First Congregational Church
November 17, 2019
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In preparing for the trek into our morning scripture passage, what’s the most ironic thing about the Bible? It is the most shoplifted book in America.
What is the most ironic thing about McDonald’s? Before being shut down, McDonalds’ employee health page once warned against eating McDonald’s burgers and fries. What’s the most ironic thing about duct tape? According to researchers, duct tape should never be used for sealing ducts.
What is the most ironic thing about Charlie Chaplin? He once entered a “Charlie Chaplin walk” contest… and came in 20th. What’s the most ironic thing about Al Capone? His older brother was a federal Prohibition agent.
In some ways, this morning’s scripture passage may seem like one of the more ironic aspects of Christianity’s Good News. It continues the path we’ve been on, based on the book of Luke, thru most of the summer and fall. Jesus has entered Jerusalem for the last time, to celebrate the Passover. Between his arrival and that famous last supper, Jesus does some story telling and teaching, no doubt wrapping up some of his bucket list items. This morning’s passage finds him and some of the disciples outside the temple, marveling at it - as a first time tourist might.
No doubt, the temple was something to take away one’s breath. For those who weren’t able to be at the Bible Study Bill Hirschfeld did on the temple, allow me to offer - not the Cliff Notes - but the Dinah Notes.
During the 40 years the Hebrew people toured the desert, they used a tent for their worship that was a little bigger than the footprint of this church building. Deciding that God needed a permanent dwelling place, King Solomon ordered a temple to be built, about half the size of a football field. That temple was attacked over the years and it was finally destroyed almost 600 years before Jesus was born. It took 70 years before the next temple was dedicated by Governor Zerubbabel, which had a footprint perhaps as big as the church and parsonage properties combined.
Zerubbabel’s temple stood for some 500 years, although it too, suffered attacks from surrounding peoples. King Herod decided to do a little renovation to the Temple about 20 years before Jesus was born, upping the size to about 3 square city blocks. So it was huge.
Because the temple had to be built by priests, Herod had 1,000 trained as masons and carpenters, assisted by 10,000 skilled workers. The laborers were needful because the pretty part was made of white marble, gold leaf, precious woods and gems of all sorts. But the supporting materials included carved stones, the largest measuring 45 x 11 x 16 feet and weighing around 600 tons, the average school bus weighing 12 - 15 tons. So it was really huge.
The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
Thank you, Chris. One could guess that back in Jesus’ day, destroying such a temple would not be an easy task. Today, I’m guessing that one or two clicks of particular buttons, and the entire Temple Mount would be a massive pile of rocks and ash. So back in Jesus’ day, his prophecy was nearly preposterous. In our day, it is, if nothing else, quite conceivable.
A man was checking into a hotel some years ago when he noticed behind the counter what he took to be the hotel’s slogan: “There are no problems, only opportunities.” Given the key to his room, he rode the elevator to the eighth floor, walked down the hall, and opened the door to his assigned room only to be greeted by a growling guard dog. In near panic, he inched his way around to the phone, called the desk, and stuttered out, “I have a problem in my room,” to which the desk clerk responded, “At our hotel, there are no problems, only opportunities!” “You can call it what you want, mister,” he replied, “but there’s an attack dog in my room and I need some help!”
You can call this passage from Luke 21 what you want, but I don’t know that it would fall under the Good News category - at least at first. And then there’s that middle part, where Jesus says, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”
Well, there have been 2 World Wars so far, kingdoms have been fighting kingdoms long before Robert the Bruce fought England for Scotland’s independence in the Middle Ages, long before the Visogoths invaded Italy well over 1600 years ago, the five biggest earthquakes in recorded history have taken place since 1906, Wikipedia listed 241 eras of famine since 300 AD, and we’ve made it through the Black Death in the 1400’s, the 1918 Spanish Flu, not to mention cholera, small pox and a host of other pestilences. And here we sit. If this passage does nothing else, it could remind us of our tenacity, determination and ingenuity as human beings, standing up to some of the worst that “life” has thrown at us.
Living here in crazy, beautiful Benzie County, we aren’t very likely at risk of someone persecuting us for our faith, unless we open our mouths before engaging brain. So maybe this passage is closer to us that first glance.
Even so, we are certainly not in the same position that the early missionaries in Jesus and Paul’s day were. We’re far from the place of a small group of Christians amidst a larger group of Babylonians or Assyrians. In fact, despite all that is going on around us these days, a good many of us are sitting a lot prettier than those who went before us. And as it was for them, so is it for us - that there is something for everyone in this passage that seems so far removed. That something for everyone is not in the details of the “what” the future holds, but Who holds the future.
What’s ironic about a man who survived going over the Niagra Falls? He died after slipping on an orange peel. What’s ironic about the inventor of Liquid Paper? The woman was fired from her secretarial job for failing to white-out a mistake. What’s ironic about bullfighting? Three weeks after Bill Hillman, a bullfighting enthusiast, wrote a book that was released, called How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona, he was gored by a bull.
As I reflected on this passage and the general direction of this message, I wondered how it fits into some of the lives of those close to the heart. Perhaps it has been the accumulation of the year, or the upside down timing of the early snow, or what feels like the constant pounding of unrest in our lives, but it seems like there are a lot of tired folks out there these days. Not everyone, but a goodly number.
Whether the heart has been broken or the spirit has been bent, or external factors are whacking our souls, our passage reminds us that our actions bear witness to Christ, regardless of our intentionality. Whether we are bone-weary or bright eyed and bushy tailed, we get to decide how we will meet the way of life on this side of eternity. We get to determine, each day we put our feet on the floor, to move away from our nest of warmth and seclusion into the brisk air of reality - not just if - but how we will do it.
If we do it alone, we not only disrespect the very God whose great desire it is to be our partner in this life, but we will wear out faster and be far less pleasant to those around us - perhaps not necessarily ugly, but definitely not a good as we could be.
When we rest in Christ’s promise of giving us words and wisdom, we get out of bed and move into the world stronger, more assured, because just as God fulfilled the promise of sending a Messiah, so will God fulfill the promise of taking us home, where we will not perish and we will no longer be at risk of harm or uncertainty.
Our passage this morning may not be one of rainbows and unicorns with sprinkles, but there is some good, old fashioned sustenance in it, knowledge that will get us through the day-to-days and not just the mountaintops to mountaintops. This part of Luke 21 may not be a gourmet dessert for the brain, but it is certainly the hot dog or bologna sandwich that gets us from one meal to the next. And when the alternative to a hot dog or bologna sandwich is starvation, then plain old, plain old is pretty darn good. So let us pray.
God Almighty and God Who Sees, thank you for your promises and plan, even when those things seem strange or unreal. Thank you for all the words and wisdom you have provided us, much of which we have been oblivious. Help us to rest in your peace and to trust in your love, that we can meet the world and all the opportunities of being your ambassadors. Grant us that which we need to go from this moment of plainness to the next moment - whether it be plain or fancy - that the journey to eternity be good and edifying. For all the moments of this life - gourmet or simple staple - knowing that you have it all in hand, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.