I have some pictures I want to show you, and you can tell me if the thing in the picture is old or new. Here’s the first one (broken down car). Old or new? It’s old! How do you know? Yes, it’s worn out and broken and falling apart. Here’s the next one (worn out shoes). Old again! How do you know? Because they’re falling apart. And the next one (worn out soccer ball). Yep—old again. And how did you know? It’s falling apart. And the last one (abandoned farm house). Old again. Why? Because it’s falling apart.
You knew that the things in the pictures were old because they were falling apart. In our gospel passage today, the disciples are looking at the Temple and just how big and fancy it is. Some of its stones were 40 feet long! It was amazing. But Jesus reminded them that it’s only a building—that even big buildings don’t last forever.
He wasn’t trying to be mean, but he wanted them to understand that things fall apart. And when lots of things fall apart at the same time—which he knew would happen to the disciples—it can get really scary really fast. If they only focus on the kinds of things that fall apart, they’ll always be scared. But Jesus reminds them that God doesn’t fall apart. God doesn’t leave. God will be with them even when they are really scared. And they can trust in God. That’s the good news. God is always with us and will never leave us—especially when we’re scared.
Let’s pray. Thank you God for reminding us that even when everything around us falls apart, you are with us and will hold us close. Amen.
As I thought about the gospel passage this week, I was reminded of the movie, “Shallow Hal.” Hal, played by Jack Black, is a guy who has considered himself God’s gift to women, and he and his friend, Jason Alexander, are always looking for the sexy gals they think they deserve. But the women overlook these men every time. Hal happens upon Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker, who sees Hal for the shallow man he is. He hypnotizes Hal into seeing the inner beauty of those around him, and it changes his life. He falls in love with his boss’ daughter. Everyone else sees her obesity, but he only sees her gracious and giving spirit. The people who are classically beautiful on the outside but mean and selfish on the inside appear to Hal as simply shriveled up and gross.
In the same way, the disciples look upon the Temple and see what everyone else sees—massive stones, glorious architecture. It is said that Herod the Great, in rebuilding the Temple, covered the whole outside in so much gold that it would blind those who looked upon it for too long. The disciples saw power and prestige. They saw a fortress. They saw the home of God. But Jesus saw something different.
He saw the people upon whose backs the Temple was built. He saw the poor who were still required to give. He saw the travelers who were overcharged for sacrificial animals. He saw a system that was anything but godly. He saw corruption and weakness, abuse of authority. He saw sin—not power. He saw fragility—not strength. He saw ruins and destruction. “Not one stone will be left upon another.”
But the disciples couldn’t believe anything so drastic could ever happen to such a great monument—especially if God truly did reside there. But as I mentioned briefly last week, Jesus had to remind the disciples that what people thought of as ‘great’ wasn’t really that great, after all. And he would soon tear open the divide and let loose the Spirit of God so that it would be clear that God resides everywhere—not just the Temple.
Now, what if the disciples’ comments weren’t made out of amazement but fear? What if they were saying to Jesus, “I don’t think this was a good idea”? Or maybe, “There’s no way we can take on something this big.” Or, to quote every Star Wars movie, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Whether you’re from a generation confronted with world wars or cold wars or civil rights movements; whether you fear the consequences of a mass immigration or the volatility of national leaders; whether the system you’re confronting seems too big or too corrupt or too powerful or too much, Jesus’ words are for you.
Mark’s gospel account was written around the time that the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Perhaps it was just before, and the people of Jerusalem were feeling the tumultuous shaking of an unstable system preparing to crumble. Perhaps it was after, as the people realized just how easily the mighty could be felled. Either way, the readers of Mark would be very familiar with discontent and fear. They would recognize the instability of everything they had relied upon.
Given that, I wonder how they would have heard Jesus’ words to the disciples. How do you hear his words today? What if you were to look around you and imagine what this building, this city, this country might look like in a hundred years? Will the building still be here? Will the city resemble what it is today? Will the country implode under the weight of division? Can you imagine all of these things being destroyed? It’s possible. It’s probable, given enough time. Homes, businesses, furniture, vehicles. All those things we hold so high and give so much value. The Husker stadium. The capital building. The White House.
Now, imagine you’re in the midst of this very destruction. Everything you have built is falling apart. Imagine you live in Paradise, CA. Homes, businesses, churches, family members—all gone. How do you hear Jesus’ words in that context? “All this will happen…but it is not the end. Instead, it is the pain that signifies the beginning of new life.”
New life. Birth pangs. The difficult and painful process of bringing life into the world. This is not the end. It seems like the end; it feels like the end. But we already know all things come to an end. All life leads to death, even the life of Jesus. But it is not the end. It is just the beginning. It is the beginning of something greater than we can imagine. It is the beginning of life as we have never known it. It puts all of our ideas of power, of glory, of leadership, of rules, of ‘the good life,’…puts all of it to shame. The temporary things that we center our lives and our well-being around cannot fulfill our expectations or our needs.
The good news in this frightening and dark passage—the good news of Jesus Christ is that life—real and true life—is breaking in and revealing itself. And nothing will be able to hold a candle against the Light of God. This passage from Mark—and from Daniel—is known as ‘apocalyptic literature.’ That doesn’t mean end times. Apocalypse means revealing. Pulling back the covers. Shedding light on what was hidden. Changing how we see things. Allowing us to see what has been hidden on the inside—like Shallow Hal. That’s what Jesus is pointing to in this passage. It may sound like a lot of gloom and doom, but his are words of hope and life and something bigger and better than anything we can build or create.
I love how blogger Debie Thomas envisions Jesus’ words:
“Don’t be alarmed,” [Jesus] says, when truth is shaken, and nations make war, and imposters preach alluring gospels of fear, resentment, and hatred. Don’t give in to terror. Don’t despair. Don’t capitalize on chaos. God is not where people often say [God] is; [God] doesn’t fear-monger. [God] doesn’t incite suspicion. [God] doesn’t thrive on human dread.
So avoid hasty, knee-jerk judgments. Be perceptive, not pious. Imaginative, not immature. Make peace, choose hope, cultivate patience, and incarnate love as the world reels and changes.
This is what it looks like to be a disciple of Christ. We know that life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. And often, it gets darker when we follow the One who takes on corruption and speaks truth to power and never backs away from the message of God’s incarnate peace. But never forget that Jesus is the light in the darkness—the dawn that reveals the truth about us and about God. And we are children of God, empowered and called to reflect that light for those who know nothing but chaos, war, and hatred. We are called to bear our baptismal candles and not lose heart, for God is with us. God will not topple, will not fail, will not be thrown down. Even the cross couldn’t undo the love and life of the One who created us.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church