Pentecost Twenty-Five Study

Pentecost 25                                   11-14-2021

[It was a typical Sunday morning. But we had a technological glitch. Pastor Gwen was preaching away on Zoom, but only to Pastor Neil. Now, she and Pastor Neil did notice that their computer screenshot of all the faces was frozen, including their own faces and everyone else’s. But we didn’t know that the audio was also out. So we were lost in outer space sometime early in the sermon and didn’t know it until the sermon was finished… then didn’t get back to reality until near the end of the worship. It was a great sermon. Pastor Gwen said, “Don’t do it.” But Pastor Neil didn’t listen. He did it, typed her sermon for you to read.]

This year I watched the coverage of the ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the September 11 (“9/11) attack on the Pentagon, the plane crash in Shanksville, PA, and the attack on the World Trade Center Towers. Before we were married, Neil came to visit me in New York and – traveling on the subway from the Bronx town to lower Manhattan – we visited the World Trade Center Towers. It took us two elevators to reach the 110rth floor and arrive at this breathtaking view of the city. As the elevators zoom you up, for a moment you think “Whew, I don’t know, this is pretty high up”, but you trust everything will be alright and look forward to the experience, the sights and sounds.

Towering buildings are not supposed to crumble to the ground. The condominium in Surfside, FL was not supposed to fall. Oceans are not supposed to rise up and flood the land for miles inland as we saw with Hurricane Katrina and many other hurricanes. The ground is not supposed to hake and rumble and roll, as with earthquakes. The sky is not supposed to form a funnel cloud and destroy a town. Yet all who have watched the World Trade Towers collapse, seen a tsunami flood a nation, experienced an earthquake, or suffered through the power of a tornado know that such events happen. Those who provide care for the surviving victims report that all are in shock and express a deep and profound sense of loss. Not only have they lost loved ones and property, but in a deep and abiding sense they have lost their innocence, their confidence. They know that something they once believed to be sure – such as that a towering structure would stand forever, or that the ocean would stay in its place – is no longer trustworthy. They have lost a foundational belief upon which they once built their lives. No longer will they be able to step on the ground without wondering, if only for a moment, whether the ground is going to remain stable. No longer will they be able to look up into a darkening sky without wondering if a destructive storm is on its way.

As Jesus ad his disciples are leaving the Temple in Jerusalem, one of the disciples marvels at the beauty of the Temple and remarks about the large stones and the large buildings. To which Jesus replied, “Do you see those enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All of this will be demolished.” Jesus shocks them with this prediction that the grand Temple – this source of national pride and prestige… this forever, eternal looking Temple… the only thing that Israel had left amidst the ruin of Roman occupation – would be destroyed, not a stone left upon stone in the end. What does he mean?

The Temple in Jerusalem was magnificent by all accounts. It was described as a mountain of white marble adorned with gold and silver, a temple of great wealth. The surrounding complex included sprawling courtyards, colonnaded courts, grand porches and balconies, covered walkways and monumental stairs. Herod the great builder built it to impress the wealthiest and most powerful rulers of the day, and he succeeded. So Jesus’ response to his disciples was shocking. One, because Herod’s Temple was so much larger than the earlier Temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel. Two, because it is God’s Temple, the place where many Jews believed to be the closest point of contact between God and God’s people. Would God allow such a thing to happen to this magnificent Temple?

Pondering what Jesus said, they leave the Temple and make their way to the Mount of Olives, where they wind up sitting across the way from the Temple with a widespread view of the whole complex. Here, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sits, as a teacher, and Peter, James, John, and Andrew begin asking him about the destruction of the Temple and wondering how do they get ready for it. Jesus warns them not to be led astray by others who will come after him, including some who will claim to speak with Jesus’ own authority. And Jesus tells the disciples not to be worried about wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, or famines, as these are signs of the beginning of the end. Jesus doesn’t answer the disciples’ questions directly. Instead, he sets out for them a way to live that does not focus all of their attention on the destruction of the Temple or when Jesus will usher in the transformed reign of God.

This is a problem with those who call on the name of Jesus and want to draw all of our attention to and focus all our energy on the end times – the end of the age, looking for when Jesus will return. Many publications and Internet sites offer ways and formulas for interpreting every tragic event, every hurricane, every war, every famine, every tornado, and every pandemic as part of God’s plan for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Various groups have created their own end-time clocks to tell us how close we are to Christ’s return. Some say a countdown is taking place, one that is very near the end. Others interpret each day’s events in light of this or that Scripture passage, claiming some secret revelation about God’s plans for the last days. Some say that ominous signs are all around. Just when I thought that the cold-war threat of Russia and the United States was over, this week on the news I heard that China is building up her arsenal of weapons for mass destruction. Just when it seems that from many countries there is a rising concern for saving the environment, you hear of corporations who – for the sake of profits – continue to rape the earth and to often produce massive pollution. Just when I thought that the world was grabbing on to the sense of being a “global village” with a growing sense of vital interdependence, instead we see a deep and frightening indifference, if not contempt, that continues to grown between and among clans, classes, and cultures, nations, peoples, governments. Jesus must be coming soon, because, everywhere you turn, people just do not, will not, do the right thing. Even among those who work for justice and peace, after a while some give up and give in to hopelessness.

So, what are we to do? How does one survive the crashing down of a building, or the aftermath of a natural disaster? How does one live on in the midst of competing voices, all full of passionate intensity, claiming that these are the signs of the end of the age?

Our focus must not be on the signs themselves, but rather on the One, Jesus, who is to come… the One who enables us to look up after such devastation and claim the certainty of God’s presence and God’s blessing.

Things may seem to have fallen apart. It may appear that anarchy has been let loose in and on the world. Nevertheless, we hold onto the promise and proclaim that God is in control… and that we have much faithful work to do.

Hear again the words of Jesus: “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”

You’ve probably heard of QAnon, a far right conspiracy movement in support of and fueled by former President Trump whom, in an NPR article about the movement, was called their “Messiah”. Now I haven’t heard or read where they claim to speak under the authority of Jesus, but they do purport to be telling the truth about what is really happening in the world. Their truths are leading people astray. On November 2 of this year, just two weeks ago, several hundred QAnon supporters gathered in Dallas, TX, near the spot where former President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, as a theory circulated that John F. Kennedy, Jr. – who has been dead for more than twenty years – would reappear and announce that former President Trump will be reinstated as President of the United States. Kennedy, the son of former President John F. Kennedy, actually died in a plane crash in 1999 at the age of 38. Many of us were alive back then and remember his death. But some believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory say that Kennedy did not actually die and is set to return as Trump’s Vice President. And then, believe it or not, President Trump will willingly resign as President (this narcissistic man who continues to perpetuate the big lie that he won the last election and is really a compassionate man) so that John F. Kennedy, Jr. can take over as President folk. When Kennedy, Jr. did not show up in Dallas at the appointed time, a report was made that those gathered said the “Pledge of Allegiance” and then dispersed. Now this might seem crazy to most, if not all, of us… but actually it is a very animating force in a lot of people’s lives. I know of a woman who has become so twisted and turned by QAnon notions and by Trump’s false claims that she is creating tension and conflict among her relatives and friends, losing a sense of order and peace in her own life.

The recruiters are out in force, sisters and brothers, seeking through social media, printed literature, music, and charming, attractive, inspiring personalities to sway us into thinking more about me, myself, and I and less about the needs of others… or seeking  to fill those lonely, empty, searching places in the lives of so many. “Beware!” Jesus says. Resist the recruiters. Do not sell out and stake your life on their agendas.

God is in control. Hold fast to the promise that good will conquer corruption; that peace will prevail over conflict; that love will triumph over chaos. Jesus warns us that wars, earthquakes, and famines will come, but that doesn’t mean that we should just look up and listen for the sights and sounds that will tell us that Jesus is coming. The promise that Jesus will come again does not free us to sit in the security and the serenity of withdrawal from the world, just believing that God is in heaven and therefore everything will be alright with the world someday. No! We are called b6y Christ to be steadfast in Christian service. Growth and change and giving birth to new life are a painful process, but in such suffering there is always hope and the promise of a new day.

The disciples oohed and aahed over that Temple of stone and became anxious and fearful when Jesus was predicting it was all coming down (which it eventually dead, brought down by the Romans). To them this was “God’s House”… this was where God met the faithful people of God, through the High Priest. But, oh, how Jesus wanted them and you and I to see, in Jesus, that Temple of God, that holy Abiding Presence of God… to see a Living Stone in him, not stuck in one place but moving in our midst… the very Presence and Holiness of God… embracing, healing, encouraging, convicting, challenging, and loving us, and meeting us where we are.

And, also, Jesus says that his followers, you and I, are called to be living stones built into a spiritual house… created to be a royal priesthood after the manner of Jesus, our High Priest. In 1 Corinthian 3:16 Saint Paul says, “Do you not know that YOU are God’s Temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in YOU?” … “for God’s temple is holy and YOU are temple.”

So, if you really want to ooh and aah, do it over the Living and Moving Temple of Jesus Christ. Marvel at the beauty of his love, mercy, grace, strength, and power. Stay focused on his saving work in this world. Draw blessed assurance, confidence, and strength, from what you see and practice as you follow and work in the way of Jesus. Trust that God is in control and working to transform this world with our participation.

So, when buildings crumble, wars rise up, earthquakes rumble and roll, trust that God is with us. I end with the refrain of a Christian song:

“God never fails. God never fails.

He abides with me. He gives me victory. No, God never fails.

Just keep the faith, and never cease to pray;

Just walk upright, call Him noon, day, or night.

He’ll be there. He’ll be there. There’s no need to worry, for God never fails.”

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