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25th Sunday after Pentecost

SCRIPTURE:  Mark 13:1-8

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

 

SERMON:  Crumbling Dreams, Mark 13:1-8, November 18, 2012

Has anyone here seen the Washington Monument?  It is the world's tallest stone structure. But it's been closed recently out of concerns for safety. The Washington Monument is one of the most well known, man-made structures in the world. But, following an earthquake in the area, cracks developed, and the monument was closed to the public.

That the Washington Monument could come tumbling to the ground in a pile of rubble is as startling as, well ... as startling as Jesus suggesting that the temple, an architectural crown jewel of the Middle East would someday be reduced to a pile of rubble. Even the most impressive works of human beings are fragile and temporary.

It is a well-known truth that every man-made thing will ultimately crack and crumble. Even the best of what we "build" in this life -- be it a monument to a president, the house of our dreams, a sterling reputation or a portfolio filled with cash -- is susceptible to the elements and, ultimately, is only temporary.

According to Mark's gospel, this passage records Jesus' final departure from the temple at the conclusion of his third visit. Earlier, Mark records that the first temple visit occurred late in the day and was brief -- "he looked around at everything" and then returned to Bethany (Mark 11:11). During his second visit, Jesus "entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple" (Mark 11:15).

Indignant at the misuse, Jesus censured the religious leaders for the inappropriate economic pursuits they had allowed on their watch. They were profaning God's sacred house (cf. Mark 11:15-19); they had gutted the temple's heart and soul, which was to be selfless worship of God.

Meanwhile, as the disciples stared like tourists at Herod's incredible accomplishment, Jesus offered this: "Do you see these great buildings?

There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down" (Mark 13:2 ESV). His blindness is reinforced by Jesus' reply: "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down" (v. 2).

Jesus was relentless in exposing the chief priests and scribes hypocrisy. Jesus was addressing established religion. Temple ‘worship’ but no heart worship. Everything was for show, to impress priests, make things easy for themselves.  Jesus knew their hearts were far from God.

By the disciples' asking, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" -- indicates that they were shocked by Jesus' prophecy about the temple's destruction.

After all, by all accounts, the temple was an amazing piece of architecture. At the time of Jesus' ministry, it had been under construction for almost 50 years and was finally nearing completion.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, notes, "The exterior of the building wanted nothing that could astound either mind or eye. For, being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white."

Some of the largest stones were 40 feet long, 12 feet high, 18 feet wide and bright white in their appearance. This was more than a temple in which to worship God; it was an incredible accomplishment of human ingenuity.

And yet Christ made it clear to his disciples that there would come a day when even this awe-inspiring work of Herod's hands, and all it represented, would be toppled. Toppled, not by earthquakes or marauding armies but ultimately by God.

As God's people, we must not link our peace to the tangible work of our hands, so that when those works crumble our hope does not topple along with them.

Nevertheless, we have to work. We have to build, construct, earn a living, aspire to greatness, create, design, erect, develop, tame, sow and reap, put a roof over our heads, build roads, schools, hospitals and so on. It is in the very DNA of the human being, a being created in the imago dei, to work and be pleased with the work of our hands.

Is God displeased with the work of our hands? No. Our Creator God has given us the ability to imagine, create, and build endless ideas and concepts. But God does not approve of being displaced or replaced by these things as most often happens in secular society, esp. in the arts, sciences and medicine.

The question then becomes how we might rightly marvel at the accomplishments of human beings without being those who link the accomplishment of our hands to the righteousness of our hearts. Jesus was too well acquainted with those who were great at doing, but not so great at being.

Moreover, we tend to become enamored of our creation and forget the Creator. We are a blessed and incredible people. However, if, in the end, rather than simply enjoying the work of our hands and the "blessings" in our lives we make those things the center of our lives, we become dangerously distracted.

We can join David in his declaration of Psalm 20 that, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright" (Psalm 20:7 ESV).

Once we have admitted to ourselves that we are prone to distractions when confronted with the works of our own hands, we can develop a habit that does something about it.

What if every time your jaw dropped in awe at something made by human hands, you redirected your thinking, grabbed a hold of the opportunity, as a chance to give praise to God? After all, our ability to create -- be it buildings in the skyline of Dubai, monuments in D.C., or even a project in our backyard -- is simply an expression of our having been made in the image of God as the ultimate builder and Creator.

Therefore, every time we get impressed with ourselves, it is also an opportunity to praise God for the creative impulse God has given us.

Herod's temple did eventually come crumbling down. In 70 A.D., the Roman army toppled the temple and most of the city as it struck down a Jewish rebellion. The glorious, man-made structure, that stood some 15 stories high, and which was laden with gold and served as the symbol of power, strength and a chosen status for so many people of that day, came crashing to the ground.

This is what often happens to the works of our hands. Temples topple. Titanics sink. Monuments crack. Our own creations crumble. Even the best of what we "build" or “create” in this life is susceptible to the elements. In time, it will prove to be merely temporary.

Author Kathleen Norris offers an interesting parallel to Jesus discussing the temple’s demise with his disciples.

The date is September 10, 2001. A family of tourists from the Midwest steps out of a yellow cab in Lower Manhattan. They walk a short distance, until their eyes are pulled upward by the amazing sight before them.

It's a massive skyscraper, larger than any they've ever seen: one of the two towers of the World Trade Center. Its twin stands nearby, equally demanding their attention. They are so much bigger than they had imagined those towers: broad across the base, soaring majestically in height.

Just then, the tourist family from the Midwest hears a voice: a strident voice. "Repent!" cries the voice. "The end is near. One day soon, not one stone of these towers will be left standing upon another!"

"Just some religious fanatic," explains the husband, laughing nervously, before leading his wife and children over to ask for directions to the Observation Deck.

Had such a scene actually occurred on September 10, 2001, it would hardly have seemed remarkable. Street preachers are part of the life of any major city.

Who would have taken that man seriously? Who could have known -- except, perhaps, a small group of terrorists, putting the final changes on their dreadful conspiracy -- that the very next day, the words of that street-corner preacher would prove absolutely correct?

Likewise, who could have known, either, that Jesus' prediction about the future of the temple was absolutely correct?   

So -- in what will we anchor our hopes? Where will we look to for peace? In what are we investing our treasure? Are we focused more on the awe-inspiring, but fleeting accomplishments and monuments of men and women?

If our answers tend toward yes, then it's time to confess the fact because we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment in the end.

Instead of banking on false hopes, we can learn to redeem our moments of awe as opportunities to give praise to God. I heard a mature Christian man once say, I can even praise God for that woman’s exquisite beauty because God chose to make her that way. Rather than objectifying a person, we can learn to give thanks for God’s amazing creativity.

Let us be wise and anchor our hearts and hopes more deeply to those things that last. Let’s make a practice of investing our time and treasures in eternal, God things. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Even the most impressive works of human beings are fragile and temporary. However, as we focus on God’s eternal kingdom, when cracks do emerge, our hope is unshaken because it is anchored in Christ. Amen.

 

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