November 17, 2019
Village Chapel Presbyterian Church
Dr. Todd R. Wright
Imagine what you hold most dear being under threat!
The threat could be the violence of war or gangs or drugs.
It could be wildfires or flooding or bitter cold.
It could be famine or disease.
It’s not hard to imagine. We’ve just heard news clips reminding us that all those things are happening … to someone, someplace, all the time.
In our passage from Luke, it is the Temple that is under threat.
It is more than a building … 1
it is a thin place where God and Israel touch, and dance, and blow each other kisses;
it is a vanity project constructed by Herod to rival pagan temples built by other rulers;
it is awesome, beautiful, mammoth – the outer court alone could hold 400,000 people! (Nearly seven times the capacity at Mountaineer Field!)
and it is the setting for many events in Jesus’ life – he was dedicated there by Mary and Joseph, blessed there by Simeon and Anna; as a boy he was found there among the teachers; as an adult he taught there, sparred with his opponents, and complimented the widow’s sacrificial generosity! He loved the Temple!
But now he is saying it will be destroyed!
Can you imagine? Of course you can!
We live in an age where much of what we hold dear, much of what seemed stable and solid, now seeks shaky, vulnerable, endangered.
We are encouraged to be on the alert to threats, to see something/say something, to do something to protect our schools, our neighborhoods, our borders.
We receive the latest reports with dread: PCUSA membership falling, “nones” the fastest growing religious category, local churches closing.
And we close our series with a passage in which Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed!
What are the faithful to do?
We might wonder what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples during the week after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We might wonder what Luke is seeking to remind his listeners of (a generation after the Temple was actually destroyed by Rome). We might wonder how any of this can guide us.
Let’s start by trying to stand in Jesus’ shoes. What does he see standing on the steps of the Temple? Beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God? A flawed human project? A building as temporary as a child’s sandcastle? A place of prayer and yearning?
One scholar writes, “If your eyes are locked on only that which is temporary, you might miss observing the permanency of those things that last. If you only see obvious grandeur and splendor, you may overlook beauty in that which first appeared unattractive, even repulsive. If you focus only on the damaging, the destructive, the [deadly], you just might miss what is affirming, constructive, and encouraging.”2
In short, you might miss that God is present, especially when everything else is falling apart.
Let’s get specific. The Rev. Dr. Mary Westfall, of the Presbytery of Sacramento, recently mused, “I think [the wildfires are] really hitting the state hard and [it’s] hitting folks I talk to that this is now a really tragic new normal. I think that we are yet to really even begin to emotionally cope with what it means to be in a place that is not anticipating climate change but is living in it.”3
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has given $212,500 to wildfire response so far in 2019.
But the role of the Church is greater than that:
“I am trying to use this opportunity to say, ‘What does it mean to be the church in the face of this kind of catastrophe?’” Westfall says. “Because across the nation and around the world, that’s really going to be the question, isn’t it? How is the church going to be the church in the face of [disasters like this, which] cause incredible upheaval for often the most vulnerable first, but really pretty much indiscriminately to everyone over time.”
How is the church going to be the church? How will we keep the faith when we are tested? What stories will we tell by word and deed for a people who are afraid?
Jesus invites us to testify … about a God who does not crumble or wash away.
The PDA flyer quotes the prophet Isaiah:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”4
That’s the God we cling to when we are tested. That’s the God who holds us fast. Amen
1 my thoughts on the Temple are distilled from Richard Swanson’s commentary for workingpreacher.com 11/17/13
2 from “Saying What We See” by Karoline Lewis 11/6/16
3 Westfall’s comments are from https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/california-presbyteries-are-partnering-with-presbyterian-disaster-assistance-to-deal-with-wildfires/
4 from Isaiah 43:1-3