11.19.06 Pr28 Not Empire But Birth Pangs
  • I'm a sucker for books, and as many of you know or can guess, I've been interested in biographies of interesting people, including biographies of church leaders through the centuries
    • So when I saw a little advertisement in a church journal for a new devotional book that has gathered snippets of the people, places and events that shape us, and brought them together into a reflection on the saints and historical events – I was hooked, and immediatley ordered it through Amazon.
    • Here's the book, with the strange title, An Eclectic Almanac for the Faithful [W. Paul Jones]
    • Now because it is organized by gathering these little snippets of people, places, and events for each day, beginning with January 1, I'm going to put off reading the book until the new year arrives, but in the meantime, I just kind of thumbed through it, and looked at a few pages to get the flavor of this offbeat devotional
    • And while I was curiously thumbing through, I passed by this interesting juxtaposition of people, places, and events that was gathered for prayerful reflection for May 1 [p. 159] – Joseph the Worker, Antonin Dvorak, International Worker's Day, and The Empire State Building opens as the tallest building in the world in 1931
      • Now Joseph the Worker is one of the ways that Joseph, the step-father of Jesus and apparently a carpenter has been remembered
      • And Dvorak was a Czech composer who wrote the New World Symphony here in the United States, using some American folk songs
      • And International Worker's Day of course honors workers
      • But how does the Empire State building fit in with workers and the New World symphony?
    • Listen to the author's prayer that draws these seemingly unrelated people, places, and events together: "God, we of the 'NEW WORLD' want the tallest, the fastest, the richest, and the most powerful – no matter what it takes to get it. Yet what the vast majority of the world wants is simply to eat. Forgive us for failing to see the connection. Amen"
  • And that brings us to today's gospel reading
    • "As [Jesus] 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.'" [Mark 13:1-2]
    • This is a scene that we in the Oley Valley can identify with – the disciples were natives of Galilee, the relatively rural area north of Jerusalem, and they were gawking like tourists who were impressed with the biggest and tallest buildings that they had ever seen
    • And frankly, from the ruins, we know that the Temple in Jerusalem was impressive – a towering religious monument that had been rebuilt in collaboration with Rome
      • Some of the stones were over 25 feet long - that's about one and half times the length of one of our pews! That's a big rock to cut, move, and lay in a wall!
      • Some of the columns were so thick that it took three men to spread their arms, touch fingers, and reach around the pillar
      • And according to an ancient historian, there was so much gold used to overlay the most sacred temple building, that it was difficult to look at on a sunny day
    • But indeed, in 70 AD, almost 40 years after Jesus's death and resurrection, the temple was destroyed when the Romans put down a Jewish revolt.
        • Many of the stones were thrown down
        • And much of the gold was carried back to Rome and ironically used to pay for the construction of that architectural marvel that today we call the Coliseum
    • When there is the power, when there is the skill, and when there is the money, big impressive things, fast speedy things, or rich and opulent things, can be built
      • The temple back then, and the empire state building now, and yes New York's twin towers
      • And not just buildings – how about Boeing 747s and now-retired Concords?
        • Or Hummers and Lamborghinis?
        • Or mansions and cathedrals?
        • Or laptops that eclipse yesterdays' supercomputers, or Playstation 3s that create a virtual reality?
    • Remember the prayer? "God, we of the "NEW WORLD" want the tallest, the fastest, the richest, and the most powerful – no matter what it takes to get it. Yet what the vast majority of the world wants is simply to eat. Forgive us for failing to see the connection. Amen"
    • And not only do we want all that, and in fact people of means and resources have wanted that from Bible times, we who either have that, or at least come close enough to gawk like tourists – we live in a perpetual state of denial
      • All that big, fast, powerful stuff will either be knocked down like the temple was, or it will eventually fall into decay and ruin like the Coliseum
      • But we don't want to think about that – but that is literally GOD'S HONEST TRUTH in today's gospel reading!
    • Jesus went on to tell the disciples, "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. [Mark 13:7-8]"
      • I have a confession to make
      • When I'm bored, and the main channels on television are disappointing, I will sometimes surf up the stations to the more obscure "History Channel"
        • I know that the History Channel is a bit strange and geeky, and the other night was no exception
        • For an hour I watched a show about the war between the Rome and Carthage
        • What struck me, is that in one of the seemingly endless battles, depicted by animation and poorly paid and even more poorly costumed actors – in one of those battles several centuries Before Christ, something like 60,000 Roman soldiers were killed in a single losing day – and by any measure past, present, or future, that was a terrible slaughter
      • And so when Jesus said that there would be wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom – that was nothing new! That was NOT looking forward to one single event that would shock people out of their peace and tranquility! With wars and rumors of war, Jesus was simply describing the tragedy of human reality.
    • And instead of putting trust in power like buildings, or the might of armies, what Jesus DID do was to declare that his disciples then, and us now, can witness the beginning of the birth pangs
    • Our hope, and trust, and faith, cannot and should not be placed in the age-old human reliance upon power and might, speed and wealth, for ultimately, these things are idols that will pass away
    • Instead, God took on flesh and came to earth to announce that a new birth was underway
      • In contrast to power, speed, and wealth, God choose to live the life of a poor carpenter and teacher
      • In contract to victory, Jesus willingly submitted himself to betrayal, suffering, and death
      • And from death, the most powerless of all possible conditions, Christ conquered from the grave, from the tomb, and now reigns from the right hand of the Father
    • As Christians who in Holy Baptism are joined to the Kingdom of God's birth pangs that are proclaimed in the victorious weakness of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are called to trust in God, and God's Kingdom alone
      • …not in power and might and big, impressive things
      • …trusting not in speed and technology
      • …and trusting not in wealth, especially while the poor simply want to eat
    • All of these will pass away. But God's present and future is filled with the birth of the Kingdom, the birth that not even death could conquer, and that promise is the basis for Christian hope for the future, and Christian life and discipleship in the present.