We live in an impermanent world. Things end and change and die. Every story has an ending. Our relationships change and sometimes end. Every living thing changes. Every beautiful creation and building and thing that is will finally pass away. Even, we are told, the world as we
know it will end some day. It all finally, ultimately perishes. We being the humans that we are, get kind of anxious when we are confronted with this. We really don’t like to face it, or think about it. So mostly, we just don’t. Or we make bad jokes about it, or pretty it up, or find some other interesting human ways to deal with the whole business.
It appears that things were not so very different in Jesus’ day. In this morning’s Gospel, we find Jesus standing in the temple. He is nearing the end of his public ministry. It is not long in time until his own death and perhaps He knew this. Perhaps he was trying to prepare his followers for his death. But what they heard were his words about the end to the temple…that their beautiful and symbolic temple, which signified that God was dwelling with his people would be thrown down, destroyed. And they asked the questions that we all ask when we fear something bad is going to happen…. the questions we ask so we can be ready…. prepare for the worst…the questions we ask so we think can be IN CONTROL of the situation….”when”, we want to know, ...”when is this thing going to happen and how will we know it is coming, what will be the signs?”
Jesus, however, does not give them an answer to their question. He does not offer cheap grace, easy reassurances or a way for them to assert human control of the situation. Instead he offers them and us an opportunity for reflection on the good news that is contained in this gospel, and that is the promise of the hope that is a product of our ultimate security in God, the truly liberating message that the God of all grace is in charge of creation.
What Jesus offers his listeners in Luke and what we are offered, if we are willing, is a way past the terror and anxiety that might come from the fall of our own personal temples.
Jesus offers this to his hearers in some specific ways. Jesus advises several things:
He encourages wisdom ("See that you are not misled by those that use the insability to their own advantage") and discourages fear and despair ("Do not be terrified by the chaos around you"). He urges radical and prophetic improvisation ("Do not prepare your defenses in advance"), and trust and faith in him ("I will give you words and a wisdom"), and stubborn hope that transcends fear ("By your endurance you will save your souls"). This is how people on the far side of endings might find the faithfulness to go on.
Because of course, Jesus isn't talking to just anyone here, but to those who have the courage to take up the cross and follow, to those with the courage to leave the ruins and bear new faith and the persecutions that go with it. How typical of Jesus that after telling the faithful that they will be brought before kings and governors, he says in the next breath: "This will give you an opportunity to bear testimony!" That at the same time he promises betrayal, he promises the gaining of your soul. Because in God, after all, every ending becomes a beginning, and every death becomes a chance for resurrection.
In the end we know that all human institutions, no matter how beautiful, no matter how wonderful, are transient and cannot be our foundation, because always that day will come when one stone will not stand upon another and they will be thrown down. If we look at this in one way it can make us anxious and fearful and despairing. But if we remember the hope that we are promised, that in Jesus we have the true and enduring foundation, we see that those things that shake the stones of the temple are simply that.
It is important for us to remember that for Luke the reign of God always triumphs. It is a testimony to the way God has chosen to do things. The good news for us in all this is that we can be sure that salvation is not merely a promise for the world to come. Through Jesus God declared God’s dominion in history, not above it or beside it. Salvation is for the now as well as for the hereafter. The God who loves us, who longs to be in relationship with us, is the God who “so loved the world” in Jesus Christ and who offers us the chance to be co-creators in bringing about the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
So what does all of this have to do with us here this morning? What are the temples that are being thrown down in your lives? The things that make you want to say, “When will this be and what are the signs that it is about to take place?”Perhaps there is comfort in Jesus’ counsel: "Don’t be led astray from me" "Do not be terrified." "Do not prepare your defenses in advance,I will give you words and a wisdom" "By your endurance you will gain your souls."