Grace and peace from the Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being. Life is a gift, not a possession.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”Mark 13:1-8
“Look Teacher, what massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” And Jesus said, “All will be thrown down… this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
Our passage for today is another example of the disciples not getting it. It would be easy to continually make fun of them except the more I read about them in Mark’s gospel the more I see myself in them. It’s as if Mark is holding a mirror up to me, to us, as he describes the disciples.
It will all be torn down
Our passage for today comes on the heels of Jesus and the disciples having just watched a poor widow put in everything she had, and Jesus saying this was the greatest gift…
But alas, the disciples are still impressed with largeness. Aren’t we all?
“Look at these massive stones and this magnificent building.” … which, by the way, was built on the back of the poor widows. And once again they miss the point.
And Jesus response, “It will all be torn down…”
And the only question the disciples can ask is “When?” Once again missing the point.
“When?” not Why? Or Where? Or Who?
You see, the temple was the place where the Divine dwelt. The Temple was the home for God. And to have it torn down is to have God torn down. If there is no temple, then where is the Mystery, the Divine.
Where is the presence of the Mystery? In whom is the Mystery present?
Jesus takes their question of ‘when?’ and doesn’t answer it. Instead he answers who. In whom is the Mystery present. In whom can the Divine be found. It is not about a place, a thing… but a person… a relationship.
Now he does give a hint to when all this will take place. It will be when nation rises up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. It will be when there are earthquakes and famine.
But if you look throughout all of history, these things are always happening.
All these events are always happening, so it can get rather confusing. And yet, that just may be the answer to the question “When will this happen?”
“When will this happen?”
Now, tomorrow… the next day. The Mystery is always tearing down our temples… our places of worship… because maybe what the Mystery most desires is not worship, but relationship.
Perhaps Jason Isbell, one of the great singer songwriters of this generation, has it partially right when he sings,
You thought God was an architect, now you know… He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow, and everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames… ”
But the Mystery is not interested in just tearing things down. There is always a new creation on the way. Wars, and nation rising against nation are simply birth pangs. Something new is on the way. Something new is always on the way.
You know, I can’t help but think of our society, our culture, our country when I read this. We are witnessing the crumbling, the dissolution of the straight, white, male American culture right before our eyes. With the browning of America – by 2045 we will be a minority/majority country, and straight white males will make up less than 20% of the population. Many of the edifices that we have built up, along with our traditions, rituals, and privileges will no longer be practiced or accepted by the majority of people. We see alternative perspectives alive today in the ‘Me Too’ movement, Black Lives Matter and the LGBT community. We hear from Millennials that we have a responsibility to provide our fellow participants in life with something more than a trophy.
And in the midst of all this change, this crumbling, this dissolution, we see the different tribes of this nation rising up, one against another. Political tribes, ethnic tribes, gender tribes trying to hold on to power.
What is the Christian perspective? What is the Christian response?
From this passage today, we see the answer is not in holding on to our edifices, our traditions, our rituals… but in anticipating a new creation, in anticipating a new birth, not just of the world, but our very selves.
Life is a gift, not a possession
You see, creation never stops. Life and death and birth are a continuous reality in our lives and the life of the world. Life is a gift, not a possession.
Yet we hold on to our structures, our systems, our ways. We think they have always been and should always be. We think we were born into a static, a permanent, a stable world, but that is not the case.
This was brought home to me back in the early ’80s when I was in seminary. I was involved in setting up a Chinese ministry in the church I was assigned to. We began a worship service in Mandarin with Mandarin hymnbooks and Mandarin banners. There was great discussion on whether we should be doing this or whether we should be making them worship in English. Some said, “English is the language of this culture, this society, this church. That’s the way it’s always been and always should be.”
Which was interesting, because as we were having this discussion I was reading a book on “Lutheranism in North America”… and it said that in 1920, over 70% of Lutheran churches worshiped in a language other than English.
Worship in a language other than English
Think about that. Sixty years before everyone was telling me that everybody had to worship in English, over 70% of Lutheran churches worshiped in a language other than English in this country.
That’s why you can find many churches throughout the U.S. that were founded in the 1920’s with the name, “First English Lutheran Church.”
Where is it we think the Divine resides? In our culture, our rituals, the structures we build and invest so much into? Or is the Mystery found in the other, in the Christ who says he is the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned. To see the Christ in those the world rejects means that we will be rejected as well. The following paragraphs after this passage are rather depressing, for they speak of the pain and suffering that being a follower of Jesus will entail.
Jesus seems to be telling his followers that just because he has come, it doesn’t mean the world will now become safe, or that the authorities will now become friends. To follow in his footsteps means to run counter to the ways of the world. And frankly, that is not something the world likes to see, because what the world holds most dear are its ways, its rules, its structures… its POWER.
Barbara Brown Taylor
Barbara Brown Taylor puts it well when she writes:
Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own.”Barbara Brown Taylor, “Truth to Tell,” from “The Perfect Mirror”
What the world holds most dear… is holding…
Yet, creation never stops. Life and death and birth are a continuous reality in our lives and the life of the world. Life is a gift, not a possession.
Douglas John Hall in his book, God and Human Suffering writes this: “It is life itself that we fear and resist… It was nothing else than life itself—with its day-by-dayness, its risk, its call for absolute trust —that prompted the pair in the garden to reach out for possession, permanence, security. “knowledge”. So wishing to possess their life, they lost its essence—which is gift, given daily.”
For Jesus, the invitation is to life
For Jesus, the invitation is to life… to live in time and history, which means we enter into each day not knowing the outcome, but trusting in the giver of life… the one who’s “Got the whole world in His hands.”
For Jesus, the invitation is to life… it is not an invitation to heaven but to earth, not an invitation into church buildings and temples but into the world… for all those buildings will be thrown down.
It is an invitation to enter into all of life… with its joys and sorrows, accomplishments and disappointments… life and death and rebirth… and to hang on to the past is to deny the creator’s power to make all things new.
The disciples… “Teacher, look at these magnificent stones and large buildings!”
Jesus, “All will be thrown down.”
When we read these apocalyptic stories in the Bible – stories of the end times – we struggle to figure them out so we can navigate our way through them, survive them and come out the other side intact.
But these stories are not just about the world and its end times. They speak to our end times as well, the death and destruction of our lives and our holding onto permanence, security, and possessions… and there is no way to navigate our way through our end times and come out intact. There is only death and resurrection. Life, death, and the birth pangs of new life.
You see, creation never stops. Life and death and birth are a continuous reality in our lives and the life of the world. Life is a gift, not a possession, and it’s given daily.
And the one who invites us into life is the one who has experienced death and destruction as well… the one who has hung on a cross and experienced betrayal and denial and abandonment.
And out of this betrayal, denial and abandonment, out of this suffering and pain and death… new life was born. A resurrected life was born.
“This is but the beginning of the birth pangs”…
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Spirit in the Desert faith mentor, Rev. “Bro. Jim” Hanson.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.