Eric Dillenbeck
November 18, 2012
Fairmount Presbyterian Church

Scripture: Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25 & Mark 13:1-8
Listen to Podcast.

Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25

11And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.
12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,”
13and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.”
14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,
20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),
21and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3When 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?”
5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.
6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.
7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.
8For 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.

The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God

“What Great Buildings You Have…”

Do you remember last year? Weren’t you on pins and needles, waiting; waiting for the fulfillment of Harold Camping’s apocalyptic prediction?

Yeah, me neither.

Last year Harold Camping, the 90 year old leader of Family Radio International, proved what did not really need proving. He proved there are plenty of people who are obsessed with the “End Times,” who are obsessed with predictions about the end of the world which will usher in God’s reign.

For his part, Camping predicted the rapture would happen on May 21, 2011.

Family Radio and its followers spent millions of dollars to get the word out about our date with doomsday. Some even quit their jobs or donated retirement savings or college funds to be used for the efforts to spread the word. When the Rapture did not occur that day, Camping said he got his Bible-based calculations wrong and revised his prophecy to set the world’s end on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. Obviously that day came and went without fanfare.

The intention of this story is not to mock or poke fun at this man’s beliefs or to mock those who gave their life savings to help prepare for the fulfillment of his predictions. (Though I wonder how they are feeling now.)

I remind us of these events to highlight the prevalence, even today, of apocalyptic predictions, which may seem like doomsday drama, but are really based in a deep eschatological hope; a deep hope that springs from the belief that the Messiah will come, that the Messiah will redeem, that the Messiah will offer comfort and peace.

As we see from today’s story in Mark, Jesus too liked to take a little walk on the apocalyptic side. What inspired his detour with the dark? Jesus and his disciples finally exit from the temple after witnessing the offering of the widow. As they depart they are on the Temple Mount where the disciples are simply overcome by the opulence and beauty of the physical structure of the temple. Historical records tell us it must have been an amazing sight to behold, a gargantuan structure designed to inspire and intimidate.

The white marble courtyard wall would have glistened in the sunlight. Massive stone columns lined the perimeter which held up porches that surrounded the area. The temple walls were covered in sheets of gold that would have nearly blinded approaching visitors.

Ancient historian, Josephus wrote about the temple saying, “the gold on the temple reflected so fierce a blaze of fire that those who tried to look at it were forced to turn away…it seemed in the distance like a mountain covered in snow, for any part not covered in gold was dazzling white .”

There they stood, the Disciples and Jesus, surrounded by the crowds of pilgrims and vendors who flooded into Jerusalem for Passover. There they stood in awe and wonder of this magnificent building and all they can say is, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”

As if he is sensing something beyond the present moment, Jesus shares what he sees before him, a vision that astounds those who hear it. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Then in shocked silence they follow Jesus as he walks away. They follow him to the Mount of Olives where they sit staring in disbelief at the temple, wondering when these things will come to pass. Not wanting to break the silence the moment demanded but unable to keep from asking, Peter, James, John and Andrew surround Jesus and ask the obvious question, “When?” “When will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”

This is the eschatological question at the heart of the disciples lives, the question at the heart of Harold Camping’s mathematical equation and the question that guides us as we approach the advent season. When? When will these things come to pass? When will the messiah come again?

Jesus does not answer their question. He does not give them the dates or details they seek; instead he provides guidance for how they should live their lives. That is the key to this kind of storytelling. It is not meant to provoke fear and trembling about the days to come but rather inspire how we live our lives in the here and now. It invites us to confront the reality that world will not always be the same. Things will change, things will come to an end. As much as we try to tighten our grip and control every aspect of our lives, our employment, our church even, apocalyptic literature reminds us that we are not ultimately in control.

In the face of this truth Christ reminds the hearers of this story how we are called to live:

We are going to have to be discerning! There will be many who claim to have all the right answers; who seem to know just what to say to calm our fears and frustrations. Jesus does not give us the litmus test to determine authenticity, he simply says “Beware…” The invitation here is for us to listen carefully and to think clearly. To listen together and in so doing to discern together how we are called to live.

Christ also tells us that we are going to have to be patient. Many things are going to happen in the world, there will be wars, there will be disasters, there will be suffering. There will be floods, there will be leaks, there will be disagreements. In other words, the world will present us with many opportunities to embody God’s comfort, God’s peace, God’s justice at work in the world. We should not become frantic with worry; we should not become spastic in our efforts, and we should not shy away from these opportunities because we wonder what these events mean for the future. We should throw ourselves into action in ways that help others know and feel God’s presence.

In spite of all of this Jesus tells us we are to be a community of HOPE! Just as some pregnant women endure significant labor pains so too the world and church will endure some hardship, some pain, some loss. Jesus calls these our birth pangs. In the midst of the hardships we might not feel reason to be optimistic and hopeful, but Christ reminds us that through these experiences God will continue to bring about God’s new day, through our efforts God will usher in a new heaven and new earth.

Christ makes it plain that the wonderful buildings of this world mean little in the economy of God. In light of this the author of the book of Hebrews points us beyond the structures we build to the community that fills them. The book of Hebrews tells us that in the face of uncertain times, in the face of a world full of change we are called to be together. We are called to hold fast to the confession of our hope! We are called to provoke one another to LOVE and GOOD deeds, we are called to encourage one another that through our witness others may see the Day of God approaching.

So, today, may we work together to develop a spirit of discernment as we patiently watch for the path before us; All the while clinging the hope of our redemption and peace.