The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Year B)

“You Can Find Rest in Me”

“Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 

As a native New Yorker, born in New York Hospital and raised on 79th street, I took all the tall buildings for granted. It wasn’t until I moved out of New York City that I understood the tourists who would come and just stop in the middle of a sidewalk to look up and point at the buildings around us.

We all do this I think. When we stand at the foot of any majestic site, we marvel. We are in awe. We are moved and amazed. The ancient world even began naming some structures as the seven wonders of the world.  These structures were indeed incredible feats of human ingenuity. 

The temple in Jerusalem was and still is considered such a wonder by many Jews. The temple that was built was enormous. Each wall was said to be over 60 feet long. It was 15 stories high, much higher than any other building at the time. The exterior was adorned with white marble and gold that shone in the sun. The interior was lined with polished cedar and gold and it was draped with crimson and purple cloth. But perhaps what was most amazing were the stones at the foundation. Archeologists have found stones that were 42 feet long weighing over 500 tons at the site. The stones at the foundation were said to be even larger than that. 

This temple was truly magnificent, a sight to behold. So as Jesus and his disciples come out of the temple, one of his disciples stops and looks up at it and comments like any good tourist would, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”

Jesus does not join him in his awe and wonder. Instead he says, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

What on earth. How could this be? Perhaps the disciples could have understood better if Jesus was referring to the smaller buildings in the town, but the temple?! There’s no way that’s coming down, it’s impossible.

Early in my college career, I approached my parents and asked them if I could join the national guard. There had been many floods in our country, and I watched as the brave men and women in the national guard dropped down from helicopters to rescue the people trapped on their roof tops in the rain. I wanted to do this. I wanted to serve our country in this way. My parents asked me if I was ready to serve in a war. But I, in all my 20 year old wisdom said, “We are not going to war. There isn’t going to be a war. I’ll just be there for people stranded by floods, hurricanes, or wildfires.” I really thought they were a bit over the top to be asking me about war, but I decided not to enroll.  It was the summer of 2001. 

On this Sunday following Veterans Day, we give thanks and praise for all the brave men and women of our country who do go willingly into the armed forces to serve our country, to protect our country against any attack not knowing what they could be thrown into.

Like most of us in the summer of 2001, I had no idea that war was just a few months away. There was no part of my brain that could conceive of an attack on the buildings in NYC, not to mention the strongest and tallest buildings in NYC, the twin towers as we New York kids called them. 

In December 2019 I went with a few friends to New York City for the weekend. There were so many people in New York City that nearly all the restaurants and even the cafes had an online reservation system. You couldn’t just walk down the street and have an ice cream. The demand was so high, the crowds were so immense that you had to reserve your spot in line in advance. 

No one thought that just months later, those same restaurants would be locked up and those same city streets would be empty due to a global pandemic.

Jesus says, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

As the disciples marvel at the majesty of the temple in Jerusalem, they could not conceive of it crashing down. It was beyond their imagination. Mark does not record any conversation after Jesus says these words until he and his disciples are at the Mount of Olives, which is about a half hour walk from the temple.  Either the disciples were speechless or they really thought he had lost his mind and when Mark does record conversation it is just a few disciples asking Jesus privately to tell them more about this mysterious event that will tear down what they thought was an indestructible building. They want a sign and they want to know when they can expect the destruction of the temple. Jesus does not give them a specific sign or date of destruction. He says that many will lead them astray and there will be wars, earthquakes and famines. 

Jesus goes on to say that all of this destruction is “the beginning of the birthpangs.” 

Any woman who has birthed a child knows that the beginning of birth pangs are hard, but not nearly as hard as what is to come, so what Jesus is saying is that there will be even greater hardship to come, but notice here that Jesus does not simply say that this is the beginning of more hardship, instead he says, this is the beginning of hardship that will end in rebirth, in new life, in abundant joy, in love and hope. 

I know this is not every woman’s experience, but for me labor was the most wonderful, beautiful experience. I knew that despite the pain each moment brought me closer to meeting my incredible little boys, the little lights of my life. 

We don’t always see the hardship that lies ahead. We don’t always know what could come. We live our lives often trusting what is around us. In fact it would be very difficult if we did not trust that our cars work, that our homes will stay in tact, that we can buy groceries next week, and plan holiday parties, and look forward to graduations. It would be at times impossible to live life without depending on life continuing on regularly, but Jesus warns us here not to place our whole trust in the regularity of life. 

Jesus knew all the hardships we would face in this life. He knew the hardships our societies would face. He knew that the Romans would indeed later come in and set such hot fires around the base of the temple that the calcium carbonate in the marble would dissociate and yield carbon dioxide and lime – gas and powder – and that the stones would explode like bombs causing the whole temple to crash to the ground. 

He knew that there would be famine.  He knew about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. He knew about your bankruptcy, the divorce, your new diagnosis. He knew that sometimes you get lonely, angry, or feel low.

He knew that there would be hardship in life, that life doesn’t always stay regular. Our bodies, our buildings, our schedules, the things we rely on do not always stay regular. Jesus knew there would be hardship, but he also knew that life does not end with hardship. Jesus knew that there is reason for hope even in the destruction. He knew that after all the wonders of this world came crashing down, there is life, joy, peace, love, and comfort in our faith in him and in life everlasting.

And this is the greatest gift that Jesus could have given us… to be reminded, to know, to be promised that no matter what life brings, no matter what hardship we face, that hardship is not the end of things. There is hope ahead of the darkness, there is light at the end of the tunnel and that light is Jesus, it is our faith here and now to make it through, it is peace in the storm, it is abundant joy and abundant love from the Lord here and now and it is Jesus’ promise of life everlasting. 

In this pandemic we have all gone through a kind of temple destruction. We never thought any of this would happen. We never thought so much could change – I never thought that there would be no first day of Kindergarten for Jonah and in the midst of these two years, life and all it’s other challenges have still gone on. So you may also be going through your own kind of temple destruction moment in your own life where something you never thought would happen is happening. You may instead be in a place of marveling at the wonders of your life. You may be looking at your life and noticing how absolutely amazing it is… you may have these spectacular moments like I had this summer when my kids were playing in the ocean while the sun sparkled on the waves. 

Wherever you are in your life, Jesus is saying to you now, know this. I am a rock that will never implode. I will be with you in the joy. I will be with you in the unexpected hardships and when this life is over, you will have joy, peace, and light everlasting. So do not be troubled whatever this life may bring, for I am your rock, your firm foundation and I will never leave you nor forsake you. You can find rest in me.