... the value you hold within you is invaluable to us... teach... share... encourage...
For those who think you are too young- you are probably right- so go find one of our older members and ask them to share with you and teach you, not just about peacemaking- but about life- about the changes and history they've experienced first hand-
Don't know enough scripture? I'm with you... none of us do... we can always learn more, but plant yourself in a Bible study... we have 2 right now that can help you in your faith formation and biblical knowledge... trust me, there is not a time in my life when knowing more about our ancestors experienced God hasn't helped me in my own experience. And maybe you'll feel lost at first, and yes, there will be others in the class who have been doing it longer, or maybe even have a different perspective... praise God we can encourage each other that way.
And for those who don't have enough resources... not enough time, or energy or money... take a couple of moments this afternoon and reflect... how much of your resources go to perpetuate the stones that will be torn down? And how much to the things that will last? "Oh Linda, that's not fair... you know where we live... you know how much things cost... you know how busy I am." Yes, I do... and some of us are better off financially that others, and some, obviously can give more that way... even with talents.. some of us have certain gifts we can share, and some are still developing. But there is one thing that we all have the same amount of... and that is time. Each of us have the same 24 hours in a day. How much of the resource of time to we invest in stones that will be torn down? And how much to the things that will last?
I will leave that to you to ponder... but let me encourage you... we- our community of faith- came together intentionally to help change the world. You can be a part of it... before things get crazier... before the end of the age.. before the temple is leveled and before you are fully developed... in the meantime, take one step... I promise you wont regret it... you will gain your souls...