Reflection: November 18

Published on Nov 23rd, 2018 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

Scripture: Mark 13:1–8 

        The first sermon I ever preached was on this very text from Mark.  It was probably 1986 and I was at my home church in Nanaimo, BC—Brechin United Church.  I’ve long since forgotten what I said; it was likely earnest and, I’m sure, deeply profound—not!  All I remember of that experience were three things: how do you speak something of inspiration and value to people; what would my father say—he had died the year before; and the feedback from one person that all I said were truisms—in other words, I just repeated clichés without saying anything new.

         Well, as I later learned, most preaching isn’t offering anything new; it is capturing a moment and hoping that people will find something to chew on, something that might inspire, or something that brings about a personal change or becomes part of a societal change, something that is pastoral and prophetic.

         I’ve come to view this passage from Mark a little differently than I used to. I saw it more as Mark’s commentary on the state of the world than on Jesus’ actual words.  Mark lived through the end of Israel, the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, who’d lost patience with the Israelites and destroyed Jerusalem.  Israel ceased to exist, and many Jews were scattered to the 4 corners of the Roman Empire.

         Yes, these words of Mark were certainly based on something Jesus had said about the Temple.  Probably like what leaders in the Christian Church have said for over 2000 years; the Church is not a building—it is the community of believers who gather.  Judaism was not the Temple; Judaism was about following the Torah and living the kind of life of integrity God intended.  Jesus saw that the Temple did not define what it meant to be a Jew, and he probably could also see the writing on the wall with respect to those who were wanting to liberate Israel from Rome—including within his own group of followers.

         The likes of Ched Myers, who has interpreted the whole of Mark as Jesus’ manifesto regarding a social, political and religious revolution of God’s KinDom of hope and peace, would say that the prediction of the destruction of the Temple was revolutionary talk.

         While I agree with Ched Myers to a large extent, I don’t believe that this was all that Jesus meant.  I believe that it wasn’t just a social, political and religious revolution that Jesus intended, but a deeply personal one, too.  They all go together: the societal, the political, the religious and the personal.

         I have a sense that maybe Jesus offered words about the Temple as a form of irony. Jesus pointed to the actual physical structure of the Temple, and while meaning the Temple, was also may be suggesting that the Temple was each human being.  That while the physical structure of each one of us will deteriorate and die, it is what we do from the heart outwards that makes all the difference. Jesus advocated what Paul later wrote about: the renewal of our hearts.  “Our outer natures are wasting away, but our inner natures are being renewed day by day.”  (2 Corinthians 4)

         The KinDom of God for Jesus was and is a renewal from the heart outwards. That’s why the likes of Parker Palmer, the elder of the Quakers who has influenced so many of us with his quiet wisdom and his quiet way of speaking of the wholeness of living, speaks so often and so eloquently about courage and the meaning of courage—living from our hearts to change the world.

         So, perhaps the tearing down of the stones of the Temple is also the tearing down of the stones of cynicism, despair, authoritarianism, greed, violence, hopelessness, oppression, and so many other destructive forces that live in the world and in us.  It’s why I believe we come to church and follow Jesus of Nazareth, to participate in the renewing of our hearts, to acknowledge our brokenness and to also acknowledge the Spirit’s power and the love of Christ to make new in us hope, love, compassion, egalitarianism, generosity, gratitude—all the opposites of what I said a moment earlier!

With openness and humility, we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers to create the KinDom of God as Jesus articulated it, but we do when we gather together. Participating in a Church community implies that we acknowledge that we need the Spirit interceding not just for us when we don’t know what to pray or say, but for the whole world; those, too, are Paul’s words—the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words, when we don’t know what to say or pray.  I’ve always loved that line from Romans because it is about humility and an opening of our hearts.  It’s kind of like saying, at least for me, “I’m at my wit’s end.  I don’t know what to say.  I don’t even know what I need, but I trust your Spirit, O God, and I know that your Spirit is in me.”

         And then, with hearts renewed, we face the challenges of our lives.  We face surgery with courage.  We face our ageing bodies with fortitude.  We face the call to stand against a bigoted authority armed only with prayers and hymns.  We face our grief and sense of loss with a renewed understanding of the continuum of life. We face physical changes in body or in the structures we hold to be important, knowing and trusting that God is in us and works from the inside out for the renewal of love, compassion, hope and heart in all that we are and do! 

Let it be so!  Amen.


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