First Congregational Church
November 14, 2021
25th Sunday after Sunday
Mark 13:1-8, Hebrews 10:19-25
“When Holy Doesn’t Feel So Holy”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In 1872, Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse said, "Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."
H. M. Warner, of the movie company Warner Brothers fame, said in 1927, "Who (in the world) wants to hear actors talk?"
There was an inventor by the name of Lee DeForest. He claimed that "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.”
This morning’s gospel passage has us at the temple with Jesus and the disciples. I’m guessing that a goodly number of us tend to forget that this was the second temple, known as Herod’s Temple, built almost 600 years before Jesus’s time - so not the Herod of Christmas time, built considerably larger - actually 40 times larger - on the ruins of Solomon’s temple.
Also known as the Second Temple, we probably don’t realize that the smallest stones in the structure weighed 2 to 3 tons. Many of them weighed 50 tons - or 7.5 elephants.
The largest existing stone, part of the Wailing Wall, is almost 40 feet in length and 10 feet high, and it weighs hundreds of tons! The stones were so immense that neither mortar nor any other binding material was used between the stones. Their stability was attained by the great weight of the stones.
The walls towered over Jerusalem, over 400 feet in one area. Inside the four walls was 45 acres of bedrock mountain shaved flat and during Jesus' day, 250,000 people could fit comfortably within the structure. Just for comparison’s sake, the University of Michigan’s football stadium seats 107,601 people. No sports structure in America today comes close.
So the plain guys from Galilee were on their first trip into Jerusalem and the great temple, and even if you didn’t hear them speak, you could probably have picked them out by their craning necks, pointing fingers and the look of enthusiasm on their faces. If there had been cameras in those days, you could almost picture the disciples mugging for the camera in front of the magnificent opulence of the Temple. You don’t see stonework like that back on the farm.
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 rumors 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.
Thank you, Jim. To set up the second passage from Hebrews, the beginning of birth pains had started, mainly in Jesus’ death, by which we do well to remember that his death was accompanied by darkness, an earthquake, from the book of Matthew, the resurrection of saints through the opening of tombs and the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, which along side the fact that the “curtain” was 4 inches thick, implies that it was not a human act. The curtain, which was renewed every year, could not be pulled apart by horses tied to each side, and it barred all but the High Priest from the presence of God. It was the tearing of that curtain that gave us our freedom to commune with God as individuals, personally and freely.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 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 toward 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.
Thank you, Robin. Wars, rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes and famines. If you think about it, those very things had been happening since the beginning of humanity, which in and of itself, is a rather mind-boggling thought. At risk of exposing my ignorance, what was it that Neanderthals and Denisovans fought over? How did they experience earthquakes, and how would their reactions be all that different from our own?
Wars, rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes and famines. All those things could be found in most any newspaper or newscast in the last year. The “preacher” considered to be the writer of Old Testament Ecclesiastes said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
In an interesting bit of knowledge, the writer of Hebrews is also known as “preacher.” And in the book of Hebrews, the preacher goes back again and again of what it means to follow Christ. I’d not thought about it before, but there were no chairs in the early places of Jewish worship, because the priests work was never done. They had to continually be making sacrifices for the people. The preacher reminds us that any sacrifices to be made these days have to do with the heart rather than a priest.
I was listening to a radio program yesterday, to an interview with a person that worked at a food bank in Alameda County, California, concerning the price of food and the availability of it. Across the nation, the number of people relying on food banks has doubled since the start of the pandemic. The particular food bank was having to spend $60,000 more each month to feed their clients, the cost of food rising between 3 and 17%.
Before they got to the subtopic of holidays, I was wondering about that very thing, how in the midst of this time, that if we’re not careful in our comprehension of it, can feel dark, shaky, and rather unholy. I had thought back to last week and the illustration of the mother who put out lunch in front of the family’s burned out house, complete with a tin can of wildflowers. Then there are the events that we have all celebrated in the past, against the backdrop of hard times, lean times, unknowing times, and how the celebration of that holiday or event was helpful in getting through that period.
We’re such a diverse bunch of people this group we call humanity, and while one group may be celebrating abundance, at the exact same moment, another group can be experiencing poverty. While one faction may feel like they are walking on holy ground, another sector can feel like they are walking on hot coals, a bed of nails or unholy ground. There are times, that though there is a cornucopia on the church altar, there is nothing in the pantry back home - both literally and rhetorically.
It is our job to help those who struggle, with physical, mental, emotional or spiritual needs. We don’t have to cure everyone, each of us individually, but we can hold out the light that “he who promised is faithful.” Sometimes we don’t even have to do any real thing other than just be, because what is needed is the meeting together, encouraging one another, even during a pandemic, even through a hand-held computer discussed as a phone, even though we utter no words. Sometimes, when holy doesn’t feel so holy, we can feel a little bit of it by being in community, conversation, proximity, and even a phone call with one another.
King Duncan, over there at sermons.com, gave this illustration of making it through when holy doesn’t feel so holy. “Kristi Denton had always relied on her husband, David, to take care of her.
He was her source of strength, the one she relied on to keep their lives running smoothly. Then in December of 1995, David was in a horrible accident. He suffered massive brain damage. Kristi prayed for God to work a miracle and heal her husband instantly, but it didn't happen. How could Kristi find the strength to take care of David now? In desperation, Kristi took Isaiah 40:31 as her motto: "They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles.”
Over the next few years, David slowly recovered from his accident. Among the lessons Kristi learned from that time was that waiting on the Lord in itself is healing. You're not just marking time while God does God's thing. Each day you are making new discoveries about how much God loves you. Each day you are growing stronger in your confidence in God's promises.
Not all of us can see God’s hand in periods of crisis, but it’s still there. Not everyone can have immediate confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, that being the quiet of our hearts to find the full assurance that faith brings. Regardless of anything we might or might not feel, the Good News still stands.
Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks did a comedy skit called the "2013 Year Old Man" where Reiner interviews Brooks, who is the old gentleman. At one point, Reiner asks the old man, "Did you always believe in the Lord?"
Brooks replied: "No. We had a guy in our village named Phil, and for a time we worshiped him."
Reiner: You worshiped a guy named Phil? Why?
Brooks: Because he was big, and mean, and he could break you in two with his bare hands!
Reiner: Did you have prayers?
Brooks: Yes, would you like to hear one? O Phil, please don't be mean, and hurt us, or break us in two with your bare hands.
Reiner: So when did you start worshiping the Lord?
Brooks: Well, one day a big thunderstorm came up, and a lightning bolt hit Phil. We gathered around and saw that he was dead. Then we said to one another, "There's somthin' bigger than Phil!”
Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew that the world was coming to an end tomorrow, and he said: “I would plant an apple tree.” In other words, Luther, trusting in God’s gracious, unmerited mercy would live life just as he had been living it.
"It will be years - not in my time - before a woman will become Prime Minister.” said Margaret Thatcher, just five years before she became Prime Minister. In 1932, Albert Einstein said, ”There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” It got done did. On his decision to not take the leading role in “Gone With the Wind,” Gary Cooper stated, "I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” So shall we pray.
Holy, Holy, Holy God, you certainly know how easy it is for us to be lead astray sometimes; sometimes willfully, more often unknowingly from your assurance and hope and glory. In each of our lives, things may get worse, worlds may end, but those are not the final acts. Help us to remember that agony is our canal - from what we have known to what we will know in new beginnings. Remind us that what waits for us is not some surprise that comes later, but a mystery that is greater than we can see. Encourage with our becoming - not of unbecoming who we are, but in the unfolding of our lives as creatures of holiness and light. For all your leading and reminding and challenging, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.