THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 65: 17-25
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Luke 21: 5-19
“Not a hair”
In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus as He teaches the disciples about the impending destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; what was for Judeans the end of the world.
But how should we understand these words?
How should we understand the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; an event that actually did take place just decades after Jesus’ lesson?
How do we understand a world in which the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, but as for the rest of the world, it seems to have survived, at least for now.
Do the words of Jesus fit together with the doomsday prophets of our own time? With those who appear in the news every so many years to announce that this time, finally they have gotten the predictions right?
In one sense this end of the world language is difficult for us to hear and believe.
It is difficult for us to hear and believe because it is all too easy to decide that it does not apply to us:
It’s easy to decide that it refers to something which took place a long time ago and no longer has meaning.
It’s easy to decide that whatever the date or the form that the end of the world takes, it is too difficult to interpret the signs and so maybe we just shouldn’t worry about it.
It’s easy to decide that while this apocalyptic language, this end of the world language has a comfortable home in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, that it no longer means what it used to:
The world has not ended
We are still here
We still have things to do
So let’s not lose too much sleep over it
We have put far too much work into this world, too much effort, too much money; we have sacrificed too much for the here and now that we are not going to spend time thinking about how it will all end someday.
However, my friends, I would suggest that it is exactly for this reason that we should pay attention to these words and to hear them with renewed faith and renewed Grace, because in the end, there is real Good News in them.
Luke tells us at the beginning of this morning’s reading that as Jesus and the disciples were walking along in Jerusalem, “some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.” (v. 5)
It is helpful to remember here that most of the disciples, and Jesus Himself, were not from the big city of Jerusalem.
We can imagine them as humble people, hailing from simple villages, tucked beside a small sea in an out-of-the-way Roman province called Judea.
The disciples were not so different from any good, humble country folks, either now or then, who find themselves in the big city: they were impressed by what they did not have back at home:
Master, look at this place! Look at all the people! The Markets! The buildings! Master look at the Temple, isn’t it beautiful!
Though Saskatoon has its share of impressive architecture and beautiful buildings, there isn’t anything here like a CN Tower or a St. Peter’s Basilica.
These buildings mean something to us, as peoples and as nations, they give us pride in the countries we live in, and in the world we share, they show us the best of what can be accomplished through human ingenuity, cooperation, and good old hard work.
Imagine their surprise then, when Jesus’ cool response came:
“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down”
Last April, the world watched in horror as a terrible fire ripped through the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Even in our busy world, it seemed like we all stopped to notice the destruction that was happening:
Every news station and website showed coverage of the fire
The online world took to Facebook and Twitter to give their condolences and support to the French people
Everyone, it seemed, could talk about nothing other than Notre Dame in the days that followed.
It didn’t seem possible, it didn’t seem right, that a building and a symbol (of France, of the Church, of Western Civilization) which had existed for hundreds of years might just vanish from the earth.
But even that event, and the loss that we feared and shared, can only give us a shadow of an idea of what it was like for the disciples to hear Jesus’ words that day:
“the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down”
And, indeed, that is exactly what happened to the Temple in AD 70 when Jerusalem was sieged by Rome.
In those days, as the might of the Roman army clamped down on the political unrest that was happening in Judea, they set their sites on the Temple.
Roman soldiers stood on the edges of the Temple and literally threw the stones down off of it, disassembling it brick… by… brick…
The Second Temple, which had existed for nearly six hundred years, was no more.
But even more terrible than that, for the Judean people, God’s home was no more.
The place where God dwelt, the place where the Holiest of the Holies rested, the only place where God’s People could expect to encounter the presence of the living God was now nothing but rubble, trampled by an unstoppable force.
For Judea, for a nation, for a people, for a faith: the destruction of the Temple seemed not as the destruction of a building, it was the destruction of their history, of their God, of their culture; it was the end of the Judean world.
Like anyone considering the end of the world, the disciples’ first question was “well, when?”:
“Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”
And Jesus laid it out for them:
He told them about false prophets, saying “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am He’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them”
He told them about how to keep heart when things became difficult:
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven”
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.”
“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.”
What started out—for Jesus’ disciples—as a day of seeing the sites, of witnessing the buildings, and admiring the Temple had turned into a chilling vision of what was about to take place.
At the beginning of this message, I said that (in one sense) it is difficult for us living in this time and place to hear and believe the apocalyptic language of this text because we just have so much invested in the world we know.
However, in another sense, we are used to talking about impending destruction.
Since at least 2006 and the release of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” it seems like all we can do is talk about the end of the world, not in a biblical sense, but an ecological one.
Judging by the division that one 16 year old from Sweden has revealed in us, we are anything but in agreement on the prophecy.
Some have come to claim the hurricanes and high temperatures as signs of the end times.
While others use their voice to denounce these visions, saying that there is no need to change our way of life.
Battle lines have been drawn
Figures have been lifted as either prophets or martyrs
Just like in the time of the Temple’s destruction, people have been labelled as either soldiers, for an uncaring empire or radical insurgents set on creating chaos.
In a world where political battle lines, generational divides, and understandings of our responsibility to the climate get deeper and deeper every year it is anyone’s guess what will happen next, but it seems unlikely to be peaceful.
Friends, the point here is not to say that we are on the “eve of destruction,” only to say that Mark Twain seems to have been right when he said:
“History does not repeat itself but it often rhymes”
As history continues to rhyme along, as we move forward into a time that so many climate change figures speak about as the last days before end of the world, we have more reason than ever to look and listen to the one who teaches us the Truth of the Gospel:
That in this time of new empires and new insurgents.
In this time when, indeed, some of us may live to see the things we have always taken for granted be dismantled and come to an end, Christ has taught us what it means to live in a world that is but a shadow of the world to come.
And even though we are talking about complicated and controversial things, I will be bold enough in Christ’s Word to point to just two lessons:
- Do not cling too tightly to the things of this world
- Remember the promise of God’s love
First, do not cling too tightly to the things of this world:
Friends, it is no mistake that to a group of disciples, to a group of Judeans, who could imagine nothing more horrible than the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, that Jesus Christ tells them it is all about to come tumbling down.
In following Christ in the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we are called over and over again to not cling too tightly to the things of this world, because they are not made to last:
Nations cease to be
Families become divided
Only the love of God endures forever
To these Judeans, formed in the Jewish faith, it was unthinkable that God’s dwelling place could be destroyed.
How could God’s home be destroyed?
If there was no Temple, then there was no God in Judea, and if there was no God for God’s People, then what was the point?
However, what we know as people living after the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, that the disciples did not is that God is not confined to a Temple.
In that moment, the fullness of God was dwelling in Jerusalem but not in
Rather than dwell in this building of stone, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in the Rabbi from Nazareth, Jesus Christ.
A Man and God who was about to be lifted high in Jerusalem, not as a symbol of power, not as a symbol of permanence, but as one who gave himself over to death in order to save the world from sin.
Christ preached destruction of the things we cling to as one who was about to willingly lay down His life for the salvation of all.
Christ told the disciples all that was about to take place in Judea, not to be frightening, not to break their hearts, but in order to show them the Truth:
That there is nothing in this world worth clinging to apart from Christ.
Not our buildings, Not our institutions, Not our cities
Not our economy, Not our ways of living, Not even our families
All will pass away.
All will come to an end.
The first Truth that Christ points us to is that nothing in this world will last forever; the second lesson is to point us toward the only thing that will.
As Jesus taught the disciples about the destruction and the loss they would endure because of His name, He ended by showing them that even the end of the world ends with Good News:
“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
In His apocalyptic words, Jesus instructs the disciples that though the end of the world will cause them great pain, though the end of the world will cause them to be persecuted and betrayed, that they would lose not even “a hair of their heads.”
Even at the end of the world, there is Good News.
There is Good News in Jesus Christ that God will not allow those who believe in Him to perish.
There is Good News in Christ, who not only calls us not to cling too tightly to the treasure we have stored up in this world, but who also gives us the promise of deliverance and life everlasting.
That in the same moment we were freed from death itself on the cross, Christ also freed us from anything which could separate us from the love of God:
From the need to cling to what is known.
From the need to hurl political stones.
From the temptation to follow false prophets.
From everything save for the one thing in which we live and move and have our being, from now until after the end of time.
The love of God and the salvation of His Son Jesus Christ.