(Modified 2021-11-14 Added audio recording of this sermon)
St. Mary’s Regina
Have you ever been afraid of something? When I was a child, I was really afraid of the dark and of cockroaches. (pause) and truthfully, they both still bother me. There are cockroaches in El Paso, Texas (where I come from)…. BIG BUGS that inhabit cool, dark places like garages, cupboards, and basements and they scurry around at night in particular, which may have aggravated my fear of the dark. I hate being around them… I hate it when they startle me…. it doesn’t make any difference that I am a hundred times bigger then they are…. when one scurries across my path, my heart pounds, adrenaline rushes through my body and I instantly want to run the other way. Don’t even suggest that I simply step on it and kill it. The crunchy, splatty sound they make underneath my foot makes my skin crawl. I have tried over the years to talk myself out of this fear, but the last time I was home, I had to steel myself every time I had to walk into the garage, because I KNEW that there might be a roach out there. It was a great relief for me as I began my northern migration, to realize that there aren’t as many cockroaches up here as there are in El Paso because Cockroaches frighten me.
My fear of the dark is a different kind of fear. Here, I’m not talking about just being scared. I’m talking about the kind of fear that grips your gut whenever you think about it. The darkness feels like it contains a threat to my wellbeing and I am aware of the anxiety and challenges that this fear creates in my life. When we are honest, most of us have those kinds of fears and they dominate our lives on some level. Our fears may be different ones: fear of heights, fear of small, closed in spaces, fear of dying, fear of being alone, fear of losing someone we love or a job or our home…whatever our fear, a sense of dread fills us when situations arise that put us in touch with those fears. I suspect most of us have been in touch with fear over the past year and a half as the COVID Pandemic has raged globally, right? But, because human beings are resourceful, we usually know or can learn what kinds of things we can put into place to protect us from the things we fear. We don’t climb mountains or ladders or look over the edge of canyons if we are afraid of heights, we stay away from small spaces if we are claustrophobic, we fortify ourselves with vitamins and proper food and exercise in an attempt to keep/maintain our health, we wear masks, wash our hands with sanitizer and follow healthcare directives, we surround ourselves with people if we are afraid of being alone and we do our best to protect those we love if we fear losing a loved one. These are but some of the ways we attempt to control our environments. Simply stated, we all want to feel safe and protected from the unknown. We certainly don’t want the ground to suddenly shift underneath us.
“As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”
(Historical note: the Temple was begun by Herod the Great and was not yet completed. The stones are massive; most of them are 37.5 feet long, 18 feet wide and 12 feet thick.) In other words, “just look at this incredible place!” This Temple is the place of promise…the Temple of Solomon, built in all its glory. This Temple is the place of the Holy of Holies…. the place where we know God is present. This is the place where sacrifice is made for our sins. This is the place where even the rich and powerful bow down and where wisest in the land come to teach. This place is strong and solid and permanent. It is truly wonderful.
And Jesus replies to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another one; all will be thrown down.” WHAT did He say? How can that be true? Lord, when will this terrible thing happen what are the signs that we can watch for…. so we can prepare for it? (pause)
This passage is not your usual kind of scripture passage and frankly, I would rather preach on the parables, but that was not one of my options for today. Today’s passage is a particular kind of passage in the scriptures known as Apocalyptic Scripture…scripture that is concerned with the end of all things as we know them and the coming of a new age…a new time…the coming of the Son of Man…the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
These passages are disturbing. They contain explicit images regarding the destruction of the temple and about wars and earthquakes and famines. There will be great suffering. And if that wasn’t enough, if we read further we are told there will be desolating sacrilege and false messiahs and false prophets clamoring for our allegiance/loyalty.
These images are distressing. Until 20 years ago, we in North America had little experience with destruction on a massive scale. But who can forget the searing images of the disintegration of the World Trade Centre? Over the course of a few short hours, we became acutely aware of how little time it takes for life to change…. irrevocably. The world as we knew it, came to an end on September 11. And we watched in horror…. helpless to do anything to stop it.
There is great fear around the world. We have earthquakes and wars and terrorist attacks on unsuspecting people whose misfortune it is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are living in a global pandemic caused by a virus. We may be asking ourselves “Is this the beginning of the birth pangs… or is it near the end? Like the disciples we want the answers, but I’m not too sure what we would do with them if we had them. Would it change much for us? Or could it perhaps lead to what I call “Soul” questions?
Soul Questions are the really important questions we ask ourselves about our lives. We ask them when we need clarity about life. Think for a moment. What is important to you? What is your most treasured belief? What is your deepest hope? Are they things like wealth, influence, possessions, accomplishments, health, family, being loved? Now imagine these things as stones…. a stone of wealth, a stone of influence, a stone of possessions, a stone of accomplishments, a stone of health, a stone of family, a stone of being loved, a stone of what you consider most important. Now imagine them as stones in the building that Jesus and the disciples are looking at; a building containing thousands of stones. Now think of the stones as representing the things we seek out and turn to for a sense of permanence, for comfort, for peace of mind…. all built into a strong building or fortress so that when there IS trouble in our life we take shelter in our place of refuge. Likewise, there is joy in our lives we make it the place for our thank offering. It is our safe place/haven.
Jesus says, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” It’s hard for us to grasp this image. Some of us would ask…. how could this happen…these stones are so massive…this place so big, so secure. For others of us the image is a challenge…something to resist…something to fear because our lives often rest within the temples we have constructed…. instead of resting within the Kingdom of God. In all honesty, most of us have built our lives with these kinds of stones and to suddenly discover that they offer little or no protection at all is distressing or devastating. Maybe, we think, if we know the details of the end of the world, we can reinforce or create another wall that will protect us.
Scripture tells us that God alone, holds all knowledge of the future….the beginning and the ending and not even Jesus knows the timing. What we know is that once we are born, we live towards our death. As we get older, we are reminded that our lives are fragile. The people we care about will die. Our own bodies will wear out and we will feel the strain of age tugging at us.
The things that were once most important to us will begin to change, because nothing we make lasts forever. Nothing has the kind of permanence we long for. About the time we get used to something, it changes. Sometimes that change is good, providing us with opportunities to change our focus or direction and try something new. However, sometimes the change creates additional difficulties in our lives and we find ourselves being crushed under the weight of sadness and disappointment. We are forced into adjusting once again and that can be exhausting.
Jesus says, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” That sounds scary to me. And yet I believe Jesus is speaking to us today….to all the possible fears we carry inside our hearts. He speaks to us in the midst of the destruction and devastation that happens while living as he speaks about the destruction of the temple and about the dashing down of all the stones…those very “stones” which we treasure so much and admire and hope for. He speaks and he says, “Be not alarmed.” In other words Do Not Be afraid” Be Aware.(pause)
What Jesus tells us is to be aware…. to be watchful and to understand what is going on. “Be not alarmed. Do not worry. Be aware. Keep Awake. Understand the signs…. because there will always be light in the midst of darkness. There is hope and there is promise. In Romans, St. Paul writes these words: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) WE ARE NEVER ALONE BECAUSE GOD IS ALWAYS WALKING WITH US!!
Fear is a terrible thing that causes us to freeze up and to be unable to move both spiritually and physically. Fear inhibits us…. keeps us from completing our journey upon this earth in the manner God intends for us. Fear has far reaching consequences. It causes people to do things that we can only describe as being evil…..in order to create the world in THEIR image…..their kingdom….regardless of how much death and destruction (figuratively and real) it means for others.
God knows each of us intimately…..knows what keeps us awake at night….knows what we long for and what we need. And GOD loves each one of us and wants us to know that we are not alone. Through Jesus, God has given us the reassurance we need as His followers.
Listen again to His words: “Keep awake, be aware, come to the Light, give up your burdens and let me/my way of life support/carry you, rest in me, do not worry about your life, trust my words and obey my Father’s commandments, seek first the Kingdom of God, concentrate your life and energy on being compassionate, generous, loving people because you know who I am…I am the way the truth and the life.”
Jesus IS the way the truth and the life for all who believe in Him. All that God desires for us is found in Jesus. Redemption and Sanctification/forgiveness and holiness are what God provides for our journey. What is required of us is to trust in God’s love and live our lives in faithfulness to God by not letting our fears control our actions. God will be our strength and protection for all eternity.
During a time of unbelievable uncertainty and sadness in my own life, someone gave me a gift of God’s love and assurance in the form of a poem. In closing, I share it with you today. It’s entitled “FAITH” and the author is unknown. “When you have come to the edge off all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness, know one of two things will happen…. There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught to fly.” In His name and for His sake, AMEN