“Look teacher, what large stones and what large buildings…” Mark 13:1
The Jerusalem temple was astonishing. Begun about 20 years before the birth of Christ, when Jesus and has disciples entered, the building was completed only a few years earlier. And what a building it was! Herod the Great completely remodeled the second temple of Zerubbabel. From Herod’s perspective that 500 year-old building was a shoddy house for the Lord God of Israel. Something much grander was needed, something that would declare to all the world how great was their God and how powerful the one who built God’s new house. So, the old temple was torn down and new foundations laid. A glorious building of white stone with extensive gold overlay rose up 150 feet into the sky. The stone platform that surrounded it was expanded to the size of 24 football fields. There were spectacular gates, soaring arches, graceful staircases with extensive porticoes and beautifully crafted colonnades. At the center of it all was the holy of holies. God was in God’s house among God’s people in God’s great city, Jerusalem. No wonder the disciples were awestruck.
As were the Clinton Street Cougars, the after-school boy’s club at St. Bartholomew’s in Trenton when they stood outside of the World Trade Center! None of them had ever been to New York City and they were astonished. It was so grand, so amazing. As they looked up, their mouths hung open. While we waited in line, Charlie, who had rusty red hair and face full of freckles, showed me his baseball cards carefully wrapped with two rubber bands and asked, “Were do I go to trade them?” When I looked perplexed, he declared, “We’re at the World Trade Center, aren’t we?” The elevator arrived and as it sped us up to the Observation deck, the Cougars grew silent. Stepping out into the clear blue day, each one experienced, “WOW”, as the city spread out all around them. The people below looked like ants, the cars, match-boxes, the Statue of Liberty, a big doll on pedestal in the middle of the river. A world of wonder spread out before them and like Jesus’ disciples they were awestruck. I thought of them and that day, on a bright blue September morning about 15 years later, as those twin towers came tumbling down. By then most of those Cougars were in their 20’s, when the world as they knew seemed to come to an end, and did so for thousands of people. Not one stone was left upon another, all were thrown down.
By the time the apostle Mark writes his Gospel around 70 C.E. not one of the huge white stones of the temple were left upon another. For the Romans destroyed the temple in retaliation for the ongoing Jewish revolt that began 4 years earlier. Did Jesus foresee that the temple would fall and foretold it? Or did he realize that even the most glorious house of worship in the world, would not be enough, that it would fall short of redemption? Or did Mark or someone he knew remember that Tuesday of Holy Week and how the disciples admired the glorious buildings and how Jesus told them this would not last forever, that there will come a day when they would be led astray, when there would be wars and rumors of war, earthquakes and famines, when it seems as if all hell is breaking lose? And so, Mark includes this in his Gospel, a written form he actually created calling it “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” It’s “the beginning” because by experience Mark knew worlds come to an end, temples and towers fall down, and any good news worth it’s salt must deal with dying, destruction and despair.
We know that all too well, don’t we? A place called Paradise where people lived in peaceful community, caring for one another, surrounded by the beauty of creation, burns to the ground. Other towns too in Northern and Southern California are being destroyed by fire while the air becomes dangerous to breathe. Hurricanes in the Carolinas and Florida wiped out towns and left thousands homeless. In disasters worlds end as people lose livelihoods, home and lives. Worlds also end in many other ways – when vows are broken, when beloved ones die, especially when children do before their time, when layoffs come, foreclosures happen, when families are torn apart by conflict and diagnosis are terminal. Even the grandest temple or most glorious cathedral fails us when our worlds end – it’s all too much, too much.
Today with his pronouncement of doom, Jesus is honest about worlds ending. His disciples ask, “When will this be?” But before long, they will misunderstand everything he says and does and ultimately will deny, betray and desert him. Nonetheless Jesus continues his lonely walk to the cross where he dies. Dying with us in all of our brokenness, dying for us so that nothing can separate us from God. There is the new beginning, because when worlds end, God in Christ is there, there on the cross, there in the pain, there in the dying. Beyond that Jesus rises from the dead. Now and forevermore death does not have the last word, God does and it is a word of hope, of love, of grace. Disciples that deserted him are recommissioned. Criminals who jeered him are pardoned. Authorities that crucified him are forgiven, whether or not they notice or care.
But what a difference it makes to notice! I think about those who are joining St. John’s today. You have always been loved. God didn’t start loving you because you opened the door of this church and summoned up the courage to come in. The difference is now you notice and that changes you from the inside out. We, all of us, even the curmudgeons among us, are beloved of God. God loves us, all of us, and when we don’t feel worthy of such love, God loves anyway with a stubborn and persistent love that creates change and transformation.
A number of years ago, we had a Stewardship Pep Rally, Jay Wright, Villanova Basketball Coach, and a son of Jerry and Judy Wright, members of our congregation, served as our Stewardship Coach. He was accompanied by the St. John’s Cheerleaders who waved pom poms while shouting a verse from the first letter of John: “We love because God first loved us.” Martin Luther put it this way: “As our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all.” Later Luther said we are to be “little Christs.” Showing up, being there, caring and sharing God’s love.
More than 17 years ago, we watch fireman, being marked with the cross of Christ, the holy oil glistening on their foreheads as they ascended the twin towers. This past week we saw little Christs battling an inferno, rescuing, saving and grieving those who were lost. On Thursday during the snow storm there were little Christs everywhere, pushing cars out of ditches, waving others through snarled traffic, getting people home safely. And here and now – let us see each other and especially our new brothers and sisters in faith as little Christs, living, growing and sharing God’s love with joy! Amen
“Look teacher, what large stones and what large buildings…” Mark 13:1