Every time we gather for the Communion, we say, “Christ died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Has anyone wondered about what we mean by “Christ will come again?” We call God, God of Alpha and Omega. It means God of the beginning and the end. We read Genesis when we want to know how God created this world. God created the sky, the earth, the birds, the trees, fish, all kinds of animals, bees, and human beings, the Bible says. If there is a beginning, we know that there will be an end. We learn this from our experiences, a new nation begins, and the nation dies like the Roman Empire. A new church opens its door with new vision and new people, and the church closes its door someday with low attendance, not being able to maintain its building anymore. A new baby is born every second yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And the baby will grow to become an adult, elderly, and end his/her life. It is very sad to imagine that there is an end to everything. This is very emotional.
People who are not necessarily Christians also seem to be very interested in what will happen in the future, especially the end of the world. I remembering watching this movie, “Armageddon,” a few years ago. An asteroid the size of Texas heads for earth. The U.S. government decides to send two spaceship with the world’s best deep core drilling team who would land on the asteroid, drill a giant hole in the middle, and set a atomic bomb. Will the human beings survive? I also remember watching another movie, “The Day after Tomorrow.” The global warming causes somehow ice age on the earth. Hail storm sweeps the New York City. Tornados ruins the buildings. People die from the dropped temperature. Recently, I saw the advertisement of a new movie, “2012.” According to its synopsis, Mayans predicted that the end of the world would happen in 2012. If you see this movie, you can see the giant status of Jesus in Brazil falling down, the Vatican in Rome falling down, earthquake swallowing the buildings, highways, and people. These movies see the end of the world as being associated with disasters and destruction. So how do we react to these movies? How we understand the end of the world?
Today’s text tells us about Jesus who is teaching his disciples about the signs, signs of the end. According to Mark 12, Jesus was being tested in the Temple in Jerusalem by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. These people were fervently looking for argument with Jesus so that they could find a reason to kill him. The Pharisees came to Jesus asking whether they should give their tax to the Roman Emperor. The Sadducees came to Jesus asking what would happen to a woman who married seven times when she is resurrected. Finally, a scribe came to Jesus asking what is the greatest commandment of all. Remember all these questioning happened in the temple in Jerusalem. When he came out of the temple, one of this disciples said to him, “Teacher, Look! What large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus says, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2) Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple standing in front of the temple.
Why the temple? Is there something special about the temple? Did the temple in Jerusalem mean something special to the Israelites other than the place to worship God and offer burnt offerings? Israelites believed that they were the chosen people of God. God made the covenant with their ancestor, Abraham, blessing upon the nation for generations and generations. But the northern Israel fell in the hands of Assyrians. The southern Israel, Judah, fell to Babylonians. They were taken as captives and became slaves to them. So the psalmist sings the song of sorrow in Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” The Psalm goes on, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” When our nation is destroyed, when our temple is destroyed, when our people are taken in exile, how can we sing the song of the Lord? When the Israel captives returned to their land, the first thing they did was to rebuild the temple. The temple was the symbol that they are God’s chosen people. The Temple was the center of Israel that gave them their identity. The temple was the hope that a Christ will come to destroy their enemies and conquer the evil. It was the sign of security, safety, hope for Israelites. Jesus, however, predicts the destruction of the temple. Not one stones will be left here upon another. All will be thrown down.
When we understand the meaning of the temple for the ancient Israel, we can also imagine several temples we have in our lives. There used to be a time in the U.S. when family was seen as the highest ideal of small society. One father, one mother, and beloved children living together in one household. However, this paradigm of family has been going through a lot of changes already not only in the US but also other countries. Homosexual couple. Single father. Single mother. Couple without children. Non-married couple. The traditional idea of family being seriously examined these days. There used to be a time when the U.S. was considered the strongest and wealthiest country in the world. Still many of Americans would believe so. According to a study published in 2009, approximately 87.6 million people were uninsured at some point during the two-year period 2007-2008. This number is 29% of the total US population, one-in-three under 65 years of age. In September of 2001, the symbol of US economy, the twin towers in the New York City fell down on the terrorist attack. In the name of revenge and preemptive attack, the US declared war against terror so bombed Afghanistan and Iraq. Something that we consider safe, secure, and promising are destroyed. The larger stones of temples fell down.
How about our church? People who used to be long time members are gone. New people show up. Maybe some of you felt like that it was the end of the world when Larry announced that you were going to have a Korean student as associate pastor. I don’t know about you but I thought so. I grew up in Korean church. When I came to the US, I worshipped in a predominantly black congregation in Boston. When I was appointed to Belmont and found out that the culture here is dramatically different from Korean and black congregations, I told myself, “Can I survive?” Something I had safe, familiar, and secure in my mind were about to be challenged. I am pretty sure that you had similar concerns, “How will we understand his accent? How will we solve any cultural differences?” While the some of the bricks outside at the entrance were falling down, you may have felt that some large stones were falling down in our church.
When we feel anxiety due to change in our fundamental belief, that’s when we already experience the end of the world. When I was working in as a hospital chaplain during the summer, I met Mike. “Hi, Mike. I am a chaplain intern here. Can I come in?” “Sure” he answered very quietly. He was sitting on the chair looking ahead without focus. I asked him if he could share his life story with me. He said, “I am a job consultant and I make more than $150,000 per year.” “Wow. it sounds like you are very rich.” “Yes... I have a big house. I have a butler and cook who work for me in my house.” He went on to tell me how wealthy he was. But I found it very strange that he had no one around him. “Mike, do you have any kids?” “No. I don’t have kids.” “Do you have a wife” “Yes, I do. But I don’t know where she is.” “When was the last time you saw her?” “A long time ago.” I could not ask him any more questions because he looked very sad when I asked him about his wife. We do not have literally die in order to experience what death is like. When we cannot feel the presence of our loving ones, that’s when we experience death. Jesus knew that his death would be a lonely death, betrayed by his disciples. But he humbly obeys to God’s will to die on the cross for the sins of the world.
If we put our ultimate hope in our money, fame, custom, society, or nation, we will live very unfortunate lives when we see the large stones fall down. If we gather as church but do not have Christ among us, then our church would be nothing but a community that seeks social fellowship and self-righteousness. But Jesus promises this in verse 11, “When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” When people become anxious by suffering the fall of economy, famine, terrorism, loss of job, and their broken relationship, we are called to be faithful to the promise of Christ, to proclaim the message of hope, the message of restoration. the message of reconciliation. I honestly do not know what the end of the world will be like. I also do not know when the end of the world will come. But I know that there are many people in our community and the world who are already experiencing the end of the world. We are called to faithfully proclaim the love of Christ that will last forever.
Thomas G. Long, professor of preaching at Emory University, School of Theology, shares the following story often. In one church, the children were having a confirmation Sunday. The children were invited to come forth and recite Romans 8. The teacher asked them, “John, who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Then the kid would answer, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) As children would brilliantly recite the scripture, the congregation was filled with awe. However, they were also getting nervous because the kid who was standing at the last of the line was Rachel, who had been suffering Asperger syndrome, which delays in cognitive development and language. Finally, the teacher asked Rachel, “Rachel, who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Smiling on her faced filled with joy and confidence, she answered, “Nothing!” Jesus said that the kingdom of God is for children like this. Beloved, we may see the large stones falling in our lives. But I pray that God will fill our heart with faith, hope, and love, the love of Christ that nothing in this world can separate us from.
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