Grace to you and peace…
Take a moment and turn to your neighbor and describe to her or him the most impressive building in which you’ve ever been in your life – doesn’t have to be religious, but it could be. Perhaps a cathedral, perhaps an athletic stadium or a building in DC, perhaps a skyscraper or a castle. Think about it for a moment, and then tell your neighbor…
[share some responses. Wrigley Field, Castle Church]
Well maybe you had to think about what the most impressive building you’ve ever seen is, but for the people of Jesus’ time and place, this would not have been an interesting question, because everybody knew: It was the temple in Jerusalem.
And in our Gospel text, as some of the disciples are admiring that temple – “What large stones, and what large buildings” – Jesus prophesies: “See these stones? See this temple, see that cathedral, that stadium, that mall, that skyscraper, that castle? Not a stone will be left on stone.” In other words, all earthly things will eventually deteriorate and waste away…as glorious as they may be right now. “But my body,” Jesus says to us today, “will rise up through the ashes.”
Friends, Christ speaks to us today about ultimate things—the end of the world, the end or our lives—and thank God for it. The world will end. Our lives will end. But Christ will rise up through the ashes to take us with him, to shower the ruined world, the dead and all creation with compassion and righteousness. Christ will rise up through the ashes, the crumbled buildings and wasted empires, to rule all in all.
Come, this morning, sisters and brothers in Christ, receive the comfort of God in the midst of our fears and tears.
Do you ever worry about the world coming to an end? You wouldn’t be alone. It seems like no matter what era/period/administration/chapter we’re in, someone is always able to relate to these texts about nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, natural disasters... Whether the halls of power are dominated by Democrats some years or Republicans other years, there’s always that voice: “Uh oh, this is the end.” With fires and hurricanes and blizzards and for decades now, mass shootings. Maybe the fears and tears come from whatever political party is not currently in power. Or maybe it’s on our tv sets or radios or computer screens. Or maybe that voice is in our own heads, when we read passages like this (of which there are a few in Scripture), that we say to ourselves: “Uh oh, the end is at hand.”
But here’s what’s at the heart of our readings today, friends in Christ: Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to God! That’s actually from the book of Romans, but it’s at heart of today too. Come, you who are scared about the end of the world or the end of the church or the end of your life! Come, you who are terrified about what’s going on now or what might be next. Come—all are welcome in this place—and receive the comfort of God this day—offered to us in Bread and Wine, Word and Water. The comfort and presence of our God: the antidote to all our fears and tears! Our places of worship—i.e. our stadiums and shopping malls, and amazon.com and FB—will one day be gone! Those are the places where we sure can put our trust, our joy, our money and our time. (Not us Lutherans though, right?)
Maybe our beloved places of worship—our churches, where Christianity is studied, preached and practiced—feel like they’re slipping away these days. “Nobody cares anymore,” I hear. I don’t happen to believe this actually (I actually see our post-Christendom challenges as a refiner’s fire moment), but I’ve been wrong before; and sometimes we forget that everything we have, is actually God’s, and it can be gone even in the blink of an eye.
But even if we were to lose everything, sisters and brothers who follow Jesus, remember that Christ rises up through the ashes to save us, to heal us, to redeem us, and to comfort us. Can we trust that promise? Can we open our hands to receive that gift freely given in Christ Jesus?
The Church is not a building, the church is the body of Christ. The Church is you. But not just you, it’s the generations and generations that came before you and me. And it’s the generations and generations that, thanks be to God, will follow. The church of Jesus Christ will live forever, wherever 2 or 3 are gathered, wherever the word is preached and the sacraments are administered. It’s OK: God’s got this.
What if this structure was all to fall down? That’s worth asking with our text today. What if this beautiful building was reduced to a pile of ashes along Little River Turnpike? Would Bethlehem Lutheran Church still exist? Would you still have a church home? According to the children’s song, it would: “I am the church.”
Christ rises up through the ashes. Our God lives, not confined to buildings and rituals (which rise and fall), but our God lives…among us (prof who threw the Bible against the wall), in us, around us…as we seek ways to love and care for each other and this frightened world.
Let our reading from Hebrews guide us this day and always: Let’s wait for God by caring for each other. Let us lift one another up… let’s “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Let us be the church together. Let us wait for God by reaching out. (Luther’s apple tree quote.)
Sisters and brothers in Christ, someday it will all end—maybe tomorrow, maybe light years from now—but remember this day and always that whether you live or whether you die, whether this world lives or whether it dies, WE BELONG TO CHRIST. May that strong Word, that enduring promise, that unshakeable truth be your comfort in all you do.
Let’s read together our HOD #327.
God, our help in ages past, help us to trust in you now. In the midst of our joy, in the midst of our fears and tears, help us to trust in you now. We give you thanks for the gift of your Son, who rises up through the ashes, and leads us on our journeys. Continue to hold us together, strengthen our hearts, and assure us of your promise, forgiveness and all embracing love, this day and for evermore. AMEN.