I hope that by now all of you have heard about the terrible killings and terrorist activity in Paris that happened on Friday. France now is under a state of emergency with her borders tightened and over 350 people are hospitalized at least 129 people are dead by gun and suicide bomber attacks. It has been a somber weekend.
For several hundred families their world, as they knew it, violently came to an end on Friday. For thousands of others their world has changed significantly. You see what they knew, which was a sense of security, has ceased to exit, and the course of the survivors and the citizens of Paris and France is now charted in a different direction. In fact, we all will probably take pause to repurpose a vision of security, peace and the essence of life.
It is eerie, if not downright spooky then to read today’s passage in the context of the Paris attacks. Keep all of this in mind as we hear today’s scripture from the Gospel of Mark, the 13th chapter:
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
As Jesus walked out from the incense infused temple and to the Mount of Olives that very astute disciple of Jesus must have been very impressed by the temple, as well he should be. It was very opulent. “Look, Jesus, look at these huge stones, and this temple…have you ever seen such a grandiose and ornate building in all your life?” I can see him now, trying to keep up with Jesus, dodging the masses of people who had come to the temple that day all the while torqueing his head and neck upwards at the temple maybe like we do when we are in NYC and pass by the Chrysler Building.
He was gawking and admiring the 2nd temple rebuilt by the master builder, Herod the Great. Gawk he should! Those big stones were finely crafted ashlars and a grand example of Herodian masonry with a fine finish cut with such precision that no mortar was needed in between stones. Their size? They were up to 35 feet long and could weigh up to 70 tons! Who would even think that they could possibly be destroyed?
Yet Jesus was predicting future events, some 40 years later. In 70 CE the Romans, under the Emperor Titus, will plough through Jerusalem destroying that beautiful temple and they will eventually erect a temple to the pagan god Jupiter. The temple would be in ruins and just the retaining walls will be left. Those large Herodian stones, still, to this day, rest where they fell. I’ve seen them and touched them. They are big. They are impressive, but they are rubble.
And so Jesus sits on the Mount of Olives with his disciples, adjacent to the temple in full view and describes the end times; the temple will be obliterated, false prophets will be prolific, war, famine, earthquakes, nation will rise up against nation, whipping and beatings and that, he says, is the beginning of birth pains, of labor when the birth canal quickens and contracts to ready itself to birth new life. It probably was hard for them to comprehend all of this yet we know that the people then were immersed in apocalyptic thought, they believed that the end of the world was imminent. This was the MO, the modis operandi, for living.
Jesus predicts doom and gloom in this passage, doesn’t he? He knows all too well that that temple will soon lie scattered on the ground and the end of the age, the Kingdom of God will finally come. Apocalyptic literature never does mince words and it can be awfully scary at times.
I’m not so much of an end-time theologian. I don’t believe that the world is coming to an end. I don’t panic and fret, and wring my hands with worry with the predictions that rear up from time to time. I just don’t see it that way because war, famine, and earthquakes still happen, people still whip and beat and terrorize one another…those things have been around since Jesus’ time and they haven’t stopped.
But what I do take from this apocalyptic imagery of horrific proportions is that we are urged, and in fact strongly encouraged to live in the present moment knowing that what we have could be taken away from us at any given instant. That life is most fragile even under the best of circumstances. So consider your life.
What would you do if these were your last days? If you knew that you would be at that stadium or in that concert hall in France last Friday night and would certainly die, how would you change your living or your day leading up to that night? It is a sobering thought. But I also think it is an important thought because it offers redemption from that which weight you down and joy and gratitude for what you have around you.
So take just a moment to think. Silently answer this question, if this were my last day on this earth I would……
I, for one, would reach out to the people who I love the most. I would reach out and try to reconcile any of the past wrongs that I have comitted. And I would say that I love them over and over again. I think I would be content with everything around me sorting out the essential from the non-essential. I would be at home because that really is where my heart is and you know that I’ve had many homes.
I would pray to God that they way I chose to spend my life would have been pleasing to my creator. And I would be grateful for this beautiful life that I’ve had and that while I would be reluctant to let go of it, I would pray that the ending would be just the beginning of something much better. I would stop my longing and just be content.
We live with end time doom and gloom all around us, all of the time, and what we need to remember and continue to live out is that the pains of labor bring forth a new beginning. And this is God’s grace. And this is Christ’s promise. Out of the ashes rises the phoenix. From the darkened canal a baby is born. From deaths cold tomb resurrection happens. This is the rock foundation up which our faith is built.
As you will dedicate your pledge in just a bit can you also pledge that you will live your life in faith not in fear? That you will attempt to make each moment count as if it were the last day that you have on this earth? I think you will find your living more complete, filled with great gratitude for the gifts both big and small that surround you if you do so.
God is with us and not against us, make no mistake about that. May the God of the ages tend to your needs today and the needs of our community and my you always see the light of life before you.
Amen and Amen.
O God of this aching universe hear us as we pray especially this day. Fill our hearts with your healing balm as we come to you in gratitude for this beautiful life you have given us and the grief that often accompanies it. Heap your compassionate care upon us as we try to understand yet again the nature of evil and console us when there are no answers that can assuage our heavy hearts. We pray for wholeness to come upon us and your grace to envelop us. We pray for peace in our hearts so that we can boldly step out of our places of fear into a life filled with faith.
Today we pray for the sick, the addicted, the recovering, the homeless, the indigent, we pray for the grieving, the heartbroken, we pray for the citizens of France and for the families of those whose lives have come to an end.
Today we pray for all victims of violence, injustice, prejudice and hatred and we pray dear Lord for those who perpetrate violence.
Today we pray for soldiers in active military, for veterans, for our president, for men and women in authority, for our political system.
Today we pray for our children of whatever age, and their children born or yet to come. As they have been brought into this world let them see equality and peace.
Bless us O God and the gifts you have given us and please, accept our gratitude and love. Amen.