When It All Comes Crashing Down

It’s all going to come crashing down.

That’s the Good News of Jesus Christ given to us today in our gospel lesson, straight from the mouth of Jesus himself.

How is that Good News?

That’s going to take some unpacking, so let’s get to it.

In our gospel from Mark today, Jesus is predicting the destruction of the temple.

In the year 70 C.E., the Jerusalem Temple, in which Jesus and the disciples were walking in this gospel passage, was literally destroyed by the Romans.

It was a catastrophe of the highest order, one the disciples could hardly imagine that day that they walked through it with Jesus, admiring the strength and beauty of the pillars and porticos.

The Temple was a sign and a symbol of so many things to the disciples. It meant strength, security, the loving presence of Almighty God in the Holy of Holies, and identity as a Jewish people.

Of course they love and admire it!

“’Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’”

This is not news the disciples want to hear, but they have learned enough to take Jesus seriously when he talks to them, so they follow up and ask him later when will this happen.

Jesus, in his delightful way of continually refusing to do as we ask of him to satisfy our agendas, doesn’t answer him.

The disciples ask him when the Temple will be destroyed, how they will know it is coming, and he says, “Beware that no one leads you astray.”

Well, thanks, Jesus, but that’s not what we asked.

I was talking with our Bible study folks at St. Luke’s this week and pointing out that Jesus does not answer the question the disciples ask, and also that this is very common for Jesus to do.

So then I began to wonder, and I started to think—I very much doubt Jesus is giving the “wrong” answer.

It seems far more likely that the disciples are asking the wrong question.

Jesus always gives us the answer we need.

So if it feels like a non sequitur, a disjointed, misplaced answer to our question, we probably need to realize: we are asking the wrong question.

The disciples’ question: “When will it happen? How will we know it’s coming?” was of course natural to ask.

And I’m guessing that these questions lie on top of deeper questions, questions like, “How can God let this happen? Will I survive it? Why does this have to happen? Can I escape it?”

We have all discovered again to our grief and dismay that apocalypse is a heartbeat away for any of us at any time in our violent world.

The deaths of 127 people in Paris on Friday confirmed that the Temple can come crashing down at any moment.

The places we consider safe and solid and the everyday symbols of our identity and our common life are no match for the forces of chaos and death in the world.

That was true when Jesus spoke to his disciples outside the Temple and it’s true today.

Somehow we are still surprised when things come crashing down in these tragic, violent events, even though Jesus told us they were coming.

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines,” he says.

For many people, these crises like mass shootings and bombings that result in the deaths of innocent people drive them to despair and faltering faith. “How can God let this happen?” they ask. “I feel so helpless.”

This is where we need to take an important step, and where Jesus’ words are going to help us tremendously.

What we don’t realize is that when tragedies and chaos and violence are happening in the outside world, more than one type of apocalypse is unfolding.

There is an obvious external apocalypse, whether that is the shootings in Paris or your own diagnosis of cancer, the fight for justice in Ferguson or Baltimore or your spouse losing a job, the rapid disintegration of the rainforests or your child’s struggles in school.

This external apocalypse can seem an almost constant state at times, accelerating down a mountain to destruction.

But what we may not realize is that often these external crises are driving something else: an internal apocalypse.

What does it feel like when the Temple is thrown down and utterly destroyed within your own mind, within your own soul?

What are the pillars and stones and foundations of your life that you think are utterly solid?

Can you imagine them being thrown down and destroyed?

What would happen then?

Let me give you a few examples.

Here are some statements we might make that we consider foundations stones of our lives, immutable, solid, fixed. I am a parent, and I try to be a loving parent. I work hard at my job. My family and friends love me, and I love them. I’m proud to be an American. I am a Christian.

How could any of those statements be called into question?

The truth is that God is the only fixed point in our entire lives.

I am a parent, and I try to be a loving parent. Think that’s impossible to change?

Think of those parents who have lost children, or who as a result of mental illness or addiction have lashed out in violence against their own children.

Do you think they then would be forced to question their identity as parents, as loving parents?

Can you imagine that happening to you?

That’s what it feels like when the Temple is thrown down.

My family and friends love me, and I love them. Doesn’t get much more basic than that, does it?

Surely that statement could never be overturned.

What if you found out that a family member had been abusing someone or carrying on an affair for years and you didn’t know it?

What if a friend found out some secret of yours and turned his back on you?

Can you imagine that happening to you?

That’s what it feels like when the Temple is thrown down.

I’m proud to be an American. Surely that will always be true.

Are you proud of everything that’s ever happened in this country?

Are you proud of the injustices we still struggle with and harbor today?

What if our country did something truly unconscionable and you suddenly understood why some other people in the world hate our nation?

Can you imagine that happening?

That’s what it feels like when the Temple is thrown down.

I am a Christian.

Surely I’m not going to stand here in the pulpit and tell you that’s not a fixed point.

Well, I’m not here to lie to you. I’m here to be honest with you, and that type of internal apocalypse can happen in a lot of different ways.

For some people it’s exactly these types of tragedies like the shootings in Paris that drain away their faith.

Other people experience a call to another religion or another spiritual path, often when they confuse the Church with being a Christian, and the failings of the Church drive them away.

Some people wake up one day and none of it makes sense any more. The niggling fear that we’ve made all of this up just to comfort ourselves in the darkness takes over and they are left adrift.

Can you imagine that happening to you?

“Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down,” Jesus says.

Well, we’re up the creek now, aren’t we?

“Why is this happening?” we ask Jesus, both of the external and the internal apocalypse.

But as we learned with the disciples, we’re asking the wrong question.

The question is not “How can we prevent this from happening?” or “How can we escape it?”

The answer Jesus gives us to our wrongly asked question is “Beware that no one leads you astray.”

So it becomes clear that the question we should have asked is, “What is the greatest threat to us in the midst of this unavoidable apocalypse?”

The greatest threat is losing sight of Jesus and who he really is.

The rest of it can go hang.

All those markers of our identity—parent, friend, child, American, Christian—they may survive or they may be thrown down.

If they are thrown down, that will not be what will destroy us.

The only true threat will be if we forget Jesus.

And Jesus’ answer to our unasked question continues: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.”

Do not be alarmed, this must take place.

This is where we finally make the turn to Good News.

This is all in aid of something greater.

The apocalypse is not the end. It is the beginning.

All of the carefully crafted identities and lodestones of security with which we have fenced in our hearts have to be destroyed before God can do a new work in us.

And that is what is coming. Jesus says so.

“These are but the beginnings of the birthpangs,” he says.

The apocalypse is the precursor to new birth.

Labor is painful, but it is for a goal of new life.

And so we learn that we must greet apocalypse in our lives with a new awareness.

The natural emotions that we feel—grief, anger, fear, pain—those are real and need to be acknowledged.

But Jesus calls us to add a new knowledge to that mix, the knowledge that this destruction in our lives is ultimately in aid of something bigger and greater, something new, something that is part of the truth that Love is more real than death.



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