Sermon, Pentecost 26B, Sunday November 18, 2018, St Petri
Psalm 16 Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25 Let us confidently draw near to God Mark 13:1-8 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
A few years back I remember trying to take in the enormity of what happened on September 11, 2001 in Manhattan as I walked around what is now “Ground Zero”: a memorial to that fateful day.
Unlike Jesus’ disciples who were looking up the stone columns with golden gold capital’s in the enormous Temple that Herod the Great commissioned and built over 60+ years, I was looking down at the two massive holes in the ground where those mighty Twin Towers used to be footed, but now had completely vanished.
I marvelled at how human beings can reach to the heavens as they construct these enormous buildings.
It made me reflect on how we human have this need to build things that seem permanent – be it a career, a portfolio, a body, a house, a farm, church or whatever. I was confronted with how the mighty and the seemingly permanent can fall so completely; how fragile it all can be.
For the citizens of the USA and the Western world, the Twin Towers were not just a building, but a symbol – a symbol of power, financial dominance, western civilisation’s solid footings in history past and future. Similar for the good people of Israel.
Herod’s temple was not just a building, but a symbol of power, solid future: something surely immovable because of its largeness, magnificence and beauty and because of what happened there on daily basis, rule of law, economic power house, centre of international relations and centre of family, spiritual and national life.
I don’t think Jesus could rip the rug out from underneath their feet any more brutally than he did right there that day. Jesus reveals that even what seems so solid, immovable and “future proof” will fall and the fall will be complete and final. It would like you going down to Adelaide oval on game day and saying that even this will all fall the the ground – don;t bet your life on all of this.
Jesus’ truth today is that even the greatest symbols of our human power and might or our attempts to be God, replace God, capture God or limit God to our own experience and understanding are never enough to last forever. They will fall. “Everyone brick will be thrown down”, Jesus says.
Jesus’ community struggle to take this unsettling news in. Self-preservation mode kicks in. “Tell us, Jesus, how to avoid this or at least be ready for it when it happens as you say.”
Jesus’ does not give them what they want. he does respond, but his response is only general at best.
Conflict, war, poverty, famine, disasters of earth and sea, death and injustice will show you that we are heading in this direction, he says. No specifics, just fair general warning that we are all heading somewhere.
What is he saying? On the one hand, all of this that seems so solid and strong and future proof is not. On the other, nothing is meaningless or outside Jesus’ awareness. We are moving somewhere together, and he will be there standing when all else is not.
How does this work for you? If everything eventually falls, why will I cling to now? If all will fall, why try and build anything? – a home, a school, a community, a church, a life…?
And then, why does it have to be this way? Why does it have to be so painful as a woman in labour pains. Why can’t it be easier or smoother or less pain-filled?
There is more to hear here. Whatever happens, whatever we do, whatever we go about there is something that will really count when all the bricks lay on the stand. And this thing that simply is, that lasts longer than anything else, is worth building and will sustain this world through anything.
And the ‘thing’? the gospel; this good news, this human man of love; this new place of God, this new holy temple of human flesh and bone and holy words – his words. That is permanent. That is worth building life on, that is what will keep us rock-solid and true, no matter what.
10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
This gospel lasts and simply must be spoken and done by those who have received it from Jesus. It is the only thing that remains when the stones of your life’s work are all thrown down. Because it is the last thing standing, so are you. You, fallen person will stand when all else falls – with him, the last man standing.
That is why we build anything. The permanent gospel of Jesus is why we build, care, try, love, act, engage with others, with this town, why build a church building, why change it, why work hard to build a school community, a career, a family, a marriage, a life.
That is our life’s project: To proclaim him – the new temple, the new place of God’s grace, the good news of his grace for lost, untidy, broken, cracked, dark, prideful, miserable, shameful, people.
9 ‘You must be on your guard……. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
We go about life in Nuri as Christians with two things; 1. Laser-like vigilance attending to God’s word. It is the only thing by which we are sustained, and by which we will last beyond the pain, the loss, the ego and the dirt of your grave. 2. Trust in the Holy Spirit: Our words and actions are powered by, given by, sustained by and made effective by the one and only Holy Spirit of God, our Counsellor, our Advocate and our future.
Friends, I hear freedom today: freedom from trying to buld permanency, freedom from self-interest, from fear of disaster, from competitive “keeping up with the Jones’s” here. I also hear purpose in it all.
The freedom is this: even war and the violence and the poverty are heading toward something – or actually Someone. We build foundations we think will last but don’t. God has built a foundation that has and will last beyond the falling of civilizations, families, people and world.
Even the worst things are not bad enough to stop Him in his tracks. Not even the most tragic thing, the darkest thing, the most painful thing, the most evil thing can stop God’s movement, God’s plan, God’s desire, God’s activity, God’s future from coming to be.
The purpose is that you, baptised son and daughter of God, and holy community of God, St Petri are travelling to be completely fulfilled – fulfilled in Jesus.
So, if we have freedom to serve and love and give no matter what, and we have the One who will be standing when we and all else is not: and if we have the Spirit’s power and presence moving us on toward a complete joy, a complete love, a complete reward, then all we can do is proclaim Jesus with everything we are and have.
We build a family, a marriage, a career, a farm, a job, a business, a church building, a better invention, a better community to do only this one thing – the proclaim him and his Word.
We don’t build bigger barns a more solid future as our life’s goal because the barn and future could never be solid enough. You do all these things to proclaim him because only his word will last.
We don’t get too surprised by changes in our life-time in any sphere of life – business, marriage, parenting, education, architecture, machinery, art, health, body,….. because none of them are ever permanent. They don’t need to be anyway because we are permanent without them because we are permanent only in Christ. He is our permanent life and hope. His word is our only solid footing because it is his word; not mine or yours.
Friend’s you don’t have to build a life that lasts forever. You already have one in him. Now you are free to move and adapt and listen and love no matter what falls or rises….and eventually falls again. You are free falling. You fall freely in Jesus and rise too – all in him with feet planted on him – The Rock of Ages.
We rise and fall and rise again under the Son. We do so like this;
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25
On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.