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Sermon: Promised Peace Amid the Rubble. November 14, 2021

November 15, 2021

This is the sermon I preached at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL, on the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, November 14, 2021. You can watch the service and view the bulletin. The image is me, on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Temple Mount (2107). I’m sure you’re thinking, “Did he really wear that ratty old Royals hat all around the Holy Land?” Yes, yes he did.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Yesterday was the end my family has been waiting for. The end of holding our breath. The end of waiting for trials and approvals. The end of searching for available appointments. Yesterday, our two sons, both within the five-to-eleven age bracket, received their first vaccinations against COVID-19. I know I’m not alone among parents of younger children in breathing a huge sigh of relief. And for those of you with children or grandchildren under five, keep hanging on. We’ll get there! Of course, the funny thing about endings is that they’re usually not. Yes, my kids now have greater protection than before, but this pandemic isn’t over. Despite vaccines for children and widely available boosters, the pandemic is raging again, with case counts going up and up. And that’s not all that’s going up these days. Inflation is through the roof, driven in part by snarled supply chains. Political rhetoric is on the rise, with threats of violence made by politicians becoming sadly commonplace. The temperature of the planet keeps going up, too, and it seems the recent climate summit will leave us wanting in terms of action to reverse the trend. With everything going up, up, up it feels like things are tumbling down, falling apart all around us. Our best laid plans seem to come up short; those things we thought so solid turn out to be anything but. Never mind our overt sin; even our best intentions leave us wanting. No matter what we do, we cannot hold everything together for long. It can feel like the end, and not an end that we’re excited to reach.
  2. Mark locates us today in Jerusalem. It’s Tuesday of Holy Week and things seem to be looking up. Fresh off his triumphal entry, the disciples feel that Jesus is moving up in the world. Coming out of the temple, they comment on the impressive size of the stones, wondering at the sheer stature of God’s home on earth. Surely this is Jesus’ future, they think. As God’s presence was most directly available at the temple, what better place for Jesus to finish his rise to power? From the temple to the city and into the world, Jesus would restore his people’s position and power. Rome would be cast off! Right worship would be enshrined forever! From such a solid base, on such a solid foundation, how could it be otherwise? The end of their hopes was near; soon it would be fulfilled.
  3. But instead of the end of their hopes, they find the end of their hopes. Instead of fulfillment, despair. Instead of ascendency, collapse. These impressive stones; this great temple? Not one stone will be left upon another. It will all come crashing down soon. Jesus is not being hyperbolic. By the time Mark got around to writing down Jesus’ story, the Jerusalem temple would be destroyed, razed by the Romans during the First Jewish Revolt. The illusion of the people would finally collapse. There was no earthly hope, not even in the great stones of the temple, that would restore their fortunes. The end was coming, like it or not. And not only would the temple collapse, stone from stone, but everything else would fall apart, too. Wars and earthquakes and famines, and that’s just for starters. Sound familiar?
  4. To see our hopes come crashing down around us is difficult. We love our illusions too much to let go of them willingly. Disillusionment is not an enjoyable experience. But perhaps disillusionment is central to the Christian life. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Disillusionment is, literally, the loss of an illusion – about ourselves, about the world, about God – and while it is almost always a painful thing, it is never a bad thing, to lose the lies we have mistaken for the truth.” And oh, what lies we mistake for the truth. We believe we are on the right path, until the career or calling we envisioned eludes us. We feel, all evidence to the contrary, that our health will hold. Until it doesn’t. Until disease and death creep in. Not even this magnificent edifice will last forever, and yes, it was interesting writing the beginnings of this sermon with scaffolding outside my office window. Don’t get me wrong; this is a beautiful building in which God continues to do amazing things, but there is no permanence here.
  5. To give up the illusion, however, is to begin to see clearly. Our hope is not in staving off collapse; it is in the Christ who rises from the rubble of sin and death. The temple was holy to be sure, but never enough. Day after day the priests had to make sacrifice, barely keeping up with the need to atone for humanity’s sin. Falling behind, in fact. But in Christ we see a new priest who is also sacrifice; indeed, who is himself the new temple. God is manifest in this One, this Christ who plays in ten thousand places, not constrained to bricks and mortar in Jerusalem. This Christ, as we remember most clearly during Advent, is Emmanuel, the God who is with us wherever we are. As Debie Thomas writes, Jesus “invites them to look beyond the grandeur of the temple, and recognize that God will not suffer domestication.” “God,” she writes, “exceeds every edifice, every institution . . . and every human symbol human beings create in his name.” That’s not to say, of course, that we should stop using our art and our craft to honor God, simply that we must always remember God’s transcendence of such efforts. It is in transcendence, in God’s everywhere-ness, that God is immanent, directly present to and for us in all the times and seasons of our lives.
  6. As those whose lives are founded on the new cornerstone that is Jesus Christ, our call is to build up others. We build up and send out disciples for the sake of the gospel. Today we rejoice with Cole and celebrate the affirmation of his baptism, rejoicing at what God will build through him in this broken world When we end a budget year with a surplus, as we did this past June, we release money into the world, not to build structures, but to build equity and opportunity and the West Side; to build rescue and relief for those struck by disaster; to build welcome and rest for refugees. We do this and so much more because God has given us all we need – not a strong, stony refuge from the problems around us, but Jesus himself, whose presence in this falling-down world calls and empowers us to lift up our neighbors. So, as the author of Hebrews puts it, let us provoke one another to love and good deeds.
  7. Yes, things are falling apart all around us. Within us. They always have been. It can feel like the end is near. But do not be alarmed, Jesus tells us. In him, the old temple gives way for the new, and endings yield new beginnings. Death opens unto resurrection and all manner of things will be well. Today’s apocalyptic readings do not instill fear; they pull back the curtain so that we can glimpse what God has in store. The old falls apart, but Jesus has planted his feet in the rubble and promises hope and offers the peace that transcends whatever we are living through now. As the saying goes, “Everything will be alright in the end; if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” Or to put it more theologically, Christ is the Alpha and the Omega; when we get to the Omega, Christ will be all in all. Three days after this conversation occurred outside the temple, Jesus was nailed to a cross. It sure looked like the end, but endings aren’t always what they seem. Turns out God was just getting started. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → Sermons

2 Comments
  1. Martin William Baumgaertner permalink

    Don’t make permanence the base of your creed
    Majestic temples are not what we need
    Eschew this illusion
    For Christ, in conclusion
    Provokes us to… love and good deeds

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