SERMON 11-14-21 Proper 28 St John’s Episcopal Church, Vinita, OK
Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8
The Perfect Temples We Create
Several years ago, when I served on another Bishop’s staff, I was sent into a church that had experienced a major crisis. My brief but needed ministry was to help that community deal with the change that happened. I listened to their stories, provided pastoral care, and to tried to provide a respite of healing. I was very hopeful for the future God had in store for them, and on my first Sunday serving, the choir sang the hymn, “We are one in the Spirit.” The lyrics are:
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord And we pray that our unity will one day be restored And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
That next week, I had a pastoral conversation with a woman about her feelings about the church and what had happened. She said, “I came here two years ago, seeking a community where it was different from the outside world. I wanted a community that did not fight, where power struggles did not happen, and where everyone treated each other with love and respect. I always felt church should be better than the outside world I lived in, but I was so disappointed.” As I listened to her sincere and heartfelt description, I thought to myself, “how many of us come to church expecting it to be the perfect society?” How many of us have hoped for more, but have been disappointed by the reality of Christian community?
Often, like the disciples in today’s story who stood in awe of the massive Temple, we too hope for relational edifices in our minds that are fragile, and require constant maintenance in order to stand. We construct images and expectations of the perfect temple with which, we hope to one day stumble upon, only to discover that once we arrive, everyone there still shows up with the same attitudes, challenges, and problems, they have out there in everyday life. We all show up to community with our junk, and our spiritual needs, and yes, our sin.
We are the church, and we are the Body of Christ, but we carry the scars of our own struggles sometimes. However, we are called by God to serve as witnesses of grace, and among us in the often messiness and uncertainty of community, is where God’s grace emerges and abounds, and where we must be our authentic selves. Grace is apparent to us, when we can take off our armor, pull down the great stones of the walls that keep us from being vulnerable to and open to the saving grace of God. Grace is apparent in the midst of the anxiety of change we all face, and the uncertainties of change this community faces now. However, rest assured that God never abandons us.
Temples of False Expectation
As Jesus was leaving the temple with his disciples, one of them pointed out to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings.” Jesus responded, “Do you see these great buildings, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” I wonder if after being disappointed with how people in the temple system treated one another, and how that system created relational divisions among God’s people, Jesus rolled his eyes at the disciple’s star struck comment about the temple.
These early followers had grandiose expectations of temple life and the false perfection of that place, that building. They were hoping for spiritual window dressings that overshadowed their need for reconciliation and forgiveness. Jesus’ warned his disciples about putting too much hope in the temple, and not hanging their hope in Him, the true living temple of God. Jesus was telling the disciples that worldly temples crumble unless they are a home where justice abounds, oppression ends, mercy overflows, and reconciling love is the way of life. In other words, our common life together will always be messy and uncertain, but it is where opportunities for grace to be made present, even in times of trouble.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
Troubling times seem to be the norm for all of us these days. We live in a time when a pandemic challenges our hope for normalcy and a return to peace. Internal divisions among kindred folk seems to be the norm these days. The heat of a bygone Cold War era is rekindling. The world power relationships that we thought were reframed by former “wars and rumors of wars” are being pushed to back to the brink of division, and the battles do not stop there. Each of us face trials and tribulations in our everyday lives.
Some of us have experienced the pain of family relationships being severed and torn apart. Some of us have been separated from or lost long-time friends because of the pandemic. Despite all the strife, disappointment, and broken relationships that permeate our times, we have hope in Christ’s promises. We have hope that these painful moments are not the end of the story. Jesus said, “These are but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
Why do you think he used this metaphor of childbirth? After the life threatening, body changing, experience of childbirth, the mother’s and the parent’s lives are never the same again. Someone new has arrived in the house, and this new babe changes everything. That does not sound like an ominous warning to me, but a message of great hope. In other words Jesus is promising us, “In the middle of those cataclysmic, apocalyptic, foreboding, and fear-inducing events, which the “end times” promise to bring, I am offering you the hope of new life – which God desires for all creation.”
Christians are supposed to be people of hope and promise, even when this common life we share is challenging, imperfect, and filled with the anxiety of impending change. When changes come anxiety permeates our lives. It is then maybe that we Christians need to approach these times differently. We need to remain in the space of hopeful prayer and vulnerable faithfulness. In her book Daring Greatly, author, researcher and Episcopalian Brene Brown writes, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (4)
When times are uncertain, when we struggle, when we are afraid, it is the emergence of reconciling love and loving forgiveness through hopeful prayer and vulnerable faithfulness that provides the only way to lasting new life. It is then that new beginnings are possible.
Reconciling love and abundant grace is active when we take off the armor of our desire for perfection, and then we get real with one another again. When we are vulnerable to one another, then love for one another has a chance to flourish and grow. Then and only then can we be the kind of community that will be a shining example of Christ’s love, especially for this world fraught with “wars and rumors of wars.”
So, imagine as change is happening and we are anxious and fraught with despair, imagine in a world of strife, broken families, shredded friendships, and tumultuous organizations that we could be transformed by unity and love. It is possible you know, if we choose to live and love as if the end were coming tomorrow. What if the church universal recognized her frailty and fears, and what if she embraced the fact that her true strength is not in found in her perfections, but in the vulnerability of the cross that stands as the symbol of our ministry. What an example we could be of God’s transformative grace if we but endeavored to live in peace. Sisters and brothers change happens, but we have prayerful hope and vulnerable faith that God’s grace can truly change us, and when God changes us, he changes the neighborhoods around us. Because the truth is, if our witness of God’s grace will stand the test of time, the community around us will only know that we are Christians by our love.
1 Anderson, Mary W. “Time’s Up.” Christian Century 120.22 (2003): 19-318. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.
2 McGrath, Alister E. “Christian Theology: An Introduction” Blackwell Publishing, 2007, Oxford, p. 475