Posted on Nov 18, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
When we ended our Gospel reading last week, Jesus and the disciples were sitting in the Temple watching people giving their money to the treasury in the Temple. There were people watching, and specifically, Jesus called out the generosity displayed by the poor widow who had given all she had, two copper coins. And as we begin our reading today, Jesus and the disciples are leaving the Temple and the city itself when we get to hear their conversation. As I noted last week, Jesus had just challenged the disciples to live by, and proclaim, what is called a theology of abundance, which Walter Brueggemann defines as “you always have 'enough' so it’s easy to give some of it away.”
Now, as they are walking out of the city, the disciples notice the physical abundance. “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” (13:1). They get it, the Holy Temple, the holy city are massive; surely the Israelite nation will always be here with a temple and a city such as this; surely we will always have enough. Such an incredible place will always be here for us. But, without missing a beat, Jesus blows their conclusion away, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (13:2). As Emily said in our staff meeting a couple of weeks ago, after reading this story, “Jesus, he’s a real upper sometimes.” Just when the disciples seem to get it, Jesus says, no, that’s not it. These enormous, abundant buildings are going away. And with that statement, Jesus and the disciples continue their walk out of the city, across the valley to the Mount of Olives, where they overlook the Temple and the city.
Now, you have to believe that the disciples felt somewhat confused and dejected after such a rebuke, and so a few of them come to Jesus and want to know when all this will happen. They want dates, times, and specifics. And so, Jesus continues with what seems to be a pessimistic view of the future. He proceeds to talk about things like wars happening, kingdoms falling, famines, and even natural disasters such as earthquakes. If he was trying to bolster them up or give a pep talk about the future, he sure wasn’t very good at it. Or was he? You see, all too often we get stuck on the dire news Jesus offers here when he says these things will happen, and we fail to hear the real promise offered here. When these things happen, Jesus says, as awful as they sound, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (13:8). And there is the Good News!
Yes, awful things will happen, but they are just part of the journey that in the end will end with the promised salvation. They are just the signs that the new creation that God is working on is becoming a reality, and we have all we need to withstand the suffering and the hardships of this world in Christ Jesus.
Was Jesus talking about the political upheaval, the natural disasters, and the conflicts of the faith community of his day, or today? And the answer to that is yes. Jesus was saying that what we experienced then and what we are experiencing now is proof that God’s kingdom is dawning. He says they are the birth pangs of the best that is yet to come. That is the good news!
Now, I don’t want to belittle birth pangs here. I have never given birth to a child, but having been in the delivery room three times, I think I am safe to say it was hard work for Jill. It was scary, it was difficult, it hurt, but the absolute joy she experienced when she held each one of our children for the first time was incredible. I remember thinking as she was delivering our first child, she will never do this again, and yet, when it was over, all she could talk about was having another child. You see, as hard as each birth was, the end result was new life, and for Jill, it was worth every pain, every ache, and every bit of the struggle. I know that is easy for me to say as a man, but you can ask her if you don’t believe me.
As we look around the world, and for some of us even as we look around our own faith community, we see and are experiencing pain and struggle and suffering. The political upheaval that is rampant today is awful. Occurrences such as the horrific mass shootings, the natural disasters such as the fires in California, seem to be never-ending. These things are causing us to lose hope. Even the decision last week by this congregation to proceed with selling this property has caused some of us to lose hope, and yet, the promise that Jesus is offering today is that these things are signs that God is bringing the “old age” to an end and at the same time God is ushering in “God’s new age.”
Now, please do not leave here telling your friends that your pastor said the mass shootings and killings, or that the death and destruction caused by the wildfires in California, are God’s way of changing the world. No, that isn’t what I am saying. What I am saying is that although these things are happening and as hard as they are to bear and as horrific as they are to witness and suffer through, God is also at work bringing about new life. As people of faith, we are not exempt from the devastating blows that this broken world continues to throw at us, but as we hear the cries of those who have suffered from the devastation of hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, abuse, political persecution, racism, and even those who suffer the loss of the very way they have come to know, we stand with them knowing that in and through God’s grace, we will find the pathway through the destruction and devastation to receive God’s promise of salvation.
So as I said in my Staff Trax letter this week, Jesus is offering us today a message of hope and promise in the midst of doom and gloom. We live each day in the “already/but not yet.” God’s promise and our hope for God’s new kingdom of love and grace is already here, but it is not yet fulfilled. We are being challenged today to the fundamental core of our faith, which is that we are called to place our trust in and reliance upon God as the cornerstone of our life and our life together. Jesus is reminding us today that we can trust God and that God is faithful. God’s promise of a better future is real, but that future will not come without work and commitment on our part. We have to be committed to God’s future, not ours. Too often, we cling to our hopes and dreams and fail to realize that the future we are being called into is not our future, but God’s promised future for us and all God’s creation.
In just a few moments, you will be invited to come forward, to offer your weekly offerings and/or your 2019 pledges. So today, in the midst of all that is going on in our lives, I hope and pray that each of us remembers that God is working in, with, and through us to bring about this promised future. We are the very hands and feet of Christ, and we are called give our life to Christ so that God’s promised future will be a reality, because the best is yet to come.
Brothers and sisters, our strength is not in our ways, it is not in the ways of this world, it is not in the buildings we love; no, the promise Jesus offers today, The Good News he proclaims, is that our hope and promise of a better future lies in Christ, the true temple. Amen.