Technical difficulties prevented recording of the worship service this week.
Text: Mark 13: 1 – 8
When Christopher and I moved here last year, one of the things we did was to take a quick tour around the neighbourhoods around both churches, to get a feel for the context.
There are a lot of big houses around Plura Hills. Around Mount Paul, not so much; they’re nice houses and I’m still not going to be able to afford one for a while, but not as big as the ones around Plura Hills.
And, I don’t know. Those big houses seemed like a pain in the butt to keep up. We have trouble keeping a two-bedroom apartment together. I guess that’s why a lot of people are downsizing? I’m not making fun of you, you do you, no matter what kind of place you live in.
Jesus’ message for the last little bit has been about disregarding pompousness, arrogance, the people who are “important” in the eyes of the world and instead focusing on God, who is found with the lowest and the least, with the humble and the humiliated.
The temple is probably the biggest building the disciples have ever seen. It took a lot of work and a lot of time to build something that large. At the time, the Great Pyramid of Giza was still the tallest building in the world, had been for more than 2500 years, and would be for another 1000 until the age of gothic cathedrals. Lincoln Cathedral was built a bit higher. But the Disciples wouldn’t have seen the pyramids and they wouldn’t live to see Lincoln Cathedral or the Burj Khalifa, so they saw the temple.
It’s worth noting that the Jewish people at the time had mixed feelings about the temple. The Second Temple, rebuilt after the destruction of the first by the Babylonians, was originally a small modest affair. Then shortly before the birth of Jesus, King Herod the Great, the same one who massacred the infants, wanted to “leave a legacy” and so commissioned a massive renovation and expansion that was only just finished when Jesus and the Disciples get there.
So those are the “grand buildings” pointed out by the Disciples: a vanity project by a king whose subjects didn’t like him all that much. Except the rich; the rich loved him. Giant statues, monuments, temples; this sort of thing was common in the ancient world. It’s common in our world, just in different ways. But so often we want to leave a “legacy” if we think we’re important.
All of this, says Jesus, will be torn down. Our buildings, even our temples and churches, our traditions, our family names; anything we build up in pride will be torn down by the God who loves those at the bottom. A temple where beggars sit at the gate ignored by the pilgrims walking inside is not a “great building” in God’s eyes.
And the second temple would be torn down, in 70 CE by the Romans as punishment for a revolt. And not rebuilt. Right now there’s a mosque where the temple was and it’s a source of a bit of tension. All that’s left is a single outer wall.
The next part, where Jesus warns about false preachers, is related. The overarching theme of the Gospel of Mark has been Jesus as the unknown, the unexpected Messiah. He is a secret, overlooked, because he doesn’t look like what people expect the Messiah to be. He hangs out not with important people, but with lowlifes and sinners and poor people. He makes it clear that God is found on the streets; not in large ostentatious buildings.
The false prophets will do everything to make a name for themselves; they will dress in tailored suits and fly private jets and dine in expensive restaurants and meet with important people. Jesus does the opposite. You’d think the Messiah of God would maybe want to have a chat with the high priest of the temple, talk about religious policy and all that? The only time Jesus comes face to face with the high priest is when he is on trial, being sentenced to death. It is the only time Jesus meets with any political leaders like Pilate.
And… look, I’m not saying to underpay me. I appreciate being paid a living wage where I can support myself and my husband. But I don’t need a private jet. I don’t need a giant house. No one needs those. And seeing preachers lift up a bible where God is clearly on the side of the poor while having those things fills me with a sense of disgust.
Obviously I have little vain things about me… I’ve been having so much fun making myself pretty with makeup. People call me pretty! I love being called that! But compare me with Tammy Faye, and the extravagance of her and Jim Bakker (I missed seeing that movie on Friday; I would have liked to but I’ll wait until it’s on Amazon on wherever). I think I’m allowed a little makeup (acknowledging that the cosmetics industry can be extremely unethical); you’re allowed a Caribbean cruise or a nice house if you can afford it. Let’s just understand that these things don’t make us who we are, and we aren’t entitled to them. And God really doesn’t care if we have them or not.
And the other things we build up and take pride in; like out nations and countries, corporations, political parties, our churches and denominations, they will also come crashing down. Empires will fall, and eventually be forgotten. Even Rome. Even Amazon. Even the Christian Church and religion itself. God doesn’t really care about those things; God cares about humanity. People bear the image of God, not things. Even religion only exists so much as it cares about and for people; if it stops doing that, God doesn’t really have a use for it anymore. So the temple comes down and not a stone is left on stone.
I and the mega-church pastors who fly private jets and have the ear of politicians will probably accuse each other of leading the flock astray; they’ll say I’m damning you all to hell because I’m not teaching you right on gender or sexuality. But I read the gospels and I don’t see Jesus condemning me for being trans, or anyone for being any kind of queer; I absolutely see a Jesus who condemns the rich and self-important.
God is leading us to a world of justice where everyone has their equal share in the Kingdom of Heaven. She calls us to play a part in it, by willingly putting aside our vanities and daring to stoop down to be with those at the bottom, and inviting those who are outside in. Those who are marginalized because of race, or class, or gender, or sexuality, or religion, or disability, or anything else that makes them stranger to us; we have to go out and invite in. If we’re so proud of being part of something only because it’s filled with people like us, God will tear it down. If it’s a building we make only with our own hands, and nothing else, and we’re proud of that, He will take every stone away.
But if we build our temple with God, I loving partnership, that will last forever. As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians, we have a building from God, not made with human hands alone, but build with the love of God in Jesus, who walked among the least of us, to show us who truly comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.