We had begun the Bible study that evening when she walked in. I figured she wasn’t one of us. She carried a Bible, something Episcopalians normally don’t do. I assume you pay attention to the Collect of the Day – you have “marked, learned, and inwardly digested the Bible – in other words, you have memorized it. Thus you don’t need to carry a Bible with you. Well, she whips hers open, breaks into the conversation and reads from the Book of Revelation. She finishes and says, “The end is here. Accept Jesus now, so you can go to heaven.” I tell her, “We’re discussing the Gospel of Mark.” “Oh.” She sits down. As weeks go on, every passage we read, she interprets as a sign, “The end is here.” I silently pray, “Jesus, come quickly. Bring an end for this woman and make her, and us happy. Amen.” She means well, even if what she believes doesn’t square with the Bible.
Do you remember Harold Camping? He predicted the world’s end 12 times before his personal end came. He missed twice in 2011 – May and October. Remember his trucks and vans traveling Milwaukee streets, predicting the day the world ends and the righteous get taken away. Didn’t happen in that spring, so he picks a fall Saturday. I prepared a sermon for Sunday in case. I was surprised to see so many of you show up. Were all of us in the left behind club? No – it was another false alarm.
Alarmed after Jesus says the magnificent, indestructible edifice will soon fall, disciples ask, “Jesus, when will this happen? What signs warn us?” Through the centuries people think Jesus is predicting the world’s end. We want to know when, so we will have time to get right with God – take Jesus seriously, and turn in pledges (had to throw that in) so we can be ready. In anxious, chaotic times we think about God more, and we tend to pray more. When life runs smoothly, not so much.
Do you notice Jesus has less to say about end times than street preachers, TV evangelists, Left Behind devotees, and highway billboards? In 70 CE, the Romans did burn the Temple to the ground. The symbol of God’s presence goes up in smoke and rubble. It is cataclysmic and apocalyptic. When people worship the Temple rather than God – the gift and forget the Giver, the natural outcome is trouble we bring on ourselves – not punishment God sends. God allows it. Jesus even warns the Temple will no longer be needed. God raises Jesus as the new temple, where God now abides. Jesus mediates all the Temple did and more. Some will get it. Others will be lead astray. Jesus pretenders have come along in every generation with often violent, disastrous results. Think Jim Jones and David Koresh in our day, or whatever temporal gods lead us from the true God.
So Jesus warns, “Don’t be led astray. And don’t be alarmed. It’s the beginning of birthpangs.” I am experientially challenged to speak about this. But from women who give birth, I hear there’s a lot of “pang” when something new begins to be birthed. When all goes well, it’s worth it. The pang still is bad, but doable. Births continue in spite of it all, and that’s good for human survival.
The Temple’s destruction is horrific, but don’t be alarmed. God has all in control even when the indestructible falls. Remember, we live simultaneously in a temporal and an eternal world. Have hope – do not be alarmed or fear. Set your minds on what is forever. It’s like swinging from one trapeze, letting go to grab another. In midair, we turn loose of what’s temporal to reach for what comes next. For Christians, that is Jesus. For the Jews, it was reorganization of worship, refocusing on God, trusting God is still with them. What an amazing journey they travel – bringing God’s light among us, as we are also doing in our ways.
Our present times feel apocalyptic. We live on edge, fearful and anxious, especially this past week of terrorist bombings, killings and unspeakable horrors. I know some will say I am naïve – in denial, take Jesus too seriously – love, forgiveness stuff is too soft. It is hard to follow a Savior who saves by dying for us, giving his life for a world that doesn’t seem to need God’s love and grace. I don’t see a better way than God’s plan for this world in Jesus. That’s why we are here, right? I don’t know any other word to say, than, “Here’s what Jesus needs us to do: ‘Don’t be led astray.’” Fear, anger, prejudice will mislead us – and I’ve heard a lot of it these past few days. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” When people mistreat you, speak ill of you, love and bless them anyway. When people lord it over you, and misuse you, Jesus needs us to remember: “Whoever wants to be first will be last and servant of all.” If we lose all – even temples we’ve invested ourselves, remember Jesus who says, “Don’t worry about your life, your next meal, your clothes. Keep seeking God’s kingdom, and see what happens.” We are an odd people with a difficult mission. We trust what we can neither see nor be certain of – that God is in control regardless. We are eternal beings living in a temporal world. Fear and anxiety can overwhelm God’s light for and in us.
So, keep sowing and scattering seeds of God’s love and blessing, because tomorrow is already fully God’s. Scatter seeds – love, blessing, and God will take it from there.
“Whoa – look at that ginormous Temple!” “Take a picture. It’s coming down soon,” says Jesus. God’s got a new residence among us. Our job is stay focused and centered on where God is in this world, and where God is calling us to join God’s work next.
Please join me in prayer. “The Lord be with you. And also with you. Let us pray.”
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is
hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where
there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where
there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where
there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to
be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is
in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we
are born to eternal life. Amen.