November 14, 2010 / Text: Luke 21: 5-19 / Rev. Carol Kniseley
Title: Rolling Stones / Resurrection Lutheran Church / Fredericksburg
How many of you remember the movie ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’? Wasn’t that an awesome movie with Indiana Jones searching for the Ark of the Covenant? We recall that the people of Israel were a ‘wandering’ people…and would travel by day and pitch tents by night. In one of those tents the Ark would be placed and guarded because everyone believed that whoever had access to the Ark of the Covenant…also had direct access to God and God’s power. At least that’s what everyone believed. Over time the people of Israel finally settled down, and a beautiful temple was built. And in the temple was a room that was designated “the Holy of Holies”. No one was to enter that room except for the High Priest…believing, again, that God now resided in this “room.”
The temple in today’s Gospel lesson was built by the exiles from Babylon upon returning to their homeland. We know that the Temple in Jerusalem was fashioned by placing one stone upon another…until a building worthy of housing God stood in place. According to the ancient historian Josephus, the stones were “glistening white”….some being 37 feet long…12 feet high…and 18 feet wide. Mortar wasn’t even used to hold the massive stones in place, as their sheer weight alone could do the job. No one…in their wildest dreams could have imagined this temple…this House of God…ever being destroyed. For the disciples, who stood there gawking at the wonder of it all, Jesus needed to put what they were seeing into ‘proper perspective.’
The setting was Tuesday of the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus has been spending his time preaching and teaching in the temple area…having ridden into town on the back of a donkey just two days before. Through a sea of forest green palm branches, Jesus gazed up at the tall white building embellished with pure gold glistening in the sun. Even he had to admit it was all pretty impressive. But, with so little time left, he rightly turned his thinking to the business at hand. Namely, preparing the disciples for the days to come…after his death.
And so, hitting the disciples with a proverbial rock…right between the eyes…Jesus dared to speak of the unthinkable destruction of the temple. In our time, it would be comparable to someone having predicted the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11…long before that dreadful day ever happened. It was inconceivable then…it is still inconceivable today. Those being made privy to such information would certainly want to know “when” and “how”…and they would want some answers now.
If the disciples had had access to a lap top computer…they could have bypassed Jesus altogether…and through the internet googled: destruction of Temple in Jerusalem. What they would have discovered is that the temple was burned down in 70 A.D. by Roman soldiers…who then “threw down” the massive stones, one by one, retrieving the gold that had melted in between them. Knowing that Jesus’ prediction took place during the last week of his earthly life…the internet would also affirm that Jesus’ died around 30 A.D….leaving the disciples (and us) to simply do the math.
What is important for us to hear is not that Jesus’ prediction had come true, but rather the story of the Temple in Jerusalem is just one small piece of a much larger story about the activity of God among God’s people. And if signs of that activity are what we desire, then the signs given by Jesus in today’s text…should still be valid.
The first sign involves false pretense: “Many will come in my name…” making false claims that the time is near. According to Jesus, only God knows when that time will occur…and so far, God isn’t telling. So…the next time you hear that the end is coming, be sure to turn the channel on the TV. Or better yet, pick up “the” Good Book to read instead.
The second sign involves political turmoil and unrest, as if we aren’t experiencing that right now in our own country. One can’t turn on the news without hearing one side bash the other…feeding on people’s fears as opposed to lifting up the truth. The truth is…God doesn’t choose sides, political or otherwise, because God refuses to favor one of his children over against another. All are loved equally and unconditionally. And until that truth sinks in…there will always be “political turmoil” and certainly “unrest.”
The third sign happens through natural events such as earthquakes…famines…and plagues. How we in the Lutheran church respond is impressive. Whenever there is a catastrophe anywhere in the world, you can bet that LWR (Lutheran World Relief) and World Hunger are two of the first responders to arrive on the scene. Their job is to aid victims in any way that they can…using the resources that you and I provide. Such as in the race to eradicate “malaria” during our lifetime, the ELCA has most recently provided special mosquito netting to ward off the deadly mosquitos. What we are seeing, of course, is…God’s Work…our Hands…reaching out to the world.
And finally, the fourth sign: “dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” to be followed by the second coming of Jesus. By the time these signs occur, we will no longer need to pray: “Come, Lord Jesus.” Jesus will be here.
These terrible things will take place, according to Jesus…because of my name. How quickly the tide turns as one minute the crowds are shouting hosannas to the one who comes in the name of the Lord. While in the very next, they are ready to shout…crucify him…all because of his name. By claiming to be God’s son, Jesus is challenging the belief that access to God must come through a special “box” (Ark of the Covenant) or even a special room where only priests can walk or even a special people hand-picked by God himself. If we believe that Jesus really is who he says he is…then the Good News is that God is already among us in the form of Immanuel (meaning God with us).
Even so, Jesus never promised any of us a rose garden. Instead, we all know that despite the sweet aroma…life has an uncanny way of reminding us of the thorns. Meaning: if the disciples (including us) think for a minute that life is supposed to be a simple walk in the park, then we need to think again. Jesus would remind us all that his disciples do not and will not face any of life’s challenges alone. Even promising to provide the right words when there are no words to say.
And despite the fact that we all know our time on this earth does not go on forever…and magnificent building created by man do eventually crumble and fall, God’s own son assures us that death is not the last word. Nor does the crumbling of “temples” (institutions…religious orders…dogma) represent the last chapter in the story of the people of God.
Instead, just as stones can be “thrown down” from a building…one by one…to reveal the end of something that once was…so too can a stone be rolled away from a tomb…revealing a brand new beginning. That’s the lesson we, followers of Jesus, must see…and take to heart.
Rolling stones….how sweet the sound….that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind…but now…I see.