There are two TV shows that come out of the BBC and are regularly trotted out on the ABC just before the evening news that I really enjoy watching. One is The Time Team and the other is Restoration Home or Restoration Man both very similar to each other in working with old buildings and restoring them.
These came to my mind as I was reading what we have from the Gospel today in its comment about the huge stones with which the Temple in Jerusalem had been built with – it is estimated that some blocks weighed in excess of 50 tonnes.
But when the Time Team excavates an old Roman ruin what we generally see are walls of rocks seemingly just sitting on each other – no mortar is left holding them together, nor is there often any plaster covering over the rocks. They just look like rocks.
NOTHING IS PERMANENT
Like all the prophets before him, Jesus was an astute reader of the social and political times he was living in, and I think his words in v.6 give us a glimpse of it. He knew that if things continued on as they had been in Israel under the Romans, for much longer, there would be such a reaction from Rome that would result in the Temple being destroyed utterly.
The interesting thing for me about this temple is that it was not Solomon’s Temple. That had been destroyed two centuries before. King Herod the Great, appointed by the Romans as a vassal King in Judaea rebuilt the temple, as only such a king would, with every possible embellishment necessary to impress his Roman masters. It was grand and it seemed permanent – but even it would not last.
Inevitably the same thing will happen to this temple, this church building. Some of you have spent many years worshipping in this place and treasure it deeply. Some of the things within the building and in its gardens make it a very sacred space for you.
We have spent much energy and money on making sure its structure remains sound and beautiful. Little by little we try to beautify it. We hope that it will serve our community for generations to come.
Yet.....yet.... the day will surely come when it will become a pile of rubble. This house of prayer will cease to be, and who knows what will take its place.
Nothing we build or maintain has a claim on permanence. We gravely mislead ourselves if we think it does.
WE ARE PILGRIMS WHO LIVE IN TENTS
It is a wonderful thing for us to be reminded that God’s earliest relationship with his people was when they were wandering Arameans living in tents, and that even the Tabernacle was conceived of as a tent.
This is a bit like a parable of how things should be for us as Christians. The prime task of a Christian is not to build something permanent but to be faithful in following Christ and glorifying God in our generation. Faithfulness is what is required; never some vainglorious attempt to perpetuate our structures into future generations.
And we create structures in much more than just bricks and mortar. We also create organisations (even Church denominations) that we think are permanent and should be preserved as if they are our legacy for the next generation.
Most of us do want to leave something more permanent than buildings. We would like our influence to continue. We would like to think that we have contributed in a small way to progress that will go on and develop. But maybe it won’t.
Our influence has no more claim to permanence than our buildings. There is nothing necessarily accumulative about a good influence in society. Each generation must again face the issues of good and evil, faith or cynicism. Even if by some remarkable mission to the world, every person was converted to the love of God, the next generation would have to face it all again.
Our task is not to build monuments of any kind but to be faithful to Christ in our time and in our situation.
HOW WILL WE KNOW THINGS ARE ENDING?
In reply to the people’s request for some idea of what it will be like when these things happen, Jesus sets out a pretty realistic world view. Jesus warns about the troubles that will come:
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
Luke 21: 10-11
Some people might have expected Jesus to describe a world that was getting increasing better because people of faith had lived in it, but he doesn't. He describes a world in which persecution and suffering will be the order of the day for those who follow him. It’s a world in which both natural and man-made disasters inflict terrible suffering on God’s people.
In effect he is telling us: Bad things will go on happening. But don’t be misled. Don’t be impatient. Don’t become despairing if your efforts do not appear to achieve much. God will travel with you through this if you are faithful.
That is what he is calling us to – being faithful. No more is asked of us than that, nor anything less. This is about a loving God who suffers with the world to redeem it from its folly and sin. Next week we pause for a moment to reflect on the suffering of Jesus through which he is vindicated by God and becomes Lord of our lives – through suffering God comes to us.
Two things then are warned against on this penultimate Sunday of the Church year.
1. Thinking we know that the end is near – so many people have fallen into this trap, haven’t they? But Jesus specifically warns against it.
2. Thinking that it is our task to lay down some tangible and permanent structure that will perpetuate the faith for future generations – if we are but faithful in our relationship with God the next generation will be taken care of.