Sermon for Second Sunday before Advent, 17 November 2019
Two British gas servicemen, one older and a young trainee, were out reading meters in a suburban neighborhood. They parked their van at the end of the alley and worked their way to the other end. At the last house a woman looking out of her kitchen window watched the two men as they read her gas meter.
After they finished reading the meter, the older man challenged his younger co-worker to a race down the alley back to the van to prove that an older man could outrun a younger one. As they came running up to the van, they saw the lady from the last house streak past them. When they got to the van, they asked her what on earth she was doing. Gasping for breath, she replied, "When you see two gas men running as fast as you two were, you run after them!!"
Things are not always what they seem to be.
In the Gospel we hear of the disciples seeing Herod’s temple, they saw its beauty, but they didn’t think about the system it was really behind - spiritual bankruptcy, hypocrisy, oppression, and Jesus’ impending death at the hands of those same religious authorities.
That’s why Jesus warned the disciples to beware of the false teachers who would come and proclaim that they were the promised Messiah. He knew that just as the temple’s beauty hid its ugly secrets, the false teachers had appearances, methods and teachings which were hiding their true motives.
So Jesus predicts the fall of the temple – this actually did happen about 40 years later.
The western wailing wall is all that is left now.
I’ve heard it said that the smallest stones in the structure weighed 2 to 3 tons. Some of them weighed 50 tons. The largest stone still left is 12 meters in length and 3 meters high, and it weighs hundreds of tons! The stones were so immense that mortar wasn’t needed between the stones. Stability was guaranteed by the great weight of the stones.
So to predict the fall of this seemingly invincible building and the spiritual centre of a nation was almost beyond belief – but it did happen.
The old order was passing, and a new order was beginning. What Jesus contemporaries took absolutely for granted - The Temple – was to be removed.
And removed in a very violent way.
In April 70 AD, at Passover, the Romans besieged Jerusalem. The Romans cleverly allowed pilgrims to enter the city but refused to let them leave — thereby depleting food and water supplies within Jerusalem even further. Within the walls, the Zealots argued with the other Jewish factions that had emerged, and this weakened the resistance even more.
The worst nightmare of the patriotic and religious Jew had become true.
The Temple which had been decorated by the skill of countless of people over hundreds of years, the temple that was the centre of Jewish life, was no more.
No more the centre of Religion and national identity – everything had changed.
If what Jesus had said about himself was true, God would need to vindicate him – the destruction of the Temple (and of course the Resurrection) were necessary.
But for the Jew this was massive, imagine how Americans would react to the loss of the white House. Or Muslims to the loss of Mecca. Imagine how we would react to the loss of the houses of Parliament – come to think of it that’s not a very good analogy – we’d probably be quite relieved at the moment! Perhaps a better analogy would be the loss of Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey all at once.
The Temple was a bigger deal than all of these as it signified 1000 years of God’s dealings with his people. Rather like this building signifies 1000 years of God’s dealings with Leybourne.
But it had to happen if the message of Jesus was to spread. However, Jesus warns his followers that it will not all be wine and roses. They will be marked out and badly treated.
The death and resurrection of Jesus changed the world. Membership of the chosen people was opened up to all believers.
We are in a situation not totally dissimilar from them. The great Temple that we have built in the West –– Christendom - has fallen.
We can no longer rely on the fact that the majority of people in the West agree with or even understand Christianity, or Christian assumptions around living. Even though our society and its laws are still ultimately based on them.
I think the watershed moment for me was when the Liberal Democrat leader felt he had to resign because he adhered to simple orthodox Christian beliefs and views that were assumed even 20-30 years ago. Public faith of a Christian variety is no longer acceptable in public life.
Christendom has gone.
The new public religion seems to be a neo liberal orthodoxy – which can ironically be quite illiberal!
Our Temple has been torn down.
We still have our buildings.
Jesus is still with us through his Spirit as he was with those first disciples – giving us the words to say and helping us to use each situation as an opportunity.
But we can no longer rely on the state or society to be our Temple, to be the generator of our faith.
Our church, more than in any generation since the reformation, needs to take responsibility for the faith.
Ladies and gents, it’s down to you and me.
Father Matthew BUCHAN