Isaiah 65:17-25, Canticle 9, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
You know that as much as David wanted to build a house for God, God did not give him that honor. Instead, it was Solomon who was blessed to build the Temple, and my goodness, how splendid it was. Craftsmen and materials from around the world came to Jerusalem and built God a permanent home on earth. Remember, God already had a home, the Tabernacle, the tent that traveled with the Hebrews as they wandered across the lands to their now fixed abodes. Some 400 years later,[i] in 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar [ii] destroyed the Temple and took the Jews away into captivity. Last week we read from Haggai’s story and his prophecy regarding rebuilding the Temple, lead by Ezra and Zechariah between 515 and 520 BCE. Flip forward some 500 years and the Temple is well worn. The Roman vassal Herod rebuilds the Temple. With imperial like resources he was able spare no expense in restoring its former glory. It took ten years, but was it was magnificent, 400,00 people could fit inside, it was the rival of all the eighboring kingdoms’ pagan temples, and certainly brought the glory Herod sought. [iii] Actually that was phase one; Herod’s descendants are still building when Jesus and his followers are walking by. [iv]
So, we should not be surprised that Jesus’ followers are awe-struck as they walk past the gigantic polished stones that form the walls of a truly splendid space; thinking: Surely this must be the home of God on earth!
Take a moment and think of a similar experience you’ve had. What have you seen that evoked an over whelming sense of awe, a deep sense of pride in your people? I can recall walking the beach by the Pensacola Naval Air Station and seeing the aircraft carrier John F Kennedy, she was tremendous, stately, exuding power. About the same time I saw one of the first C5As on approach.It was so large that at descent speed it looked like it was hanging in the air; truly a miracle of modern engineering; a sign of our abilities that are well beyond what anyone else can do. And not much later, I visited Canterbury Cathedral; the titular home of our Anglican heritage. It is ancient beyond its years, even in the midst of milling tourist you feel its grandeur, ~ its glory. Canterbury is, as Camp Mitchell folks will say, a thin place; surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. [v]
Think of a similar experience you have had. Recall the feeling. That is how the disciples are feeling. It is no wonder they respond in abject terror as their trusted leader viscerally tears it all away saying: … all [this] will be thrown down.” They can’t imagine such a tragedy. Actually, they can imagine it. Jewish history is replete with stories of destruction and occupation. Jews acknowledge their prior captivity, they know the story we reviewed just a minute ago. And remember, they are a conquered people. Jerusalem is occupied by the Roman army. Knowing they can, yet again, lose the source of their identity, their strength, their security, is all to imaginable, it is terrifying.
What terrifies you? something beyond the grief of unexpected death. I‘m not referring to the terror of the event itself; it’s not like the mortal struggle of the Philippines, after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. Its anticipation so terrifying, it dominates everything. I lived on the Alabama Gulf Coast just as it was fully recovering from the damage of Hurricane Ivan, some years before, when the Deep Water Horizon blew up in April 2010. That disaster shaped every conversation, every action, every hope, every prayer; before ~ the tangible effects of the disaster.
What is your existential fear? Recall its feeling.
Now put those two feeling right next to each other. I was on the Gulf Coast when the hope of recovery was suddenly right up against the existential fear of oil from the Deep Water Horizon explosion. Feel the dissonance between glorious anticipation, smack up against, shattered expectations. Feel the raw scrape of hopefulness grating against pummeled possibilities.
All of us, I know I did, immediately want to turn to Isaiah’s prophecy of God creating a new heaven and a new earth making everything alright. We flee to the certainty of Canticle 9’s Surely, it is God who saves me; … for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel. But not Luke.
Yes, the story we read this morning stops in a place that allows hope in endurance. But Luke continues with Jesus telling about the destruction of Jerusalem, how she will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the time of the Gentiles are fulfilled. The story goes on with predictions of signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars … distress among the nations, … confusion caused by the … seas and the waves. Jesus does not let up. [vi] The disciples continue in the raw emotional dissonance between glorious anticipation, smack up against, shattered expectations.
I want to revisit the initial experience at the Temple. The disciples draw a sense of pride, strength, and security from the Temple. There is even a sense of stability in its presence. But they know its history, their history. If they’d let themselves they could acknowledge such pride, strength, and security are hallow, based on false premises. In fact that has been a recurring fault with Israel’s and Judah’s kings. Every time they face a threat they turn to Persia, Babylonia, Assyria, or Egypt, even to each other; but never – never God. Reading the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles will bring you up-short. It does me, because I see in these books the very behavior I witness in ourselves, in our elected political leadership. When faced with an existential threat we turn to the Seals, Rangers, special forces, regular forces, and Home Land Security; we turn to the NRA; we turn to science and technology, known and at times not yet developed, we turn to the false certainty of the past . We behave very much like ancient Israel and Judah. We behave very much like the awe struck disciples as they walk by the Temple’s splendid walls. And our circumstances have certain similarities.
Except one. When Luke’s audience hears/ reads his Gospel account, the Temple already in ruins; Jerusalem is already destroyed. The endurance Jesus speaks of is not enough.
This chapter ends with a parable about a fig tree, and an exhortation to be watchful. But Luke seems to end Jesus’ prophecy at the Temple wall the verse prior: 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Redemption!
Mere days after Jesus’ birth, his parents bring him to the Temple for rite of presenting their first born to God. The prophetess Anna sees Jesus and after years of silent fasting and prayer she begins … to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Redemption; from the beginning it has been about redemption.
Richard Sawnson notes: our redemption, Christian redemption, is Jesus’ resurrection. He ends this week’s commentary:
Sometimes endurance is not enough, not even nearly. When it really matters, only resurrection will do, and in Luke’s story, we wait for resurrection.
Thursday I blogged about staying in the moment of grating dissonance. I’ve come to glean it’s not about staying in the moment, it’s not about waiting for the resurrection. Jesus’ teaching is about trusting God, especially in moments of grating dissonance. … indeed—God is my salvation. I trust, I [will not] be afraid. [vii]
[ii] Matthew George Easton , Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[iii] Richard Swanson Commentary on Luke 21:5-19, Workingpreacher.org http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1853,
[iv] Easton, ibid
[v] Janice Cowan
[vi] Swanson, ibid
[vii] Isaiah 12:2, The Message, Canticle 9