Sermon for SECOND SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT Sunday 18 November 2012
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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.”
Short of being religious tourists to Jerusalem, the words of our Lord’s disciple begin to sound to me like the Brothers Grimm story “Little Red Riding Hood”. Once grandmother has been gobbled up by the wolf, Little Red Riding hood enters grandmother’s house and cautiously says, knowing something to be wrong…
‘Oh! Grandmother ‘what big ears you have!’ ‘All the better to hear you with, my child,’ ‘But, grandmother, what big eyes you have!’ ‘All the better to see you with, my dear.’ ‘Oh! But, grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have!’… ‘All the better to eat you with!’
If you can remember the end of the fairytale, the destruction of the wolf at the hands of the lumberjack leads to the restoration of little red riding hood and grandmother’s life from the belly of the beast, the wolf is then filled with rubble and when he wakes, he dies, lying in ruin because of his devilish greed. So albeit a tenuous link, (I feel in the absence of the Vicar, I can just about get away with it) so a similar image of destruction is given to us from our Gospel perspective this morning. The prophecy and the destruction of the temple will ultimately lead to the restoration of the glory of God, for he will again be revealed. Though the destruction of the past two temples had been because of political conflict, the final destruction which was to take place in 70 AD was to be in the gospel writers mind, to the glory of God not to the glory of the state. In the time of our Lord, God’s identity and purpose was savagely consumed by an industrially scaled religious practice which through the trappings of The Temple caused God to seem not what God truly is.
The Temple had ears in the holy city, it had eyes about the city, and a terrible big mouth with which it curtailed and consumed life and hindered the worship of Almighty God by ordinary people. The church is capable of doing similar today if we are not careful. We too can easily “consume” God in such a way, that through the selfish indulgence of our faith, what we do, might lead us to be worshipped imposing our own will and limited imagination, than the will and hope of God upon, and for his creation. We will fall, if we fail to be true servants of God. In this holy Sacrament which we are preparing to receive, we consume, not to rule, but in order to be ruled and to have a “point of reference” which is something other than ourselves.
God, as you will recall dwelt first on a mountain top where his people journeyed to meet with him and worship. Then in the Tabernacle, God journeys with his people. In the Temple, after years and years, it seems God is trapped, but at the incarnation, through our Lord Jesus; we are liberated from the temple and legal system to perceive a new way of meeting with God, of serving his purpose. Jesus roams freely amongst his people, in person he meets them where they are and calls them to him through miracles, signs and wonders. And then if that isn’t enough, he gives us his Holy Spirit to bring comfort and assurance while around, everyone is losing their head, their battles, their faith.
The imposing sight of the Temple in Jerusalem was a far stretch for most people from the up close and personal encounter with the Lord Jesus that some enjoyed in person. In its heyday, the Temple, its size and grandeur were testimony to the glory and magnificence of God, to remind the populous of his presence in their midst, a mighty building in which they could meet with God and which was filled with prayer and praise, but it soon becomes the building which excluded and which has in the time of Jesus assumed the role of rule and order over the ordinary simple folk wanting to find God. The old overbearing architecture of the Temple, its complicated ritual, its production line of religious idea, practice, and judgment, neither served God, or his people well. It simply enriched a small minority and secured them in their bad habits, rather than liberating the people to worship God and fulfill his purpose.
We can read Mark’s Gospel this morning to show a schism between Jesus and the Temple. Jesus leaves, he withdraws from the Temple, the last time in Mark’s Gospel before his trial and murder.
Over these past years and weeks, there has been an ever increasing schism within our society between great buildings, what they represent and the people. For once I am not going to single out the church. For the mighty stones of the Metropolitan Police have fallen, the great buildings of State and Westminster have crumbled before our eyes, The holy city of financial London, the Citadel of New Broadcasting house lies in tatters and Fleet Street and Wapping have been deserted and the tumble weed rolls over and over. They have consumed their god, and thought lightly to their purpose, and thinking that they might be free to do their own will, and liberated from being servants to that purpose, they have ruled their domain with a mighty and inappropriate morality, unleashing upon this nation a predatory and consuming nature which has destroyed any trust we might have had in their purpose. What those in the holy city saw happen to the temple that Jesus prophesied about, we are seeing happen in our City and in the church. Our destruction will be a consequence of forgetting God as the point of reference for our daily lives, others destruction will lie in forgetting their purpose and the people, even the ideology they serve.
Sadly, the god which dominates our society today is not the same God who creates from the beginning. Our Gospel reminds us that we are to endure the birth-pangs, the battles and the failures – not so much earthquakes and famines, but the mighty structures being rendered in pieces, stones being cast down and broken. We are not to be terrified by the collapse of systems, and institutions, even though we might romantically hark back to another era. We are to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord and make sure that this house is a house with its foundations set firmly upon Christ, and its eyes, look unwaveringly to the Holy City, and a mouth to speak and sing the praises of God, for this church beautiful as it is, is built upon the foundation of the apostles and martyrs, the saints and you and me, and the Lord Jesus.
Of the BBC, of the Parliamentary expenses, of the celebrities, and those entrusted with the Gospel who have abused children and trust, with the immoral practices of the media, and the city, and those given responsibility for the care of God’s creation, we might say, ‘But, what large hands you have!’ and see in love, our Lord’s arms outstretched on the Cross welcoming us all, saving us, and giving us a new morality and perspective. But if we turn our gaze away from him, when we look for our salvation, for our pattern in the institutions of our society we will be heard to say, Oh! what a terrible big mouth you have!’, ‘All the better to eat you with!’ as that which is not God, which does not have the higher purpose of God for his creation consumes us our identity and our goodness one by one.
We cannot be so consumed by the mechanisms of this religious practice or other institutions that we fail to see the true purpose at hand. The institutions I have mentioned are temporal, they are fallible and failing though they are to be for the liberation of the people. As we too, you and me, the building blocks of the church are fallible and failing, our hope, our purpose, our morality, our care, our instinctive nature should be in the Lord, and we should pinch ourselves awake and make sure that we haven’t forgotten our purpose, our calling to follow Christ where ever that might take us. Yesterday in honour of St Hugh of Lincoln we read from the Prophet Micah who sums up the temple problems and our response well…
‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard