November 15, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
In Biblical scholarly circles, this passage is sometimes referred to as the little apocalypse. The great stones of Jerusalem, the palace and the temple, the center of the world for Israel, for the faith in Yahweh. And these fishermen and rural folks are duly impressed.
I remember seeing Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago. It is a standalone cathedral, just south of where Chicago Theological Seminary when I was there. It stands as a huge stone structure. All around it, traffic goes by, University of Chicago students walk to and from classes and dorms. And it stands. It looks as if the earth could open, and swallow up all of the buildings in Hyde Park, and it would still be standing there, this giant stone cathedral to God. To call it impressive is to practice the delicate art of understatement. It is not going anywhere.
Kind of like the World Trade Center buildings in New York. These tall edifices to our other religion, commerce. I can remember a visit to New York City when I was a kid. Looking up from the bottom of the towers, I could barely see the tops. Looking down from the observation deck, the world was made of ants and toy cars. Nothing could ever affect those towers of steel and glass.
Or so we thought. And as much as we thought nothing could happen to the World Trade Center buildings, so too the disciples thought nothing could ever destroy Jerusalem. And like our assumptions of their permanence, so too the disciples were wrong about Jerusalem.
Part of their wrong assumption was a lack of history. Jerusalem had been sacked before. But now it was built up. Herod had done what so many kings and rulers do; he had built things bigger in the capital. He had expanded the temple and the palace. Surely nothing could destroy this place!
But it would happen. In 70 AD, Rome would get tired of the insurrectionists and rebellious factions, and Jerusalem would be destroyed.
What Jesus says to Peter and James and John and Andrew when they come and ask him what all this means is not a defense plan for Jerusalem. He does not offer a divine get out of war free card. He warns them that this kind of stuff takes place, but they are not to focus on fighting. They are to be on guard against all the people who will claim to be Jesus, who will claim to be the messiah, who will claim to be the way out of this trouble.
He warns them to not be alarmed, which I find incredibly difficult to understand. Because what is the first thing we do when we hear of wars and war’s echoes? We get vigilant. We get worked up. The national state of skittles ups the threat level color from orange to red.
Right now, in response to the attacks in France, in Egypt, in Beirut, and in Syria, there is discussion of a NATO response to ISIS. Right now, there are heightened tensions in many part of the world. The threat is showing itself to be bigger than previously understood.
But what we also know from our many opportunities to feel threatened recently is that we do not handle being alarmed very well. We tend to lump all the people who might look or sound or in any way imaginable resemble those who have threatened us, and we, as a society, have locked them up, violated their civil rights, taken away their livelihoods, shot at their houses of worship, or killed them.
I believe that this passage is saying:
- Do not be alarmed if it means that we act with inhumanity towards all those who are different.
- Do not let the events of the news pull us from our path of compassion, taking care of our neighbor, checking in on whether our loved ones are okay, loving one another, includeng the unlovely, the unloving, and the unlovable, as Jesus loves us.
- Do not be confused by the urgency of the news. There is not a peacetime Gospel and a wartime Gospel. There is the Gospel.
It is not easy when the foundations of the earth shake and the heavens tremble. And yet, our job description is the same.
Similar to popular notions of the apocalypse are notions of the rapture. Upon learning that I was a pastor, a dental hygienist asked me, right after putting that iron hook in my mouth, what I thought of the rapture. Now, in my experience, no one asks about the rapture because they have no theories of their own. It was clear that this was an important question to her. And as she moved that hook around my mouth, it became clear to me that this was now an important question to me!
So I said, well, the way I read it, it says no one knows when the hour will be, so it could be tomorrow, or it could be another 2,000 years. And according to the Gospel, if it happens tomorrow, my job description today is to love God with all that I am, all that I have, and all that I do, and to love my neighbor as myself. And if it is not for another 2,000 years, my job is to love God with all that I am, all that I have, and all that I do, and to love my neighbor as myself. And since I cannot know when it will be, and my job description does not change either way, I figure I am not going to worry about it, because loving God and loving my neighbor keeps me more than busy enough.
She allowed as how no one had ever taught it to her that way before.
But it is not just the quick answer when in the dentist’s office. It is what I truly believe. Rather than becoming alarmed to the point of forgetting who we are and whose we are, rather than chasing security at the expense of faithfulness, our job description does not change.
We shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind; and we shall love our neighbor (our black neighbor, our Muslim neighbor, our gay neighbor, our difficult neighbor) as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Thanks be to God. Amen.