Minister's Sermon - Friday 23rd November 2018
Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen
Rev Sue Keegan von AllmenFriday 23rd November 2018

Mark 12.38-44 and 13.1-8

The second part of this reading is from the genre of writings known as apocalyptic. Many of us dislike it, because we associate it with preaching that predicts hell, fire and damnation for anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus. But scaring people into heaven isn’t it’s what it’s about. And it never has been. Its purpose is to unveil, uncover, reveal. To give people fresh sight. To face us with reality. So, in this passage, Jesus invites his disciples to see beneath the surface. To see sin and injustice. And to let go of the illusions they have. And this morning, I want to offer some thoughts how we might do these things.

I want to begin by inviting you to notice two different ways of seeing. The first is Jesus’. As he was sitting in the temple, near the place where people placed their offerings, he called his disciples over. The rich people were throwing in large amounts of money. “But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins…” The widow’s story is often told as a story of self-sacrifice to encourage people to give to the church. But this isn’t what Jesus called the disciples to see. It’s not long since he’s thrown the money-changers out of the temple. Since then, he’s been engaged in a series of disputes, with the religious leaders. And now, he asks them to notice that the temple was built the exploitation of widows and the poor, on injustice. Afterwards, as he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “According to the 1st century historian, Josephus, the Jerusalem temple of Jesus’s day was an awe-inspiring wonder. It’d been reconstructed by Herod the Great and its retaining walls were composed of stones forty feet long. The temple occupied a platform four times as large as the Acropolis in Athens.  And it’s said that Herod had used so much gold to cover the outside walls that anyone who gazed at them in bright sunlight risked blinding themselves.” Jesus is not dazzled by the building. But even so, his next question, seems rather odd. “Do you see all these grand buildings?” Of course, the disciple sees, he’s just asked Jesus to look! But they aren’t seeing the same thing. “What the disciple sees is an architectural marvel… the biggest, boldest, most unshakeable symbol of God’s presence he can imagine… For him, the massive stones held religious memory… They are a symbol of spiritual worthiness, glory, and pride…   and what takes the disciple’s breath away… is the certainty and permanence the glittering stones display to the world.” But Jesus doesn’t see what he sees. He sees differently. He sees fragility, as everything built on injustice, is. “Not one stone will be left here upon another,” Jesus tells the stunned disciples. “All will be thrown down.” Samuel Cruz is a professor in an American theological college. He’s Latino by origin. And his understanding of Jesus’ story is influenced by growing up on the margins of American society. He says that even ‘though the temple looked “magnificent and pure, it was truly putrescent inside.” Now that’s a strong word to use. It conjures up a picture of rot and decay. But it is what’s implied by Jesus’ response to the disciples. The disciples must have been shocked. How could Jesus see that? But the disciple was mistaken on two counts. He’d been taken in by the temple’s dazzling glory. And, he’d not understood, that when Jesus pointed to the poor widow, he was pointing out that the money given by the poor was being misused by the temple authorities, to amass power, expand their influence and boost their egos. Nor did the disciples grasp that Jesus was showing them a different way of seeing. He was inviting them, to look at the world from the perspective of those who live on the underside of history, because that’s where God sees everything from.

If you’ve been wondering when I’m going to come to this tower, of Jenga blocks, it’s now. Are there two or three people who’d be willing to come and play? Don’t worry, we’re not going to have a long tactical game, the aim isn’t to keep the tower standing up as long as possible, but to pull it down, so you can all go at once. And when you’ve done that I’d like to ask you what you see… (Headlines from the newspaper over last couple of weeks.)

The word “oppression” is as unfashionable in our time as the word “sin.” Yet people continue to be oppressed. And those whose egos promote policies that sustain oppression, as well as those unwilling to challenge, them are guilty of sin. I suspect that the place many of us find ourselves feels challenging. We see Injustice. We recognise we’re complicit in the tower staying as it is. We have compassion. And we long for the liberation for all God’s people and creation. Yet, our seeming inability to change, despite our best intentions and efforts, can leave us feeling disillusioned. And wondering whether God’s promise of the kingdom will ever be realised.

This is a perplexing place to be. Yet one of my favourite writers, Barbara Brown Taylor says that disillusionment, is essential to the Christian life. “Disillusionment,” she says, “is, literally, the loss of an illusion — about ourselves, about the world, about God — and while it is almost always a painful thing, it is never a bad thing, to lose the lies we have mistaken for the truth.” If we can accept this, we’re on a journey into the unknown that leads us to wonder whether the people, the beliefs, and things we trust in, are really to be trusted. We’re open to the possibility, that the things we’ve worked and prayed for, might not be of the kingdom. We realise that when things are not of the kingdom they will fall apart. And perhaps most challenging of all, that the ideas and image we have of God that we believe are unchangeable, might not stand the test of time. None of this is straight forward. But there’s a strand of Christian spirituality that helps us. It says, that we can only speak about God in terms of what God is not, because God is beyond our limited human understanding. In the 13th century, Meister Eckhart says it like this. “Let us pray to God that we may be free of God.” He invites us to recognise that our ideas about God and the life of faith always fall short. So, the best thing to do, is to welcome disillusionment. Embrace the unknowability of God and the future. And trust God. Even in times of abandonment, pain and disaster. Because when we do our faith will grow. For even as Jesus speaks about the temple stones falling, and reminds his disciples that nothing in life is secure he also assures them, that war and disaster, are not the end. Debie Thomas says, “Contrary to… our hysteria-hungry culture… Jesus insists on calm strength and generous love… ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he says, when truth is shaken, when nations make war, and imposters preach gospels of fear, resentment and hatred. Don’t give in to terror.  Don’t despair.  Don’t capitalize on chaos… God doesn’t fear-monger… God doesn’t thrive on human dread.  So, avoid hasty judgements… Make peace, choose hope, cultivate patience, and practice love as the world reels and changes.” But there’s even more. For Jesus doesn’t simply invite us to bear chaos and destruction. He invites us to bear it well, with the love he offered us and called us into, when he chose the way of the cross. The story that follows today’s readings is the story of his arrest and trial, his suffering and death on Good Friday, and of his resurrection. And that’s why Daniel and Pam, have been creating a cross out of these bocks, while I’ve been talking.

At the end of today’s reading, Jesus says to his disciples, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed.” Wait, watch, bear with it all, as he did in the last week of his life and beyond. In times of trouble and uncertainty, it’s easy to despair and grow numb, especially if nothing seems to change. But the moment we feel overwhelmed, or when brokenness and despair look as if, they’re getting the upper hand, that’s the time to wait and watch and hope. For sin will be uncovered and injustice will be unveiled. Jesus promises that this is not death, but birth, and that what God is bringing to birth is new life and resurrection. And even ‘though we may need to witness to this conviction in chaos and ruins. These birth pangs will always end in joy. Amen.

Sue Keegan von Allmen