This sermon is based on Luke 21:5-17. Jesus discusses the coming destruction of the temple as well as what can be expected in “the last days.” I tackle it from the perspective of the loss of certain places that are meaningful for us, and how tough that can be, but that God is not limited to a place.
You can listen to the sermon here:
You can also read along with the sermon here. Disregard the off punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember to do them somehow.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Last Monday was, of course, veterans day…a day when we stop and recognize those brave men and women who have served their country in the military…placing themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms.
Although I have had inklings over the years of serving in the military, and even did a little bit of research into the military chaplaincy program a few years back, I never went down that road…I never put on a uniform…I just never felt that calling…yet I have tremendous respect for those that have.
When I think back over my life, there is one moment that comes to mind when I felt the closest thing I’ll likely ever feel to the sense of honor and pride in being a military man…about 2 years ago, my family and I had the opportunity to travel out to northern Virginia and Washington DC. One of the days that we were there, we visited Arlington Cemetery…the resting place of thousands of our nations finest…it was a humbling experience, walking those grounds…but the highlight for me was when we spent some time at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
If you’ve never been to this amazing place, I certainly recommend it…a stone tomb stands on its own in an open courtyard…and a Soldier marches slowly and rigidly back and forth…guarding the tomb…I sat on the steps in front of that courtyard…and the enormity of military service…of those that have given their lives for our country…hit me…it was a very solemn…very humbling moment for me…one that I had never experienced before…and one that I have not experienced since. And that specific place will forever hold special meaning to me. (pause)
I’m guessing that we all have memories of places like that…places where unique, special events happened…places where our lives were changed. Sometimes we can visit those places again…but sometimes we can’t. I think back over my own life, and specially my life of faith, and there are some places that stand out.
One is Bethel Lutheran Church in Graettinger, IA. I was baptized there…raised there…but when I was in 5th grade, there was a fire at the church…and the sanctuary…including the font in which I was baptized…was destroyed…I don’t remember my baptism…and now I can’t go back to visit the place where it happened.
Another important milestone for me was my first communion…It happened the same year as that church fire…and my church was worshiping in the Catholic church in town…my first communion happened in a Catholic Church…strange I realize…and difficult, though not impossible, to go back and visit.
Another one that comes to mind is my wedding. Emily and I were married at First Lutheran Church in Milford, IA…and about 5 years later, the congregation completed construction on a new facility…we moved out of the old church where we were married…and where our son was baptized…and the old building was sold to another congregation…and I’ve never again set foot in that wonderful place where my life was changed.
I think about those places…those places where God did some amazing things in my life…and it saddens me to think that I can’t just go back there…because they are so meaningful to me.
In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus hints at a similar situation for the entire Jewish culture…the destruction of the temple. These things you see…the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another…all will be thrown down. This beautiful place will be no more.
Now, its important to realize just how vital the temple was for the Jewish culture…it was literally the center of life. It is true that by Jesus’ time the majority of worship and learning happened at the local synagogues…but the center for religious life was still the temple.
The temple is where the Priests did their work…everyone in Jerusalem worshiped there…Jewish people would travel from all over the known world for religious festivals…and not only that…but God lived there…that was the belief.
The temple, as a whole, was huge…the outer courtyards where large enough to hold crowds of up to 400,000 people…but as you moved inwards, each section of the temple got smaller…and so did the “guest list.” Anyone could enter into the outer courtyards…anyone. Then you entered the actual building where there was a courtyard that only Jewish people could enter…then another that only Jewish men could enter…sorry ladies…after that came another area that only the priests could enter…and finally, behind a curtain, was the Holy of Holies…the place where God was…only the high priest could pass this curtain…and only one day a year…and the people were so afraid to actually approach God that they would tie a rope around the high priest…that way if he died in God’s presence, they could pull him back out again.
God lived there…that was where God could be found…where God could be approached…only behind the curtain, in the innermost chamber of the temple…and only a priest could go there. (pause)
But regardless of the restrictions placed on entry into the different sections…this was a holy place…this was a symbol for the Jewish people…and not just a symbol…it was where you went to find God…to worship God…it was THE place.
And in today’s story…Jesus foretells of the destruction of the temple…and unlike Matthew or Mark’s account of this story, he’s not being metaphorical, speaking about the temple of his body which would destroyed…but here in Luke, Jesus is literally speaking about the temple itself…and he was right…about 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus…the temple was utterly destroyed by the Romans…and that holy place…that place where the Jewish people went to find God…was gone.
Just think about how difficult that must have been for the people…not only at the time that the temple was actually destroyed, but also those sitting there that day…listening to Jesus speak about it…it had to have been devastating.
Think about those examples of the special places where God has encountered you in your lifetime…are they still around…are they still accessible? Can you go to visit them again…or like the church where I was baptized…have they been destroyed…wiped out…whether by accident or on purpose…eventually…those important places in our lives…will disappear.
Perhaps it’s difficult to think about…but one day…this sanctuary won’t be here. I don’t pretend to know the future…I don’t know the how or the why or the when…but at some point in the future something will happen, and this place of worship…this place of so many happy memories…of so many moving experiencing in countless individuals lives of faith…one day…it won’t be here anymore…and that’s a sad reality…fortunately it is one that we are not facing today, or anytime soon in the future…but someday it will happen.
And that can really be a devastating thought…and unfortunately for many churches…many congregations…that is a reality that they face each and every year…when the doors close…or when tragedy strikes.
I used to serve a very small country church with monthly pulpit supply. For about 18 months I would head out, one Sunday a month, to fill the role of leading worship, and over the course of that time, I got to know this tiny group of about 15 or 20 members quite well. Eventually the time came when they closed the doors of the church…and it was truly a sad day for them.
In a conversation that happened shortly after the congregation closed, I asked one of the former members how they were doing…how they felt about the whole deal…and though they had found a new church home…a new congregation to join, they expressed the feeling of how hard it was to find God in a new place…not impossible…but difficult because that little country church had been the place for them…it had been the place where they had found God for so long…and over so many different experiences.
This is a sad reality…but it raises a point that is important to make…as wonderful as the buildings are…with all of their memories and experiences…God is not the building…and the building is not God…I look around this sanctuary, beautiful as it is…I think of wonderful memories that I’ve already made in my short time here…and I wonder about the countless memories and faith-filled experiences that you all possess…and as amazing as all of that is…it is not God. (pause)
Because God isn’t limited to a building…if, heaven forbid…something happened tomorrow and the building wasn’t here…devastating as that may be, I believe that Underwood Lutheran Church would continue…because the church…is not the building…it just happens to be sitting in it right now. We are the church…
Remember those famous words uttered by Jesus. Where ever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am also…
God isn’t limited anymore…God’s not just in the temple…and we don’t need to go to a specific place to find him…things have changed. (pause)
We’re coming up on the end of the church year…the season of Pentecost is almost over, just a couple more weeks…in in December, we’ll enter Advent, the beginning of a new church year…and with it the lectionary will switch over to Matthew…we’ll be done with Luke…and perhaps that’s evident with where we are in Luke’s Gospel…Jesus is already in Jerusalem…the triumphal entry, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday…has already happened…and in fact, we’re only 1 chapter away from the betrayal and arrest of Jesus.
You know, I’ve always thought that the liturgical calendar and the lectionary are set up a little strangely…we get right up to the events in Jesus’ life that lead to his death and resurrection…but then we switch things up…and we don’t hear about those events for a few months…not till Lent, and Holy Week…and that can be a little frustrating.
But when we come back around to it…and the scripture lesson for today…its important to be thinking about those events…and particularly relevant today as we talk about the temple…is what happened on Good Friday…at the moment that Jesus died…hanging on that cross…the curtain…remember the curtain…it guarded the inner room…the Holy of Holies…the place where God was…the curtain divided God from humanity…and when Jesus died…that thing ripped in half…the curtain was gone…the barrier between God and humanity was destroyed.
In that moment…God decided to get out and stretch his legs…they might as well have hung up a sign that said “Are you looking for God…sorry, He’s not here anymore…He’s out there.”
In Christ…God put on flesh and walked around…and when that curtain was torn…the last barrier between God and humanity was destroyed…and that barrier…was sin and death…in Jesus death…we are brought to life…and we know that there is nothing that stands in our way of approaching God.
We don’t have to go anywhere special. We don’t have to go through anyone else…we can do it ourselves…and regardless of where we are…when we gather together in the name of Jesus…He’s there too…the one that placed himself in harm’s way…the one that sacrificed himself for our freedom…not from tyranny, oppression or persecution…but from annihilation…from death and destruction.
We are truly blessed to be able to gather here…each and every week…in this beautiful sanctuary to worship our Lord and Savior…and we know that when we gather together in His Name…he is here…but we also know…that he’s not just in here…he’s out there too…whenever we gather together. Amen.