Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?”
8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.
When you step inside a beautiful church, what is it your eyes first see?
Is it the altar, and the arrangements around it? Is it the windows, stained glass or decorated? Is it the pews? The wall hangings? The organ? The architectural style? The columns, or lack there of? The stones in the walls?
I’ve been to some beautiful churches in my life, and I look forward to seeing even more. A well-built church is a thing of beauty, elegant in either its extravagance, or its humility. A beautiful church can be small, plain and intimate. It can be large and gothic, ornate and baroque, or mosaic and ancient. Whatever shape, size, or style, there is nothing quite like a beautiful church.
So if tomorrow I were to rent a wrecking ball and started dismantling this church brick by brick, what would you do? What would you feel? Would you be angry? Grieved? Surprised? Saddened? Would you try to stop me?
Most, if not all, of you would. There would be no reason for me to tear down the church, right? It wouldn’t make sense, especially with as much history and love that this church has to offer the world. This church means something to this community, or at least that’s what I believe. A while ago, a bishop asked us, if our church were to cease to exist, would the community miss it? I think they would.
So think on that. Think about where we are, and what this building means. And think about what it would mean for it to not exist. Now, multiply that feeling by a hundred, and we’d approach the emotion that this passage is meant to evoke.
We as a church, as a community, as a nation, stand at a crossroads. And I have news for you, news from 2000 years ago: we have hard times ahead of us.
Yes, hard times. I’ll talk about how in a second, but suffice it to say, we are going to face hard times. And in doing so, we must ask ourselves, what do we have our eyes on in these hard times? Do we keep our eyes on our temples, or do we have our eyes on each other. Jesus confronts us with this dilemma today.
The Temple Already Fell
Luke wrote his gospel around 85AD. In 70 AD something happened that Jesus predicted. In 70 AD, the city of Jerusalem was sieged by the Roman army, and temple of Jerusalem was destroyed.
So when Luke retells this prophecy of Jesus, he does it with eyes that already saw the devastation of this beautiful, historic temple. He already saw the bricks fall with the rage of the Roman sword. He already saw the men, women, and children slaughtered by a force that saw themselves as righteous peace bringers against foreign subhuman hordes who dared stand up against their imperial might. These people with their strange god and their heathen temple do not deserved the right to assemble and worship as they saw fit, thought the Romans. And so they destroyed Jerusalem, and razed the temple to the ground. And Luke saw it all.
So in reading this, we see that Jesus, in equal measure with the Father and the Holy Spirit, could also see the temple being destroyed. He knew it would happen. And so he said that it would be destroyed, as these people gathered around in awe of its beauty. All of these beautiful things would be demolished, and that would only be the beginning.
Jesus foretells of a time of persecution. A time when there would come someone clothed in the trappings of success and righteousness who would pretend to be God. There would be people who claimed the name of savior for themselves, that only they could stand between you and destruction, and that is when the hard times would begin.
Jesus tells us that there will be bloodshed, and nations coming against each other. Natural disasters would abound. But even before that, the people would suffer.
They would be abused. They would be imprisoned. They would be humiliated, subjected to all kinds of horrific violence. False churches would stand with the imperial powers and claim these horrors to be in the name of righteousness. People would be disowned by their families, rejected by people who once called them friends and neighbors.
The biggest twist of all this as compelling as the apocalyptic narrative may be, fear and dread is not what Jesus intended to instill in people, but rather hope. Hope is what we have, we remain faithful to the law of love. And that is where we come in today.
Life in the Ruins
The question for you today is this: does the church still exist if the walls are torn down brick by brick? The answer is yes. The church absolutely exists, because it exists in you.
The church building, as beautiful and meaningful as it is to us, is simply a crutch. It is an outward sign of success, as much as it is a meeting place. Were these walls to crumble, we would still be a church, and meet in the ruins. In the midst of catastrophe and destruction, the church still exist. Or rather, the church must exist. Because the people need it.
Persecution, though you may not see it, is happening. It is happening in ways you may not be able to perceive, and its not happening in the ways we may have expected it to. For many, the church is triumphant when all see the glory of God in the buildings we build, the outward signs of success. Many a foolish pastor and parishioner has seen themselves as kings in their ecclesial castles because of the worldly success of the church. Accumulation of wealth, buildings that rival the greatest of structures, numbers piled upon numbers. None of that is what makes a church. Worldly success is not Godly success.
The church triumphant is not when the church comes in to worldly, financial, or even political power. The church triumphant is when we wrap a towel around our waists and wash a stranger’s feet. The church triumphant is when we step in and care for a child who is disowned by their parents. The church triumphant is when we offer shelter to the persecuted, the immigrant, and the outcast. The widow, the orphan, the homeless, the alien, the hated, the scorned and the wretched–these are the people that make up the church invisible, and our care for them is what makes us the church triumphant. When we stand up for the least of these, no matter their background or beliefs, our faith in God is what guides our hands. That is the church triumphant.
There will be hard times ahead. If we are to be triumphant in these hard times, when even the walls of the church may shudder and crumble, we must understand our role in all of it. Our faith will bring us through, and our faith calls us to action. We must care for the least of these. We must stand up for the hated, the persecuted, the lost, and the least, for when we do so, we do so to Jesus. Jesus exists in the souls of the needy. Will we be there in the hard times for those who need us? I certainly hope so. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.