Proper 28 C, November 13, 2016
“It is a gloomy moment in the history of our country.
“Not in the lifetime of most men has there been so much grave and deep apprehension. “Never has the future seemed so uncertain as at this time.
“The domestic economic situation is in chaos.
“Our dollar is weak throughout the world. “Prices are so high as to be utterly impossible.
“The political cauldron seethes and bubbles with agitation.
“It is a solemn moment of trouble.
“No man can see the end.”
This statement sounds like it could be borrowed from a recent newspaper article or editorial.
But that is not the case.
It appeared in Harper’s Weekly in October, 1857—159 year ago!
All governments and societies face challenges that threaten their survival.
And every new generation faces the task of establishing and maintaining security.
What is it?
How much of it do we need?
Where can we find it?
These have become the questions of our day.
The people of the Old Testament put their trust in the one True God—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
They trusted in God for their protection and survival.
The symbol of their security was the temple in Jerusalem.
The temple was a concrete—(or rather a marble and gold)—representation of their commitment to the Lord—and of the Lord’s commitment to them.
It was the symbol of the covenant God had made with their ancestors.
To them alone—out of all the peoples of the earth—God had said, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.
But over time the people began to confuse the temple with God’s own self.
They made an idol of the building and its worship system.
They forgot that their security was not to be found in a magnificent edifice—but in a relationship with the Living God.
By the time Jesus appeared—the Jews should have been cured of this tendency to confuse the temple with the Living God.
For the people of Israel had already seen their temple destroyed—not once, but twice.
The First Temple—built by King Solomon in 966 BC—was elaborate and richly adorned.
It was razed to the ground—and its riches taken as booty—when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 586 BC.
When the people were released from their captivity and allowed to return to Jerusalem, they began to rebuild the temple.
But it was such a poor copy of what had been before—that those who had seen Solomon’s temple wept.
When the next world power swallowed up Judea—this Second Temple was also destroyed.
In Jesus’ day a Third Temple was being built.
As it began to take shape, it was an inspiring sight.
In richness and beauty of design it was to rival Solomon’s temple.
Which is where today’s Gospel reading picks up.
One day—as the disciples were leaving the temple area—their attention was drawn to the massive and impressive appearance of the building being constructed.
Jesus called this place his Father’s House, and he understood that it represented the true worship of God.
The Temple’s piety, however, fell short of it magnificent façade.
Within its shining exterior were the seeds of its own destruction.
It had become a place where empty rituals were preformed—and no longer a place of true worship.
As his disciples looked in awe on this great structure, Jesus told them:
“As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
I think we can understand the disciples’ reaction to his statement if we consider how we would have reacted—if someone had told us prior to September 11, 2001, that the World Trade Center would be destroyed.
Jesus spoke these words of warning about widespread destruction and persecution around 30 AD.
He spoke the unthinkable.
But 40 years later, his words actually came to pass.
In 70 AD, not only the temple, but the entire city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.
The historian Josephus described the destruction this way:
“The roar of the flames streaming far and wide mingled with the groans of the falling victims—and owing to the height of the hill and the mass of the burning pile, one would have thought the whole city was ablaze.
“With the cries on the hill were blended those of the multitude in the city below.
“And now, many who were emaciated from starvation—when they beheld the sanctuary on fire—gathered strength once more for lamentation and wailing.
“Yet more awful than the uproar were their sufferings.”
All the disasters that Jesus predicted came to pass in the next forty to fifty years—including the persecution of his followers.
Jesus had taught them to trust only in God. He warned them that true security is not provided by any government, organization, or ruler.
Nor—as we have learned—can it be found in our mighty buildings—or our modern technology.
Pointing to the source of true security, Jesus spoke on—to provide instructions for navigating uncertain and dangerous times.
Above all, we are to remain faithful to that which can be trusted.
We are not to be led astray.
We must keep our focus on the Truth that is revealed in Jesus Christ.
Jesus warned that—in difficult times—some would be tempted to follow leaders who claim to have all the answers—leaders who provide a false sense of security, and easy solutions to difficult problems.
The other thing Jesus said was not to be afraid.
We need to heed this warning in our present crisis.
Our fears can easily stampede us into foolish actions.
If we allow fear to control our lives, then we are unable to let God control them.
We are assured that God is with us—and his message is to have no fear.
The final thing Jesus said was to bear witness to him and to his Gospel—in whatever situation we find ourselves.
This is not an easy assignment.
And even in our day—this act of faith results in martyrdom for Christians in some parts of the world.
But it is in steadfast faith—in remaining faithful—that we show the world the Source of our security—the only true security. Because we trust in God—we can face whatever challenges confront us.
Which brings us to today.
Some of us are pleased with the results of last Tuesday’s elections.
Some of us are disappointed—or even angry.
Some of us held our nose while we voted.
But regardless of how any of us may feel—the People have spoken—and our electoral system has worked as it was intended.
Robert Frost once wrote: “Something there is that does not love a wall.”
I think Our Lord would agree.
He gave his life to tear down the walls that separate us from our God—and from each other.
Now is the time for the disciples of Jesus to follow his lead.
Now is the time for us to become peace-makers—and bridge-builders—for his sake.
I pray that we will have the grace to do so.
And there is one thing we should all remember.
The walls of the temple may crumble.
Our governments and leaders may come and go.
Our riches and our technology may pass away.
But our ultimate security is assured by the Living God.
And God’s Kingdom is forever! AMEN.
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