Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sermon: "In Our Death, a Resurrection" (Luke 21:5-19)

OK, I’ve talked about the temple before, but I want you to picture it. I want you to picture yourself as a first-century Jew arriving at the temple after a long journey.
The temple is largest man-made structure on earth. In scale and grandeur, it rivals the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome – and it’s not even finished yet. Construction continues.
The walls of the temple are 50 feet high, and are made of gleaming white and green marble. As a traveler arriving in Jerusalem, you can see it from many miles away.
Inside the walls is an area the size of 14 football fields, and at the center of that area is the Holy of Holies. When we read in the Bible that so-and-so was standing in the temple, most likely that means that they were in this massive courtyard area (which actually was divided into mulltiple courtyards), or along one of the porticoes which surrounded them.
The temple symbolizes permanence. Stability.
And when you finally reach its base, you can’t help but touch those massive stone walls with your hands, feeling the smooth, cool marble with your fingers, sensing the strength and power and permanence of the temple flow into you. With all the turmoil in Jewish history – and all the turmoil in the present – what with the Roman occupation – how comforting and reassuring to have this symbol of stability and strength, and to feel it with your own fingers, and then to walk in through its massive gates, passing from the hot sun into cool shadow, and climbing its endless stairways before emerging into the courtyard and back into the bright sunlight.
And there, squinting, you look around and see all the ornate carvings and magnificent decorations adorning this wonder of religion and architecture.
How could you not proclaim, out loud, your admiration and awe? What words would you use to describe this magnificent sight: the temple on which you now stand?
Imagine, then, if Jesus is there, and he hears your words of admiration, and says to you: “These things you see… the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another. All will be thrown down.”
Say what?
What kind of power, what kind of force, could destroy such a magnificent, sturdy, solid temple?
Incredulous, you might ask: “Jesus, when will this happen?” You want to know, because the end of the temple would surely mean the end of life as you know it. The end of the temple would mean the end of the world. To no longer have the temple – that would be catastrophic.
Jesus says: “It’s not just this temple that will be destroyed. There will be wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines, and plagues. By the time that occurs, you will already have been arrested and persecuted because of your faith, and you will be made to testify before kings and governors.”
Then Jesus says: “But don’t be scared… don’t be terrified… Stand up, and keep your head high. Because this is actually an opportunity for you, a blessing in disguise…”
And hearing this, you think: “What? Jesus says the world is about to end, but to not be frightened? Earthquakes, wars, famines, and – worst of all – the destruction of the temple, and I’m supposed to not be afraid?”
It was around the year 30 that Jesus stood in the temple and supposedly said these things. Forty years later, the temple was destroyed. The Jewish population rebelled against the Roman Empire, and in retaliation, Roman legions under Titus attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.
Ten years after the temple was destroyed, Luke wrote his gospel.
Keep that in mind. It was ten years after the temple was destroyed that Luke wrote about Jesus predicting the temple’s destruction.
And it’s possible that not all the words Luke says Jesus said, Jesus actually said. They may be Luke’s words, spoken to comfort and encourage people of faith living after the destruction of the temple.
But that does not mean that Luke’s words aren’t inspired.
After all, Jesus did speak – more than once – of the end as being a new beginning. In fact, that is a central theme of our faith!
And this wouldn’t be the first time that followers of Jesus witnessed things come crashing down around them, only to discover new opportunities and new life.
They had expected that Jesus himself would become the ruler of a new age, a new kingdom, on earth. He would be crowned king, elected president, appointed prime minister!
That’s what they expected. But it’s not what happened.
Jesus was captured and arrested by Rome, tried, and executed.
A cataclysmic event for his followers.
They did not want, or expect, to see Jesus die.
They did not want, or expect, to see the temple destroyed.
How on earth could things possibly continue?
How on earth could the movement Jesus started continue without him?
How on earth could the faith continue with its spiritual home in ruins?
Jesus’s life must. Be. Preserved.
As Peter said when Jesus predicted his crucifixion, “God forbid these things should ever happen!”  Peter didn’t want to see the end. He didn’t want to see things fall apart.
Remember Jesus’s response? “Get behind me, Satan! You have set your mind not on divine things but on human things!”
And then Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
This is really hard to understand, isn’t it?
To save your life, you must lose it?
To save the temple, it must be destroyed?
 It’s like in the Pixar movie Cars: Lightning McQueen is told to turn right to go left. His response: “Oh, that makes perfect sense! Turn right to go left! Yes! Thank you! Or should I say ‘no thank you!’ Because in ‘Opposite World’ maybe that really means ‘thank you!’”

So the temple has been destroyed. Jesus has been crucified. The end has come. What now? Can we really believe that this is a new opportunity for us? Can we really believe that good will come of it? Can this really be an opportunity to show what we’re made of, to testify and bear witness?

Here’s another movie scene for you:
The 1995 movie Apollo 13 dramatizes NASA’s attempt to rescue 3 astronauts after their spacecraft is damaged. When the gravity of the situation becomes clear, and the challenge before them seems insurmountable, the NASA director says: “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.”
That is the voice of those who have given in to fear.
In response, flight director Gene Kranz says: “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”
That is the voice of those who refuse to give in to fear, who keep their heads held high, and who are prepared to meet the challenge before them.

Now, I must admit, the crucifixion was not easy for the disciples to witness. In fact, it was devastating. They were crushed and weighed down with despair – until the truth of the resurrection became apparent to them.
And those who witnessed the destruction of the temple: those were indeed trying times, difficult times, challenging times.
But we shouldn’t be afraid of the challenges before us.
A few weeks ago I was substitute teaching a middle school class in which the students were learning something new. One girl said to me, “This is hard!”
“Yes!” I said. “Isn’t that great? Your mind is being challenged. If it was easy, you wouldn’t need school. If it was easy, your mind wouldn’t expand. If it was easy, you wouldn’t grow.” (I’m not sure she appreciated my encouragement…)
I say something similar to the kids who I ride bikes with every third Sunday of the month, at Kidical Mass. We come to a steep uphill section, and some of them groan, but I say, “Yeah! Uphill!”
I mostly do that to try and encourage them, make them laugh, lift their spirits, but as with any exercise, it takes effort for growth to occur. It takes effort and exertion to make those muscles grow. Ride up enough hills, and pretty soon, those uphills won’t be so difficult.
You know this, right? Any opportunity to grow is a challenge. Look at Archer: Archer is learning how to walk: over and over he fails at it. Babies stand up, babies fall down. It’s difficult work! It’s takes awhile to figure out. But he hasn’t given up yet! He keeps putting in the effort, and one day soon, he’ll succeed…

When Jesus died and the temple was destroyed, the followers of Jesus had to find a whole new way of doing church. Everything they thought they knew was falling apart. They had to find a way to embrace a new beginning.
And every 500 years since, like clockwork, it has happened again. Every 500 years, the old is torn down, and something new emerges.
500 years after Jesus, Christianity had become widespread, and accepted into mainstream culture. This was very different from the early centuries when Christians were persecuted and oppressed. This was a whole new way of doing church.
500 years after that was the great schism, when the western church centered in Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church split. It was a time of great religious upheaval, a time when, once again, the end of one era became the new beginning of the next.
500 years after that, the Protestant reformation once again tore down old ways of doing church, and new ways emerged. Like the previous times, it was difficult, challenging, and things were in chaos, but the church was transformed into something new.
500 years after that brings us to our own time. Yes, we live in the midst of a new reformation, a time when the old church is being torn down, and a new church is emerging. The way church has been done the past 500 years is coming to an end, but in every end is a new beginning. What the church will look like when this is all over, I’m not sure. It is a challenging, difficult time to be the church.
But like every other time of upheaval, this is also a time of great opportunity.

Because when we work with the Spirit and rise to meet the challenge, what will emerge from the ruins of our temple will be a transformed church, ready to carry out our mission in a new age. Transformation often feels like death, but in death, there is a resurrection.

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