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What to do when Temples Fall

Pentecost 26, Common Lectionary Year C

Luke 21:5-19

©2016 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Let’s name the elephant in the room;
there was an election in the US this past week.
Regardless of what your political persuasion may be,
regardless of the fact that this occurred in a different sovereign nation,
there’s no avoiding the fact that it has and will affect us all.

The question is how.
That’s what I want to focus on this morning,
and to do so through the lens of this powerful and provocative Gospel text from Luke,
because I believe it has a truth for us all to hear, not just for this week, this circumstance, but for the living of our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Which is ultimately who we are called to be.

So let’s try for a few moments at least,
to step back from this week,
into to the city of Jerusalem in the reign of Herod,
It is the week of preparation for the Feast of Passover.
Not a presidential election,
but certainly a week fraught with political and religious implications,
particularly for those ordinary folk who are impacted by,
more than they impact those tasked with governing.
And in the middle of the mayhem, the jostling,
the ordinariness of Temple business,
sits the Galilean, teaching.

We know a lot about that teaching now,
the way he arcs parables around us
to make heads and hearts spin
with unimagined possibilities,
of God pleading with us for justice, like a widow,
of tiny coins paying for a party enough to feed the world,
of the foreign, undocumented worker being
the bringer of God’s healing grace.
So we’ve learned by now to listen carefully,
to rock on our toes ready for the left-field pitch,
and here it comes!
When one of us voices aloud our craving for the comfort of the system,
the protection of the religious establishment,
and marvels at the solidity of wood and stone,
Jesus arcs the eyebrow,
“This? Don’t put your trust here, it’s all going to fall.
Everything that’s been built,
systems, empires, nations,
and yes, even this Temple will tumble.”
Not may. Will.

Like the disciples, we want the tea-leaves read.
We say to Jesus,
“Okay, son of God, what’s God’s plan?
What signs should we look for?”

I see him settling deeper into his seat, glancing over all of us,
taking a breath, a prayerful pause,
before saying:
“You want to know what to do when this Temple falls?
When all your temples may fall?
When the sky is darker, and someone kills the flame,
you want to know what you should do?
Okay then.
First, don’t be deceived.
Don’t be hoodwinked.
People will watch that Temple fall,
or that church die, or some political system crumble,
a natural disaster, whatever worldly chaos you can imagine,
and some will rush in with all sorts of promises, or threats,
tell you it’s God’s judgment, God’s violent retribution for some moral failing,
or some such falsehood.
Don’t be deceived by these false messengers of doom,
and don’t follow their lead.”

Wow! As I’ve thought about this some more,
I realize that this is a practice of truth and resistance.
The truth is, despite war, famine, disease,
corruption, decay, despair,
life is born again, and again;
love is baked in blueberry muffins, and wraps a world in its care;
courage creeps out from the craters of ruin all the time.

The practice of honesty, the defiance of deception,
is to hold onto and hold out for others to see,
this truth: Life and Love win. Always.
In this particular moment, when one of the casualties
of this election cycle has been truth,
hearing the witness of Jesus to the truth of God’s Love
is perhaps what we most need to hear.

But there is more we can do.
Jesus has two more things we must do when our Temples fall.

Having told us to hold fast to the Truth of Love,
he tells us,
“Don’t be alarmed.”

Now, I’m sitting in that crowd in the temple,
and I’m whispering to my neighbour,
“Who’s he kidding? I’ve never been more scared in my lifetime of what might happen if this Temple falls.”

I’m sitting here now, with similar feelings of alarm, doom,
and it’s never been harder to practise what I preach.
Whatever Temple topples, be it political, or religious,
to practise non-alarm in the face of the anxiety of others,
to practise non-violence as the spiritually disciplined response
to verbal vitriol, to the lashing out of racist, misogynist, violence.
It takes prayer, lots of it.
It takes practice, it takes staying present,
it takes community supporting one another
to be non-alarmed.

Which leads Jesus to his third and final thing to do when the Temples fall:
Be the people of God.

Being the we, we are made to be,
means practising non-alarm,
practising courage,
practising the truth of God’s love,
being the hands and feet, the lips of Christ
whenever the walls come tumbling down
around us or others.

Now, let me get specific here, to close.
While every ordinary one of us has a unique way to
practise courage, truth, non-alarm,
we as a community have a particular call and response
at this pivotal moment in our western culture.
We have seen the alarming uptick in racial violence,
in misogynist behaviour, and religious intolerance.
As a community of faith we practise the Gospel of God
as an affirming congregation.
That means that we are going to be standing as allies,
alongside those who are made to feel particularly vulnerable
by these recent cultural earthquakes.
That means we will be speaking clearly God’s loving truth
that our sisters and mothers and daughters are made fully in God’s image,
with a right to self-determination with respect to body, mind and spirit.
That we will be standing side by side with our
Muslim, and Jewish and Hindu and Sikh kin
and with LGBTQ individuals, families, communities,
with our brothers and sisters of colour, and indigenous peoples
to declare by non-violent, non-anxious testimony
that we are all God’s beloved children of earth, with
equal right to live safely in our planet, to steward and care for it.
That’s what this one did.
And that’s what we will be doing.
That’s what God’s people do when the Temples fall.

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