Have you ever experienced, something that you really loved, come tumbling down around you?
For close to 50 years, my parents had a beautiful home in the North Vancouver Highlands. My Mother was a wonderful gardener. In the spring and summer, their property was a sight to behold: clematis, climbing roses, the smell of honeysuckle, magnificent floral displays –shaded by flowering plum and cherry trees; graced by the chatter of bird-song. It was a little piece of heaven, on earth; where family and friends could rest awhile, catch up on life, while basking in the beauty of God’s creation. I assumed that the family home would always be there. But…as the saying goes: Nothing lasts forever!
Sure enough, the day came – two years after my Mother’s passing – when Dad decided the time had come for him to move into a retirement residence. The family home got sold, torn down by a Developer…and that special garden that held so many lovely memories, ploughed under. Needless to say, I haven’t gone back.
Change happens. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Temples that we build up – whether literally or figuratively - will one day fall down. We don't like to imagine it. We certainly don't like to plan for it. But, we know --for one reason or another— it will happen. That's how Jesus reacted when his disciples were admiring the grandeur of the great temple in first-century Jerusalem. Apparently, it was, a tremendous structure, ‘adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God’; a symbol of God's greatness and glory.
But Jesus knew it would one day fall. He could not say for sure when it would be; but he knew it would be an awful event when it happened. It would seem like the end of the world to all that worshiped there; it would be painful for them; everything the people worked for, suddenly, Gone!
However, Jesus also knew that the temple's destruction would not mean the end of God's creation; it would not mean the end of salvation. Although the physical stones will be thrown down; the spiritual stones would endure. There may be some signs towards the end. Jesus famously mentions some of them in the gospels. Signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars; in the wars, famines, plagues and earthquakes.
These signs, however, usually indicate larger cycles of time, cycles that we are not yet aware of. We think it is the end of the world; but it is just the end of that particular stage of our world. Like the passing of my parents and our family home, and all it symbolized, in mine. In times of personal crisis, our natural inclination is to try and find our own way out. Rarely will this work for our salvation. In the midst of crisis, we are called to be patient (but not passive); waiting for Jesus to work through us, and for us. Rarely, in this life, do we have control over the future. Things will not always go the way we think they should…. especially in regards to how we think God should be working in the world. There is always a temptation to reach out and try to make things go our way.
I believe today’s Gospel passage shows us that the redemption and salvation of the world is beyond our control. While we are called to participate in what God is doing, ultimately we must wait patiently for Christ to fill us and show us the way. Some life transitions can hurt more than others. Change is never easy.
But they are signs that the kingdom of God is near. When you are encountering the anxiety of any change in your life, be assured that you are not far from God in that experience. God will be the change agent. God will be making all things new. But we don't have to wait for the end times. There can be new life on each day of the year. If there is ending each day, there is also new life each day. If there are things being thrown down, there are also things ready to be built up. Jesus also taught his disciples that, at some time in their lives, they will suffer. Suffering is not something that we hope for. Yet as gold is purified in the fire, so are we.
Suffering sifts through our hearts; whether it is suffering that comes in the pain of illness, the trials of everyday life, or persecution: our true self is revealed. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognize the presence of God in our lives. I don’t think it was any accident that Jesus spoke about the trials of the Last Times just as his own passion and death were approaching. For many, the time before death does not come easy. Physical suffering is often compounded with fear and uncertainty. But like the grain of wheat that dies, when we die to ourselves we become alive to something greater: we discover that the life we have come to possess is not just our own, it’s Christ living in us.
No doubt God enjoys seeing the end results of our physical labours, the things we work so hard to build up in our lives. But, more so, when we build up people and relationships. I believe God loves our learning and our serving, our hugging, crying and our laughing. Because, with all the good things that we do in life, God is creating with us; God is building us into a living temple, the Body of Christ. So, I believe we are called to live in the midst of a world that is often difficult and confusing. We are called to a faith that looks above and beyond our personal circumstances; we need endurance in order to hang in, through tough times.
We are called to remember that God remains present in the world and in one’s life even when things have gotten so bad that it feels like the world is closing in on us Because Jesus loves us, his Word always tells us the truth, even when it is hard to find the good news behind the dire predictions. This morning’s Gospel passage is the last chapter before the Passion. Jesus clearly sees what he must endure for our sake. He looks beyond his looming agony and foretells what we must endure for his sake. To carry us home, Jesus will soon carry his cross. To follow him home, we must carry our cross.
It is no coincidence that, in the very midst of the world’s chaos and destruction, that the disciples find an oasis of hope and peace in Christian community and in journeying together as disciples. Jesus assures his disciples that no matter what comes their way their perseverance in the faith will see them through. God will not abandon God’s own. We are told: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
So being rooted in God’s love, we are called to move out, into the world, building networks that share God’s love with those who need it most, those rejected by society; left wounded on the doorstep of life. It is our call to do the little things that open the door so that they may come in and be received into the loving arms of God. Because we will face opposition, our perseverance matters. Because evil doers will place stumbling blocks in our path, perseverance matters. However, our lights will shine in the darkness: reflecting the light of Christ to a chaotic, hurting and broken world.
So do not be dismayed. When the going gets tough, pray to God; do good works. Be generous to others. Immerse yourself in community. Show up for worship; and dine at the Lord’s table. Don’t ever give up; have courage. Your effort makes all the difference in this world; and, for the sake of the life to come. Just hang in there….and even if your 'temples' fall, you won't lose what’s most important: because You, are a beloved child of God.
The Rev. Juanita Clark