"What Wonderful Stones!"

18 November 2012

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

Mark 13:1-8

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 birthpangs.

Prayer.

The water front at our cottage looked the same to me as it had been for the past 32 years.

The shore line, the dock, the water and waves, the hill on the other side;

Relaxing, restorative, refreshing.

This was the reason we’ve made it our family home away from home.

This past summer, I saw something different.

The terraced lawn and flower beds have been suffering from benign neglect

And the old Ontario & Western rail road ties from the 1950s had been returning to dust.

Mulling over in my mind creative, no cost solutions to my crumbling walls,

I looked to the water front and saw something completely different.

The bottom of the lake was covered

In the most wonderful, rock wall building stones imaginable.

I sold the plan to Cynthia and Christian.

With the roll of the eyes characteristic of slave labor

We began the task of picking stones, lifting them over the bank, hauling them to the construction site, dumping them, and arranging them in a wall-strengthening interlocking manor.

Sounds easy enough.

At the end of the second day,

We stood back and admired our work.

It is beautiful, if I say so myself.

What wonderful stones!

Three months of painful tendonitis and our Gospel lesson for this morning

Brings to mind a fresh memory of our new, magnificent rock wall.

Certainly nothing will be able to destroy it.

This rock wall will live forever.

Rocks are eternal, as is our soul.

This is the root of the Jewish custom to place rocks on the grave of loved ones:

Rocks serve as a reminder of the eternal life of each individual.

Human ambition from the beginning of time

Has recognized the wonderful, eternal nature of stones.

We use stones to make walls and foundations,

To grind into sand and mix in with Portland powder to make cement.

Stones are essential building materials for homes and businesses.

We build buildings hundreds of stories and thousands of feet high:

Set on bed rock,

Molded in cement and steel,

Knowing,

Believing

That they are eternal,

That nothing can bring them down.

Or so we thought.

“As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him,

‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ ”

Jesus and his disciples had just left the second temple

Where they had observed the poor widow making her gift.

They had walked a hundred yards across the expansive, flat top of the temple mount,

Entered the portico on the southern side and descended about 150 feet of interior stairs.

Emerging into the hot middle east sunlight,

Jesus and his disciples exit the gate and are walking down another 150 feet of stone stairs

When they stop, sit, and have this exchange.

The largest foundation stones of the Temple are 15 feet thick, 50 feet long, and weigh 150 tons.

(see: http://www.templemount.org/visittemp.html)

The retaining wall, from ground level to the courtyard on top, was 300 feet high.

Over 2,500 years of construction, rebuilding, improving,

Had yielded a structure unlike anything else in the world.

What a magnificent temple, surrounded by an incredible city!

What wonderful stones!

Nothing will ever bring them down.

Or so they thought.

Yet, the Gospel of Mark is authored with ironic hindsight

Two decades after the Romans had wiped the temple mount clean

And destroyed much of Jerusalem

In an effort to obliterate a Jewish insurrection.

Early Christians

From a group organized and defined by the Apostle Mark

Probably recalled

With a snarky harrumph and eye-roll

The ensuing, apocalyptic response from Jesus:

“Do you see these great buildings?

Not one stone will be left here upon another;

All will be thrown down.”

All will come tumbling down.

We humans are a curious sort.

We like to search for answers,

Seek out the truth.

Google makes bazillions of dollars each year satisfying our thirst for information.

Wikipedia, and encyclopedias before it,

Bring facts and knowledge to every conceivable question that has been answered.

Yet, we still seek answers:

A cure for cancers and other diseases,

A post-Newtonian and post-Einsteinian unified theory of physics,

How to harness sufficient, renewable energy,

And how to get food, potable water, and waste treatment to everyone on planet earth.

But our curiosity doesn’t stop here.

We want to know God.

We want to know everything we can about God.

We want to know how and why God created us, loves us, forgives us, and grants us eternal life.

We want to know what happens when we die.

We want to know these things,

Because we believe,

Knowledge will enable us to do something about it.

Humans are not passive people simply satisfied with knowledge.

We need to have that knowledge put to work,

To improve the world,

To make it a better place.

Disciples of Jesus would find evangelism so much easier

If we could reveal Jesus to the world

With such insurmountable proof of his miracles, death, and resurrection

That all of humanity would simply get in line,

Claim the name of Jesus,

And fall on our collective knees to worship the Lamb.

Ultimately, we are active seekers

For truth and our ultimate concern.

Apocalypse is a Greek word that means to reveal.

The apocalypse is the revelation of all questions;

The answer to our ultimate concern.

Unfortunately, the word apocalypse has been hijacked by modernist

Who sell fear in the name of entertainment

To create images of a Zombie or Nuclear apocalypse.

The word apocalypse has also been hijacked by religious fundamentalists and extremists

Who use the word as a tool to manipulate their personal message

By instilling fear

And advancing their cause.

But this thirteenth chapter of Mark,

Also known as the Little Apocalypse,

Is revealing something altogether different.

Using the same style and tradition of Apostolic peers,

Such as the author of Revelations (John of Patmos),

And of a long tradition of Jewish prophets before them,

The Gospel of Mark reports

These revealing truths from Jesus:

Watch,

Stay Fast, and

Endure.

(http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=4&alt=1)

“Take heed” Jesus says four times

When he sits with Peter, James, John, and Andrew on the Mount of Olives

Looking out over the valley and the temple mount from which they had just traveled.

Watch, Jesus reveals:  watch for difficult times ahead.

Wars and earthquakes and false prophets will come.

Suffering and persecution and injustice will take place.

Watch for these events!

Stay fast.

Endure.

Have not these events taken place?

Will not these events continue through our life time and beyond?

New wars will emerge.

Tomorrow’s tragic earthquake is only one fault line away from incredible suffering and death.

New idiots will begin to preach on street corners.

Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and terrible suffering will strike and steal members of our families in crushing anguish.

Terrible times are the new reality.

And Jesus’ revelation remains the same:

Watch, Stay Fast, and Endure.

Jesus is not advocating for a passive apocalypse.

He wants us actively watching.

He wants us actively staying fast by worship, education, and faith development.

Jesus wants us actively enduring

The trials and tribulations of life,

Because it is in suffering that the complete incarnation of Jesus is revealed.

Jesus suffered.

We suffer.

In this suffering

God is with us.

And Christ is in us.

This is the apocalyptic revelation for our time:

There is nothing that can separate us from the love and the presence of God.

There is great mystery to the world:

Why and how and when.

But nothing will separate you from the love and presence of God.

We don’t know and cannot see the larger plan of our Creator.

Yet nothing will separate you from his love or his presence.

We don’t know from where or when the wind of the Holy Spirit blows.

Yet we feel the Spirit’s presence and we experience the Spirit’s love.

We don’t know the depth of the incarnation of Jesus

But we know that God so loves this world

That he sent us his only Son, Jesus.

What wonderful stones God has given us.

Stones serve as great building materials.

Stones serve as a reminder of the eternal nature of our souls.

And today, stones serve as an apocalyptic metaphor

- a revelation of Jesus Christ –

To watch,

Stay fast,

And endure.

For God is with us,

In us,

and has promised us that

God will always be by our side.

Amen.