Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pentecost 24 - Year B

So, what do you think this gospel reading means? This past week at our pastors’ bible study we couldn’t decipher what Jesus was talking about. It’s like he was talking in code. That he wanted to warn his disciples of something but couldn’t quite get the words straight. So he defaulted to poetry hoping that these 12 guys might have the imagination to unlock the mystery of what can only been seen with divine eyes.

The passage says that they were on a mount opposite the Temple (capital “T”). Back in Jesus’ time the Temple was one of the most impressive sights you could lay our eyes on. Torn down twice since King Solomon first built it, the second re-building began shortly before the Shepherds saw the angel in the sky and the wise men found their way to Bethlehem. But it wasn’t finished until the Mary found the empty tomb.

You had to see the Temple to believe it. The stories didn’t do it justice. It had a perimeter circumference of almost a kilometre. Its 5 ton marble walls stood 150 feet high. 40-foot-high white marble columns greeted visitors as they arrived brandishing their sacrifices. Two of the doors stood 45 feet high; one was cast in Corinthian bronze. It’s no wonder they called it the “Beautiful Gate.”

I could go on but you get the idea. The temple was huge. It wasn’t coming down any time soon. That’s why Jesus sounded like he dipped into the ritual wines a little too often when he said that the temple was going to be destroyed and re-built in three days.

But still, religious wing-nuts were a shekel a dozen back then. But when you’re talking about the temple, people take you seriously no matter how crazy they think you are. Just as you don’t joke about having a bomb going through security at the airport, you didn’t joke about knocking down the centerpiece of Jewish life. At least not without suffering some consequences.

But Jesus wasn’t joking.

Predicting the future. It’s as old as time itself. Some folks made a good living predicting the future, drawing up schematics detailing the events of the End of Time.

And some folks still make a healthy buck predicting the doom of humanity, getting people all riled up, terrified even, worried that the world is going to end before the next commercial break.

But Jesus was different. He was no religious huckster. But of course, not everyone knew that. Some religious leaders certainly thought Jesus was nuts, if he wasn’t so dangerous.

But when Mark re-told this story it must have blown peoples’ minds because he wasn’t just TALKING about the End of Time. For them this was no mere celestial oracle or divine prophecy. They watched it happen. They had front row seats. They were almost close enough to stub their toes on the rubble of the demolished Temple.

Well, at least it felt like the world was coming to an end. The Temple, corrupt as it was, was still the centre of Jewish life. Now it lay in a million little pieces. Looters stole their prized scrolls. And God’s people scattered with the four winds.

“Did this story really happen? Did Jesus really predict this?” Mark’s listeners wondered. It was too convenient. Jesus was too on the money. The Roman army sent in reinforcements to squash the uprisings. Thousands were brutally and systematically murdered. The Romans took no delight nor did the have any hesitation in killing so many people. After all, they were killing for god and empire.

Who needs rumours of wars when you’ve just buried your whole family and you know that you’re probably next?

But still, maybe Jesus knew what he was talking about. “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars,” Jesus says, “Do not be alarmed.”

Interesting.

Jesus is describing total chaos. It’s anarchy. It’s as if he’s TRYING to put the fear of God into them. He paints a pretty grim picture of the future. But then again, has there ever been a period in history when there weren’t wars, nations rising against nations? Has there ever been a period in history that hasn’t had a megalomaniacal leader, a false messiah, proclaiming himself as saviour of the world? Has there ever been a period in history free from natural disasters? Has there ever been a period of history where famine hasn’t gripped part of the world?

So, how can we know what Jesus is talking about? Is Jesus purposely trying to muddy the waters? We need dates, times, schematics, an outline so we can start collecting canned goods and bottled water.

But all we get are cryptic puzzles and vague generalities. You’d think if it was that important to Jesus, if he wanted to warn us of some imminent catastrophe, he’d be clearer in his message.

Today we welcome Nathan Phillip Anthony Hawkins into our family of faith through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. And who knows what world he will inherit? Who knows the wars, the conflicts, the disaster – those things that Jesus warned against - who knows how those things will affect his life?

Maybe what we are doing here is the answer to what Jesus is saying. Maybe he’s saying is that institutions may fall, nations may crumble, the earth may shake and wars destroy, but God’s people remain.

Jesus had a name for the wars and rumours of wars, the false messiahs, the natural disasters: he called them “birth pangs.” Which I take to mean that something new is being born from the world’s pain. It’s as if he’s saying that these things NEED to happen.

I don’t know about you but I think I’d prefer a divine C-section, complete with anesthetic instead of going the natural way.

But maybe God takes that off our list of options because God knows the weight of human sin. But like any good physician, God is making sure that life continues; that the birth pangs will indeed give way to something new and beautiful.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear of wars in the Middle East, rumours of wars in South America, famines in Africa, ego-obsessed leaders, I’m still going to be alarmed. The stakes are high. Higher than in Jesus’ time.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop trusting that God is making all things new; a work that God began in Jesus when the temple of his body was destroyed on the cross only to be rebuilt three days later.

And God is here, in water and the word, bringing Nathan Phillip Anthony Hawkins into God’s family, making him part of God’s new creation.

If we’re looking for God in the great gestures of history, among the great world leaders, with those whose signatures can bring half the globe to its feet or to its knees, then we’re looking in the wrong places.

If you want to see where God is look at Nathan. God’s promises to the whole world are shining on his face.

And then look around you. Look at the faces and stories that surround you. God is abundantly here, re-building a temple, not made with stone and bronze, or steel and glass, or brick and mortar, but with flesh and blood.

So when you hear of wars and rumours of war, it’s hard not to get alarmed, because we humans have a great capacity for destroying things.

But also see where God is giving birth, where new life is growing, where love and joy and peace blossom. Then you’ll find where God is hiding.

May this be so among us. Amen.

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