Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – Nov. 14, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The things we think are indestructible often aren’t. The things we think will last forever sometimes don’t
The temple in Jerusalem is a good example of this. It was among the greatest architectural feats of the ancient world. It consisted of enormous stones slowly and carefully put into place by thousands of conscripted laborers over the course of many years. It was engineered with the intention that it would stand tall on Mount Moriah for thousands of years. Some of the stones used in construction were forty feet wide! The temple was the pride and joy of Israel. It was the jewel of Jerusalem. For many hundreds of years, it was the center of religious and civic life for the Jewish people.
We hear in our gospel reading for today how the disciples came out of the temple and marveled at its construction. One of them said, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” This disciple was referring to the temple and the equally impressive adjacent buildings of the temple complex. But instead of marveling with them, Jesus made an ominous prediction. He said, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
And sure enough, in 70 AD, that’s exactly what happened. As part of the brutal and devastating sack of Jerusalem, the Romans brought the temple to the ground. They built fires under those immense stones, heating them up until they cracked, and the buildings came tumbling down. Today there is only a remnant left, appropriately referred to as “the Wailing Wall.” It was not only physically destructive, it was spiritually and emotionally devastating as well. The Jewish people continue to remember the destruction of the temple on a day of remembrance called Tisha B’av, just like we Americans commemorate 9-11.
The things we think are indestructible often aren’t. The things we often think will last forever sometimes don’t.
This past September marked the 20th anniversary of 9-11. To mark the occasion my wife and I watched a new documentary on the attacks of that terrible day, and it all came flooding back: the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center, the people at street level screaming as they watched the impact, the confused, and then visibly shaken newscasters who were trying to keep it together as they reported the unthinkable, the buildings on fire, the eventual collapse of one tower, and then the other, the people running away, covered in ash and dust. On that horrible day, it felt like a world we once knew was crashing down around us.
On September 11, 2001, my wife was seven months pregnant with our first child. That night we were scheduled to attend our first childbirth class at Northern Montana hospital. We called to make sure it was still happening, and it was, so off we went. And as the world outside seemed to be falling apart, we sat on mats beside other expectant couples, learning how to breathe through pain. Even though we were scared and hurting and disoriented by the days’ events, we looked to the future with hope. These babies were going to be born no matter what was going on in the world! The miracle of new life was just around the corner, and it was more powerful than the death and chaos of that day.
The disciples were understandably alarmed when Jesus said the temple would come crashing down. They wanted to know when this would happen. They wanted details. They wanted to know what to look for as a sign that it would happen. But Jesus was silent about the details. He gave them no signs to look for. Instead, Jesus encouraged them to hold fast to him, and not the imposters who would come in his name. He told them to not be alarmed. They weren’t to be discouraged or afraid. All kinds of earth-shattering, life changing things would take place, and he told them to think of those things as being like birth pangs. Birth pangs! They were painful, to be sure, but those pangs were also full of hope. Those pangs were no doubt difficult, but they would ultimately usher in new life and a new future.
I have heard people describe the last couple of years we’ve been living through as a “slow motion 9-11.” I think that’s a pretty accurate description. We’re living through a time that is confusing and disorienting. We’re living through a time of trauma and fear. The pandemic and the riots and the political turmoil has all led to a sense that there is little we can rely on. It sometimes feels like everything is crashing down around us. Our very way of life seems to be more vulnerable than we’d imagined it could ever be.
Add to this the smaller scale crises people go through all the time: a lost job, a devastating diagnosis, the death of a loved one, a divorce. Sometimes the foundations upon which we build our lives come crashing down around us.
The things we think are indestructible often aren’t. The things we think will last forever sometimes don’t.
We are always living in the so-called end times, and so we can expect that things will continue to come up out of nowhere to upend our lives. As Jesus tells us, there will be wars and rumors of wars. Nations will continue to rise against nations. There will be earthquakes and famines and all kinds of other life changing calamites, both on a global scale and on a deeply personal level. Jesus is very clear about this.
But even as Jesus is honest about the world’s future before the kingdom comes in its fullness, he teaches us how to live in the midst of all of this. Jesus teaches us how to breath through pain. He calls us to hold to him and not be led astray by imposters, by false gods which promise comfort but deliver only more emptiness and heartache and ruin. He calls us to cling to him as we ride this out. Jesus tells us to not be alarmed. Christians should not be surprised by calamity. It should not lead us to despair. Instead of being alarmed or discouraged or afraid, we are called to live in hope. “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs,” Jesus promises.
So breathe through the pain, my friends. Hold fast to Christ. Do not be alarmed when things come tumbling down around you. Cling to Christ and live in hope, and with courage, and even with joyful expectation. Because our Lord Jesus says that all these painful calamities we experience in life are but birth pangs. Breathe through the pain. Christ promises us that new life is on the way.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church