God is Not Thwarted
Sunday, November 13, 2022
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
In today’s scripture passage we are standing with the disciples admiring the glorious temple of Jerusalem, newly reconstructed by Herod the Great.
This place was massive.
It sat at the top of a mountain which had been leveled to accommodate the temple platform which could fit 32 football fields. The stones of the retaining walls were forty feet long and according to 1st century historian, Josephus, there was so much gold covering the outside walls that if you gazed at them in bright sunlight, you risked being blinded. So much white marble was used that (quote) “The temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow.”
This was one awe-inspiring piece of architecture, built to last several millennia.
Yet in our passage we hear Jesus say:
“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.”
That statement would have been utterly devastating to those standing there.
Because the temple of the Israel stood at the very center of Israel’s communal life. It gave them meaning and identity. It was unshakeable proof of their permanence as God’s chosen people and that God was with them.
One writer quipped that Israel put so much emphasis upon the Temple – it caused them to have an “edifice complex.”
It may have seemed permanent, but 37 short years later, in in 70 A.D. – the temple lay in utter ruin.
Jesus went on to warn the disciples that the future would be full of false prophets, of wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues. And that many would be hated, betrayed, and even killed for their faith in him.
8 But whatever happens, he told them…. By enduring, you will find not loss but gain—not death but authentic life.
Show of hands. How many here hold this as a favorite passage in Scripture. Right.
We don’t usually see this passage in stitched up in needlepoint or emblazoned on greeting cards, do we?
In two weeks, we will begin Advent and a new Church year.
But as this Church year winds down, the prescribed scripture readings often focus on end times, what is often referred to as apocalyptic literature.
Apocalypse? That WORD. Yikes.
If you have watched popular apocalyptic movies, read the Left Behind fiction series, or even the Book of Revelation – You may just have images racing through your head right now of vacant eyed zombies, seven-headed beasts, or the nuclear destruction of the planet. Yeah, not exactly comforting.
But that word apocalypse means an unveiling. To disclose and reveal an otherwise secret or hidden reality. This passage is apocalyptic because it lays bare the true reality of the temple. A reality that the disciples could not see. The temple would not last. Nor could it contain God or God’s saving work. God wildly exceeds any religious structure, plan, institution, or symbol we can build in his name.
Jesus doesn’t stop with the temple though. He foretells more destruction, wars, false prophets, earthquakes, persecution, and plagues. No sugar coating here. Life on earth is going to be hard.
And don’t we know it.
We recently suffered through a pandemic only to now worry about healthcare and inflation. We have seen civil political discourse give way to division and violence in our country. And we read of wars, hurricanes, terrorism, drought, and famine.
Sobering. And yet this is nothing new.
Into every age destruction, political uprising, famine, and hardship comes. And when it does, we invariably suffer loss and disillusionment when what felt permanent comes crashing down around our feet.
If we are honest, I think we all have temples in our lives.
things we treasure, things we have built, things we cried for, prayed for, or strived for – they may be relationships, jobs, institutions, or dreams. Things in which we place our hope and trust to give us meaning and identity, to provide security and stability.
These are usually good things – gifts of God that enrich our lives and for which we rejoice. But they also can fail us.
Your marriage, your health, your savings or career, your country, your family – heck, even your denomination and church can fail you.
If you have ever been disappointed or disillusioned by someone or some ideal that you trusted in, believed in, even lived for… you know how painful it can be. It is devastating.
It is then we realize that we misplaced our trust, staking our lives on something that is not eternal. And would not last.
But God remains. And with us.
8 But whatever happens, Jesus told them…. By enduring, you will find not loss but gain—not death but authentic life.
These things will come, Jesus tells us.
But do not be afraid.
I am with you. Today, tomorrow, and until the end of the age.
When the things of this world come crashing down around you.
You are safe. Secure in the arms of God.
In the chaos; in the pain, and disappointment; in the destruction and loss.
God remains. Steadfast.
And then amazingly.
Stone by stone – the God of life begins to rebuild our lives.
Out of the rubble something new arises.
Stone by stone we are built into the temple of God.
Do not be afraid. Stand firm, Jesus says. I am the rock.
And, I am with you.
Let us pray.
Lord God, You are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give wayand the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foamand the mountains quake with their surging. For you are with us;You are our temple and fortress.