This Sunday preachers will be preaching in a changed world. Whether you love Trump or hate him; whether you personally care about politics; whether you’re inside or outside the United States – Trump’s election as president has changed the course of world history. Whether for good or ill we’ll still see, but I believe for the latter: hate, exclusion and fear rarely bode well in leadership.
Do you believe in coincidence? I don’t. In the third season of BBC’s Sherlock, Mycroft Holmes says of coincidence, “The universe is rarely that lazy.” And so it is that this week’s lectionary reading is like bread to people starved by fear and thirsty for reassurance.
Luke 21:5-19 (NIV)
The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times
5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
The second temple was built by Herod the Great at the beginning of the first century CE, as much an exercise in self-aggrandizement as it was in appeasing the Jews under Roman rule. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, the temple was firmly established as the center of Jewish social, religious and economic life.
It’s not hard to connect the dots between the second temple and our own modern-day temples: the bulwark of institutional Christian religion, which – instead of using it as a bridge to exactly the kinds of people Jesus reached out to – we tend to wear like an oilskin, to keep the “other” out, to keep it from penetrating our narrow little worlds. Christianity has become largely cultural: something we inherit, something we use to define ourselves, something to draw lines with and build walls on. The similarities to the second temple period are really quite astounding.
And it is of this temple of incultured faith, faith against rather than for, that Jesus said, “Not one stone will be left upon another.”
In our sermons this week, we are privileged enough to be in a position to ask: Are we ready and willing to be destroyed? If taking apart cultural Christianity and its structures and walls is the only way to grasp the hands of the marginalized and the hurting – if it’s the only way to reach the lost – are we willing to bulldoze the grand temples of our privilege to find and to comfort? To uplift and to heal?
Or will we, in our defense of our “temples”, persecute and betray the kind of people who need our help most?
In voting for Trump, I believe this is what more than fifty million Americans have done: they have pushed the pedestal up under him, hopeful that he will maintain their temple of white, evangelical, male-centric America. But pedestals are always built on something; and when that “something” is in fact people – women, minorities, immigrants, foreigners – little more has been done than a golden calf raised.
But a golden calf, as Israel learnt, is little more than something around which a nation can tear itself to shreds – and be torn to shreds.
Yes, this Sunday ministers, lay or otherwise, will be preaching in a different world. But thankfully it’s a world in which Jesus once lived; a world in which and for which he died; a world from which he arose, alive again, and ascended to heaven.
It’s about this kingdom, His kingdom, that we preach.
And it’s from this kingdom that we pray.
The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. (Malachi 4:2 NIV)
Blessings for your sermons,