November 17, 2019
At our recent cluster three Pastor's meeting, the question was put to the group. If you discovered somehow that the end of the world was near—say four weeks away, what would you do? Pastor Scott said, “I would go out into my community and minister the Gospel to those that have not yet accepted the Lord into their lives.” Pastor Kathy said with great enthusiasm, “I would dedicate all of my remaining time to serving God, my family, my church, and my fellow man with a greater conviction.”
Finally it was my turn. “I would go to my mother-in-laws house for the 4 weeks.” Everyone was puzzled by my answer, and our group leader asked, “Why your mother-in-law’s home?” “Because that will make it the longest 4 weeks of my life!”
Alright, that's not true. I can't resist a good mother-in-law joke. You all know I have a wonderful mother-in-law and I would fill up on Krub and buttermilk pancakes and Swedish meatballs and crazy cake. It would be a great four weeks!
Just what was it Jesus was teaching that day? The disciples were admiring the beauty and the gifts of the temple, dedicated to God. The temple site is believed to be the site where Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son. If you remember last week's sermon, we talked a bit about the original temple built by King Solomon. It was a wondrous site of white stone and gold and magnitude. But it was destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians and the people taken into exile. Last week we read from the prophet Haggai prodding the people to rebuild the temple. His, a smaller, much less elaborate temple, was dedicated in 515 BC. Then some 500 years later, The Roman-appointed “King” Herod, attempted to court favor with the people of Israel, who generally hated him, by updating this temple. He made it a real showplace. People came from all over the world to see this wonderful structure, dedicated in 20 AD. This is the structure Jesus and his disciples were discussing.
So let's check out just what Jesus says, “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." This new temple was destroyed 40 years later and this time was not rebuilt. It probably never will be as the Muslim Dome of the Rock now occupies most of the original site. So that wonderful structure the disciples were admiring was a pile of rubbish by the year 70 AD. The Western (Wailing) Wall is all that remains of the Jerusalem Temple. Julie and I were able to visit it, now the most sacred place of prayer in the Jewish world.
We realize that the destruction of the temple did not signal the end of the world. The temple was ruined, the Jewish nation was dispersed, life as the people knew it was changed forever. But it was not the end, we are still here 2000 years later wondering if the end is near now?
"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." Again, remember the subject here, the temple. We make a mistake, I believe, to read the end of the world in this discourse. It seems to me it is about the end of the temple. And the end of the temple meant the end of the long system of worship at the temple. From the time the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tent in the desert, the Jewish people believed that God was there and there alone. Solomon then built a temple for God's dwelling place because a tent was not seen as a proper home for the Lord. The temple was the site that faithful Jews journeyed to on feast days and throughout the year to have sacrifices offered on their behalf. But that ended when the temple ended, when it was finally destroyed. So the end of the temple as the center of worship helps us see that we now have unlimited access to God through Jesus. From Ephesians we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The temple period ended when it was destroyed, but we as Christians understand it really changed when Jesus was crucified and rose again. The spiritual wall dividing us from God was broken down. We are welcomed into God's presence as beloved sons and daughters.
There is a hint of end times, there is the destruction of the temple; so what does living in light of this passage mean for us today? In Bible Study Tuesday, the question was asked about what the world would look like if there were no end coming, if this life went on and on indefinitely. And we seemed to agree it would take away a lot of our incentive for action. If we jump to our reading from Thessalonians, look what Paul says about living a life of action, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” Ouch! Do any of you hear an echo of Mom, when we complained about doing our chores telling us, “Fine, if you don't clean your room you won't get any dessert.”
It seems that there was a certain element in the community that believed the end was so near there was no need for them to work. We don't find that in the readings. Jesus and Paul call on us to be prepared for challenges, but not to sit back and wait for the end. We should maintain our daily disciplines of work and responsibilities. We don't prepare for the end by ignoring our obligations. We prepare for and work for the kingdom of God precisely by maintaining the work in our lives. Paul ends this passage with this encouragement: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
Even our passage from Isaiah, while prophesying a new world, includes the normal things of life, “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit...for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”
Many, if not most, commentaries on today's passage tell us that Jesus was teaching that the end was near. But can we look at the readings together and see that we should be living every day to its fullest no matter how near or far we are from the end? Can we understand that God was present in the beauty of the temple but also in the vineyards and trees? That simply doing what is right is working for the kingdom? That fulfilling our day to day obligations in life is fulfilling our call to serve God? That when we gather in our beautiful sanctuary or serve chili in our kitchen, God is with us?
The Jewish people had to go to the temple, that beautiful, ostentatious building to have a priest bring their sacrifices and needs to God. We come here to our beautiful sanctuary to meet with God in community. Because of Jesus, we can meet and see God anywhere and everywhere.
Max Lucado relates an experience that demonstrates how we can miss wonder and beauty and glory because we are often just too distracted to recognize God's hand in the world. “At 7:15 am, January 12, 2007, a young musician took his position against a wall in a Washington DC metro station. He opened a violin case, removed his instrument, threw a few dollars and pocket change into the case as seed money and began to play.
He played for the next forty-three minutes. He performed six classical pieces. During that time, 1,097 people passed by. They tossed in money to the total of $32.17. Of the 1,097 people, seven--only seven—paused longer than sixty seconds. And of the seven, only one—only one--recognized the violinist Joshua Bell.
Three days prior to this appearance, Bell filled Boston's Symphony Hall. His talents can command $1000 a minute. That day in the subway he earned barely enough to buy a cheap pair of shoes.
But no one expected majesty in such a context... who had time to notice beauty in the midst of busyness? Most did not.
Most of us will someday realize we didn't either. From the perspective of heaven, we'll look back on these... busy, clattered days—and realize, that was Jesus playing the violin. That was Jesus wearing the ragged clothes. That was Jesus in the orphanage.... in the jail... in the cardboard shanty.”
It can be very easy to miss Jesus. Life is busy. We have troubles that can overwhelm us. It can take some effort on our part to recognize Jesus in the everydayness of our lives. But Jesus is there, Jesus is here. We can live with the peace that passes understanding, joy that has no end.
We live out our faith best when we do our daily responsibilities fulfilling Christ's call to love and to serve. Our next hymn calls this way of living “The Dance.” This dance is not about the wonderful temple or church. Not about our possessions or riches. This dance is about the Savior who has invited each of us to the dance of life. So dance as you clean the house. Dance as you commute to work. Dance as you balance the checkbook. Dance as you pause to recognize the marvels of God's creation in nature and in one another. Jesus is the Lord of this world; not yet fulfilled as it will be, but he is your Lord and mine. Don't let the wonders of this world go unnoticed. Don't get caught up in idleness or gossip. Don't miss the dance that is life. And Jesus is life, the life that will never die. Live in Christ and don't miss the dance!
Hymn: I Danced in the Morning 302 PH