All Fall Down

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho on November 17, 2013.

Isa 65:17-25

Luke 21:1-19
We have two very different texts today. The beautiful promise from Isaiah of God’s new heaven and new earth—where children will grow up in peace and health and wholeness to live long and productive lives. A world where the labor and work of the Hebrew people will bear fruit for the benefit of their families and their communities—not just be something to be stolen by the powers that carted them off to exile.

This vision seems in contrast to Jesus’ description about the destruction of the temple—where false prophets will rise in God’s name, where nation will rise against nation, where great earthquakes, famines, and plagues shall trouble the people.

Which text seems easier to understand in our world today?

But maybe they aren’t so different, really. After spending time with both of these texts the past few weeks, I found them both to be hopeful.

Let’s start with the Isaiah text. If you were here last week, I preached from Haggai, where he was encouraging the Israelites, recently home from exile, to rebuild the Temple. And this text from Isaiah dates from the same time frame as that Haggai text, shortly after the Persians have sent the Israelites home.

People who know about loss, dislocation, and destruction are being offered a beautiful message of reconstruction.

They shall build houses and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

You don’t need to say those verses to people whose lives have been stable. You say those words to people who aren’t sure where they are going to sleep tomorrow, to people who have been relocated so many times that they aren’t even sure where the rest of their friends and family are.

This new creation is also, if you notice, a new community. Animals who never spent time together before, will be hanging out together now.

An understanding of community that we’ve never seen before—where the wolf, instead of eating the lamb, will eat together with the lamb.

Where the lion, instead of eating the ox, will eat the ox’s straw with the ox.

How would our communities be different if we were intentional about sharing a meal with the people we are sure are out to get us?

I take great hope that if lambs can invite wolves over to join them for dinner, then we can figure that out too. For all of the comfort of Isaiah’s message, it isn’t necessarily easy.

Imagine Tea Party Republicans and very liberal Democrats not just having a meal—but talking politics at the meal! That’s something God could help us out with before we hit Thanksgiving, am I right?

I kid, a little.

But the point remains.

Your vision of heaven shouldn’t involve you only spending time with the people you want to see. Everyone will be invited.

And in this vision of new heaven and new earth, the lions remain lions and the lambs remain lambs. But somehow they come together, so this passage should give us faith that God has a vision for how we, in our individual particularities, can live together in love, no matter how diverse or different we are.

And it is important to remember that we are to seek this new creation NOW. This isn’t something for which we just look around at the world around us and then say, “this place is a mess. I’m waiting for God to come and fix it”.

God has given us this vision and we are to go about making it so. We are to seek justice so that children will be able to live long and healthy lives. While we are relatively safe and comfortable here this morning, 22,000 children will die today around the world.

22,000.

(You can see a “world clock” at this link to get another view of what’s happening around our planet.)

Many of those deaths happen because children do not have access to clean drinking water. Because they do not receive routine immunizations.

Because they had the misfortune of being born in a war zone.

Because they happen to be living in a tent city in post-typhoon Philippines when Cholera came to town.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days.

Maybe we can’t save all 22,000 kids each day. But what could we do to make Isaiah’s vision come true in this community and around the world?

Whatever we do, we are called to bring this vision of the world to people who need to hear it and know it.

You may have heard the news this weekend of Bat Kid.

He’s a 5 year old boy named Miles who lives near San Francisco. He’s had cancer since before he was 2. It is hopefully now in remission for good.

His parents contacted the Make a Wish Foundation and said that Miles really wanted to be Batman.

So Make A Wish reached out to the City of San Francisco to get some help turning the city into Gotham. The San Francisco Chronicle changed its masthead for the day to the Gotham Chronicle. Someone loaned them his Lamborghini and they turned it into the Batmobile. Probably the first Batmobile that needed a booster seat.

gotham

The police commissioner contacted Batkid and asked for his help and Miles had a police escort through the city as thousands of people lined the street to cheer on Batkid. He foiled a bank robbery, he saved a damsel in distress who was tied to the cable car tracks. He rescued the Giants mascot. He received a key to the city.

This story captured the attention of the interwebs this weekend. And it doesn’t do anything to change the statistics of children’s mortality. But it really mattered. To that kid. Just look at him.
bat kid
And it mattered to everyone who participated. It reminds us, in this fractured world in which we live, that we are actually better together. That when we bring our gifts together, we can do amazing things that make this world a more joy filled place.

It also reminds us that while we are caring to 1 kid, we need to be caring to all children, not just the ones who capture our imagination. We need to not forget the 22,000 who will die today.

I don’t know that Isaiah was thinking of Batkid when he wrote these words, but I am.

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;

God’s plan of delight for the new city is always one of joy, where little boys who have had to learn the word “chemotherapy” get to run the bases at a baseball stadium and get to save a city from evil doers.  This is what we are called to both envision and live into.

We are near the end of our liturgical calendar, which is the calendar of the church. Today is actually the last day in what they call “Ordinary Time”. Next week, we will look at the Reign of Christ. And then, on the Sunday after thanksgiving, we begin a new liturgical year with the beginning of Advent.

And the last day in Ordinary Time each year gives us versions of this text from Luke—where Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple.

I think Luke’s destruction of the Temple story is a continuation of Isaiah, in some ways.

Isaiah’s theme of “justice for all” is shown in negative relief at the beginning of Luke’s story. Before he talks about the Temple, Jesus and his buddies are hanging out by the treasury at the temple, watching people bring their donations.

The rich people give out of their abundance. The poor widow gives her two pennies. This passage is often preached as praising the widow for giving so generously out of her poverty, but I’m not sure that is what Jesus is commenting on.

He doesn’t criticize the rich people for their generous sums. But he doesn’t actually praise the poor widow, either. What he observes is that her gift is larger than everyone else’s because she has just given away the money she needed to live on.

“Truly I tell you, you have set up a system here at this temple that is ridiculous. You require sacrifices from people that allow the rich people to feel holier than the rest of the world and force the poor widow to go hungry. Do you think this is the sacrifice my Father wants?!”

This system at the Temple is NOT going to bring about the New Creation, with justice for all.

I recognize you might feel a bit of a disconnect with what I preached last week and what I just said.

Jesus isn’t saying we shouldn’t give out of our abundance or out of our scarcity. He isn’t saying we shouldn’t contribute our resources together to build things together that will benefit the kingdom.  But he is saying that when we give, it shouldn’t be so we can put gold leaf on the walls.

We should give so that we can make sure the poor widow doesn’t only have two pennies. Our giving should be about making peoples lives better.

The text goes on to describe the hardships that the people of God will face. War, famine, earthquakes, persecution.

Sign me up!

This is another one of those passages where Jesus’ PR people were standing there behind him, hanging their heads. “This will never work, Jesus. Nobody wants to sign up for this!

But I hear hope in this story. These things will give you an opportunity to testify, to witness, to God’s presence in your lives.

“But not a hair of your head will perish.
By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

I have heard some of your testimonies. While we are good at praising God for the good days, when we tell the story of our faith journeys, it is often the trials that we mention as having brought us to a deeper understanding of God’s love.

God does not cause the difficult things in our lives just so we’ll say nice things about God. But I do think that in the midst of the things that happen to us, God wants us to remember that NONE of it is beyond God’s presence or God’s redemptive powers. Remember the song from the meditation this morning?

We pour out our miseries,
God just hears a melody.
Beautiful the mess we are,
the honest cries of breaking hearts,
are better than a hallelujah.

Friends, we are called to pour out our miseries. To testify to the pain and brokenness in the world. To testify to the grace and the presence of God in the midst of it all.

Another thing to remember about the Temple passages in the Gospels is that while the story takes place during Jesus life and ministry, by the time the story is written down and read by his followers, some time has past. By the time early Christians are reading this story, the Temple has already fallen. While they are reading about Jesus standing in front of the Temple, they are looking at a pile of rubble.

And Jesus wants them to know that this isn’t the end.

God isn’t limited to a building.

There is a reminder in these texts that God’s work of creation and building are NOT the same as our work of creation and building.

For I am about to create new heavens
   and a new earth, God says.

Yes, we build things. We build relationships. We build on the idea that life is better in community and working for common good.

But the things we build will fall. They will fail. They will break.

The destruction of the Temple was AN end. But it was not THE end. The creative power of God is bigger than we can imagine or dream up. Hearkening back to Isaiah,

For I am about to create new heavens
       and a new earth, says the  Lord.

God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

No matter the trials we face in this life, God has experienced it too, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

As we leave “ordinary time” and enter into a new liturgical season of Advent, where we’ll prepare for the birth of God’s own son, remember the uncomfortable-ness of these texts.

As Christians, we believe God’s New Heaven and New Earth, as envisioned by Isaiah, is seen most clearly in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

When it seems that the world is falling apart around us, we, as followers of Christ are called to proclaim that God is still in charge.

Temples will fall.

Typhoons will strike land.

Two year olds get leukemia.

Yet, through it all, Jesus Christ lives and we have hope.

Some people think the resurrection matters so that we can get to heaven. I think the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the conquering of human death and pain, matters so we can live NOW, in the midst of the trials of the world, seeking to proclaim God’s NEW Heaven and NEW earth!

And I think that proclaiming God’s presence to a broken world in need of hope is better than a hallelujah sometimes.

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