Urgent words from Jesus, by Pastor Noel

Nov. 16 & 17, 2019  Proper 28C  26th Pentecost


     Every year as we get closer to Advent the readings get stronger, more urgent. We are being reminded about the seriousness of our call as we follow Jesus.

     In a few weeks we will rejoice again at the birth of the Baby Jesus. He did not stay a baby, and he was not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” even though that’s how we may sing about him. He was strong in God’s love.

     Jesus’ words today are strong and confusing. He said, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

     The disciples could not understand what Jesus was saying. Like my response to much of the recent news, they shook their heads in disbelief.

     Like the disciples, the early Christians for whom this gospel was written must have had a strong emotional response to this story.

     Their feelings must have been mixed with fear, because the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple was not just a possibility—it was really happening.

     For Jews in Jerusalem, for Jews all over Israel and the world, the Temple was not just a spectacular, glorious building. It was the place where God lived. It was the center and meaning of their lives.

     In the 6th C BCE the Temple was destroyed by invading armies, and the kings and leaders of Judah and Israel were taken into exile in Babylon.

     When the exiles returned a century later, the Persian king, Cyrus, helped them rebuild the Temple.

     Then Herod made it a show place with glistening white walls and gold decorations. It WAS Jerusalem.    So, to think that the Temple could be destroyed, was not unthinkable, it had happened already. But it was unthinkable.

     We have many different ways of coping with the unthinkable. We may try to pretend there is nothing wrong—and just go on as usual. We may run away to find safety or security or peace.

     Those are normal, but not always healthy, ways of dealing with troubling issues.

     We may decide to find ways to deal with the issue—to face it and work through it.

     Our Jewish ancestors found a way to cope with many foreign invasions and other obstacles to their faith.

     They used a special language called apocalypse. This means “revelation” or “unveiling.”

     Our reading from Malachi, and this part of Luke’s Gospel are apocalyptic writing.

     Such writing uses imagery and symbolism to give comfort to those going through struggles. The words may not sound comforting, but they say “this happened before, it will happen again. Trust God, and don’t give in to the easy ways the culture offers.”

     It reminds them to be faithful, and may promise a better future if they remain faithful.

     This better time is not heaven, though. To Jews, this earth was the home God promised them. The better time was the Kingdom of God as reality, shalom, peace, here on earth.

     Jesus isn’t offering the disciples a future in heaven, he was giving them a picture of what they would be facing without him, and the courage to be faithful.

     Enduring, being faithful—with God’s help.

     We have apocryphal writing today. The novel 1984 is a prime example. Scientific journals have been warning about climate change and plastic poisoning for decades. They also have hopeful ideas for help, if we listen.

     There is fearful, violent language in apocryphal writing, but it is not violence from God.      

     God’s redemption of the violence against Jesus on the Cross shows us that God’s kingdom is peace and hope. (In the website, Preaching Peace) Michael Hardin writes, “true Christianity is grounded in a benevolent Creator.”

     No matter how filled with peace God is, our world is filled with news and events that are troublesome, even unthinkable.

     How do we cope when everything seems off kilter? What language do our lives have to help us look ahead with hope for the future? How do we keep on being faithful and trust in our benevolent God? How do we endure?

     One way I have found helpful is to stay connected, to continue to know that I am part of the family of God, not dealing with—whatever— alone.

     It is as part of the Body of Christ that we can find ways to remain faithful and trusting.

     It draws people together rather than dividing. 

     The walls of the Temple held people together. But there are plenty of wall that separate and divide us.

     I’m reminded of the Berlin Wall that fell 30 years ago this month. I remember President Reagan saying, “Mr. Gorbachov, tear down that wall!”

     Today there is an art installation of 120,000 ribbons where the wall used to be. Remembering with beauty.

     There are still walls that need to be thrown down. Not marble walls like the Temple, but the walls that separate us from one another, the walls that we hide behind, the walls that we build to make us feel better than others.

     We can try to throw down these walls by ourselves, but the only way they will really fall is with God’s help.

     God is always about tearing down walls that divide, leading us to be reconciled with each other through his love and in the power of the Spirit.

     Biblical Scholar, Robert McAfee Brown, has said that “reversal is the order of the day in the kingdom of God.” Reversal of what our culture says is “the way.” It is transformation by God so that we are walking the way of Jesus in the kingdom. The Way of Love.

     The culture tells us that we only need to care for ourselves. God calls us to care for others, too. When we care for others, it makes us feel better. Caring for others is a good way to find peace in anxious times.

     Trusting in God’s goodness we walk the way in peace, joy, compassion, inclusion, understanding, welcome, connection—I could go on and on—Doing this so that the amazing love of our benevolent God is showing through us to everyone everywhere.

     This is also how we are good stewards of the riches of our life in the kingdom as the Body of Christ. All of us together, tearing down walls of division, being Christ’s church in the world. Lifting up those still held back by walls.

     With God’s help, “Not one stone (of our walls) will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details