November 13, 2016
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Growing up we had a book about the seven wonders of the ancient world, and I was fascinated by it (I’m realizing I might have been an usual kid), and I read about them and poured over the pictures and memorized them because for whatever reason it was important to me to know these things once existed.
In the first and second century before Jesus was born, these great works of human creativity were the things listed in guidebooks used by ancient tourists.
Can any of you name one of the seven wonders of the ancient world?
They are the Temple of Artemis, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.
These are the things people used to marvel at – they were majestic and inspiring and all except one have been completely destroyed.
The temple in Jerusalem (the second one) did not make the list.
In Jesus’ day it still had the shine of being newly renovated by Herod, the same king who tried to have Jesus killed as an infant, and he used his immense wealth to create a space that could hold 400,000 people at a minimum.
We would have likely stood in awe of it right along with the disciples.
One of upsides of the Revised Common Lectionary which provides us with assigned scripture readings each Sunday is that we read together passages we might like to avoid, and one of the downsides is that we get little chunks of the Bible sometimes without the context we need.
It’s like the Gospel according to Luke is a pie and we have been given a sliver and what we are really hungry for is a big slice with whipped cream.
So let’s see where we are in the story. We are very near the end of Jesus’ life.
He has already told the people around him three times about his death and resurrection.
He has already rode into Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey to shouts from the crowd calling him king.
He has already walked into the temple and scared out the people selling things.
From this point on we are told that day in and day out he is in the temple, talking to people, answering questions, telling stories, watching people pray and tithe.
Let’s put ourselves into the story.
As an aside, there are different ways of reading scripture so that the Holy Spirit speaks to us through God’s Word.
One of the ways I happen to like a lot is this imaginative, prayerful way of placing ourselves into the story in order to pay attention to what we notice, what we emotions we feel, what we touch and smell and see and taste.
This way of reading can open of up scripture so that we experience it differently, and you too can use this method of reading in your own personal reading.
For days Jesus has been spending long days in the temple, sitting on the stone floor in the posture of a teacher, fielding questions some honest and some meant to trick and destroy him.
He is surrounded by people with eager and anxious faces, staring back at him.
He is the one they called king when he came into town, and then he walked straight into this temple and hasn’t left.
They watch him, waiting for him to start acting like a king.
But all he does is talk and tell stories as if time is running out.
And the mood is tense and suspicious; Jesus studies the faces of the people around him, because there is dishonesty in this crowd.
Jesus’ face is worn, he rode into town and there was so much shouting and dancing and joy; when he finally found a moment of peace away from the crowds, he wept and said as he looked over the city, “If you had only recognized what makes for peace on this day, and it was not another warrior coming in triumphantly to do battle for you.”
In a moment of discouragement Jesus looks up and into the temple comes a poor woman.
Before, she would have made this trip with her husband, but now she walks alone.
Among all the people making large donations into the treasury, she puts in two small coins which is all she has to live on.
And Jesus points to her and says, you may not have noticed her; because of her poverty and because she is a widow, you might have thought she was unimportant and didn’t matter, but she has just done something beautiful. She has done something small with great love. Look and see her. Pay attention.
Jesus looks at the people around him, and they are not looking where he is pointing.
Instead their mouths are open and they are staring up at the magnificent structure all around them, built in the name of God to demonstrate the wealth of a king.
And Jesus says, “You don’t understand.
This building doesn’t matter. God isn’t found in stones.
In fact, this great marvel of human achievement, it will be destroyed sooner than you can imagine, and nothing will be left.
And then, where will you look for God? Will you recognize him?
Because you just missed him in the humble form of a lonely poor woman praying.”
The destruction of the temple is not the end of the story.
It marks the death of something created by human hands that people took pride in and loved and maybe even grounded their faith in, but it is not the death of God.
Even the hard things that Jesus knew would come in the near future for the people he loved who were sitting around him, even the hard things that come in every generation, and the hard things that we have known in our own lives, these things are not the end of God.
The shape of God’s story is death and resurrection, so we shouldn’t be surprised when death and resurrection are the shape of our lives too.
We all have these things in our lives that we think will never change, or we hope will never change, friendships, family relationships, our health, our jobs, our legacies, our faith, the world around us, and then change comes for all of us.
We can remember fondly our beautiful temples, we can stand around kicking the stones wishing for what used to be, but then we might miss the new thing, the resurrection. We might miss the small acts of great love. We might miss God who is with us in the midst of our struggle, in the midst of the changes in our lives.
By the time Luke writes down what Jesus has said, the temple has been rubble for at least 15 years.
And the people who were reading this story of Jesus, they had already lived through it, and it wasn’t the end of the story. Their faith endured, the good news of Jesus Christ kept transforming people, and people kept finding one another and calling themselves church together, God was still a living God, God stayed through it all, new things happened, there was resurrection.
We miss the goodness and beauty and the miracle of the poor widowed woman if we are standing around looking at the wrong thing, kicking the stones of the temple. Because God never leaves us, Christ promises to be with us to the very end of the age. Amen.