A sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, November 15, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Not one stone will be left here upon another.
When you read a text in a different tone of voice, its meaning changes. For instance, in our Gospel today, most of the time you hear it in an angry voice, a prophecy of violence and destruction. Christians have interpreted it as the prediction of the destruction of the temple by the Romans, and the judgment of God on the Jews.
What if we read this in a different tone of voice?
So Jesus and his disciples finish watching the people, including the widow with the two tiny coins, putting money in the treasury, and they walk out of the temple. And one of the guys says, “Wow, look! Those are big buildings and look how big the stones that they are built with are!”
Then Jesus thinks for a while.
And he says, “ You know, the time will come when not one of those stones will be left on top of the other.”
We build edifices. Huge buildings. Churches, skyscrapers, systems of roads. They appear to us to be permanent. We invest a lot of ourselves in thinking of these works as permanent—that somehow they will last forever. The other day, I was reading a book that dealt with the history of New York City in the early 1800s, about 200 years ago. It described some of the physical aspects of New York City at that time. Most of the land above 14th Street was open country, with farms and estates. There was a beautiful church, called St. John’s Chapel of Trinity Parish, with a beautiful expansive lawn out front. Actually it was a park, and it was called St. John’s Park. The park gave way to the freight rail yards of the New York Central Railroad and the church was torn down to accommodate the widening of Varick Street. Now that area is the approach to the Holland Tunnel on Canal Street. There is no trace of that church building now, even though it was significant in the history of our city.
That disciple was so impressed by the buildings, but Jesus … not so much. Jesus is not so worried about the buildings of the temple or the city. There’s all that rhetoric about the timeless and eternal city, but it is God and God’s love that are forever, not the placement of stones, or roofs or gardens.
Most people are worried about these things. When will we lose things, when will bad things happen to us? The disciples were worried—they took Jesus aside. They try to pin him down, when? What will happen? How will this be accomplished?
Jesus responds—“Don’t be led astray.” “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed, this will take place.” “But people will come in my name and say, ‘Look!’ – I know what’s happening! Look, here is the way of God!”
Just as I was writing this I heard about the shootings in Paris. One story said 18 people killed, another said at least 40 in 3 attacks. Killings and rumors of killings. Very real, right now. We have had far too many this year, far too much senseless violence. And all sorts of people will be telling us what this means, what God is saying. And most of them will be speaking about their own fear, about their own solutions and about whom they are angry with. Most of what most of us think, when something like this happens, is like the disciples: “What about the stones? What about the bricks? What about the things we have constructed?” And nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom—earthquakes and famines. And many will be afraid, and many will be angry. And many will decide to be false teachers, and tell you exactly what to do and when God will do this, and how they really represent Jesus.
And none of that helps. Jesus says, “Do not be alarmed.” He is here among us, and though it was less than a week before his own crucifixion, he said, “Don’t be led astray.” Don’t panic—all these things that pass away, and these things that frighten us, and cause us to mourn are but the first fruits of the kingdom of God.
The Gospel of Mark continues with exhortations to courage, to witness to Christ, wherever we may be called upon to witness. But what is it to which we should witness? It is the hospitality of God, his gift and welcome in Jesus Christ. Remember, this lesson started as he was walking out from the temple. And what had he been doing there? Jesus was watching that humble widow, doing a very ordinary thing, yet something that took great courage. She was giving of her substance for the sake of others. It was only two cents, but it was the full down payment on the Kingdom of God. That is what Jesus was teaching his disciples. There is no better time to witness to being Christ’s ambassadors of welcome to others, than in the midst of frightening events, and uncertain change. The Kingdom of God is being born among us, and indeed it is led by those who fear they have nothing. For the one thing that is worth giving in times such as these, is the love of God.
Let us pray for those who died in Paris. From our Psalm today:
I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
My heart, therefore is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.