Daniel 12:1-3 – Michael, the great protector of the people is coming. Everyone whose name is written in the book shall be delivered. (I find both of these posts difficult to follow if you’re preaching on Mark 13. I propose Micah’s parallel prediction of the destruction of the temple in Micah 3:9-12.)
1 Samuel 2:1-10 – Hannah’s song, source material for the Magnificat.
Psalm 16– My heart is glad and my spirit rejoices; my body shall rest in hope. (Ps. 16:9)
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25– We have confidence to enter God’s sanctuary through the blood of Jesus. If you are preaching on Mark 13, I suggest 1 Peter 2:1-5, “living stones” as the second reading.)
Mark 13:1-8 – The end is coming. Not one stone will be left upon another.
Mark’s Little Apocalypse
This year B in the Lectionary, we began with Mark’s Little Apocalypse in Mark Chapter 13, and this week, as the year comes to an end, we return to it. This week we read Mark 13:1-8. Verses 9–23 do not get read in the Lutheran lectionary. Advent I, December 3, 2017 we read Mark 13:24-37. Here are verses 1-8:
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
Jesus walks out of the temple with his disciples. They are gushing about the magnificence of this building. Isn’t it just fabulous?
The temple was a sight to behold. It was one of the largest construction projects of the entire first century. Indeed, the temple probably took up 1/6 of the city of Jerusalem. Ben Witherington III says it would’ve looked like a mountain of white marble decorated with gold, from the Mount of Olives.
Some of these huge stones are 25’ x 50‘, weighing as much as 160,000 pounds. This article in from the Biblical Archeology Society might spark your interest. Josephus says that as many as one thousand oxen were used to move one stone.
The preacher might want to bring a 25’ tape measure, and asking member to hold it, so the people can envision how big the large stones are. Walking down the center aisle 25 feet, running out of tape, and having to do it again may give you some dramatic effect. That’s just one stone.
And yet Jesus predicts that one stone will not be left on another. In John’s gospel (2:20), we are told that the temple had been under construction for 46 years. Not a big surprise, given the information we learned above.
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
Jesus is not the first prophet to predict the temple’s destruction (Jer. 7:14; 26:6). Or hear Micah 3:12:
9 Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
and pervert all equity,
10 who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with wrong!
11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
“Surely the Lord is with us!
No harm shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.
Later (Mark 13:30), Jesus will say, “This generation will not pass away before these things come to pass.” If we are talking about the destruction of the temple, Jesus is spot on. Generations are forty years in the Bible. Jesus would be speaking in 30 AD and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. While Jesus words are certainly his usual hyperbole, the Romans did throw the smaller stones that were used to build the temple itself down. The larger stones were used for the retaining wall. Some very large stones are still in place, as can be seen in this photo.
Bottom line, Jesus doesn’t seem all that impressed with the façade. He is more interested in the beating heart of the faith. This is in line with what Jesus says in other places. He warns about the religious leaders of his day, who he says are like white-washed tombstones, beautiful and impressive on the outside, but rotting on the inside. White-washed calls to mind the polished limestone of the temple. God’s words to Samuel come to mind (1 Samuel 16:7):
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
I have often said that the church has an “edifice complex.” Perhaps this has been true of every religion of every time. We are hung up on our buildings. Architecture is propaganda. One of my mentors, Bill Waxenburg used to say of the church we once served together, “We should rename it ‘Pretty Wedding Lutheran Church.’”
Often when congregations are ready to close, we remind them that they don’t have to close. “We are only a couple dozen people now; we can’t afford the expenses,” they often reply. “Well, you can’t have a huge building with pews, maintenance and a pipe organ, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a congregation.” They ask where they would meet. “Your house, or another congregation.” They rarely take me up on it. They cannot imagine themselves without their building. The building sometimes becomes the mission.
Jesus had no buildings. He doesn’t talk much about buildings, except in passages like this. We often forget that for hundreds of years the church didn’t have buildings. In many cases the church was outlawed. They met in homes, in catacombs, or “down by the riverside,” as the song says. The church is not a building. It is ‘wherever two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said. It is wherever people gather around Word and Sacrament to hear grace and hope and resurrection proclaimed, and are sent out to be bread for the world in Jesus’ name. That is the church. Buildings are not actually required.
Young people sometimes find the building obsession a turn off. Church members are a couple decades older than the general population. The average age in the US is about 35. The average age in ELCA congregations is about 55. Less than one out of ten congregations in the US match the age demographic of the general population. Young people are opting out of church. They find it out of sync with life these days.
Don’t think, however, that they are atheist or even agnostic. Most believe in God, and 1/3 still say religion is an important part of their lives. They are very interested in faith, prayer and spiritual practices. They just aren’t sure the church is. They go with their spiritual quest, and find a community focused on budgets and parking lots. When they make suggestions, the majority of older members push back. They have the money and the numbers. Young people aren’t sure the building is worth fighting for. Most aren’t interested in grandma’s china or grandma’s church building.
A church that is focused on Christ, and his vision for a new world, will make different kinds of decisions with regards to budgets, property and programming. They will do what it takes to reach a younger and more multicultural demographic. They will be engaged in the pressing issues of the world today, especially those in greatest need. They will not shy away from these issues.
The prophets, Jesus, Peter and many who have followed them view the church as a community, built with living stones. Peter puts it this way (1 Peter 2):
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
So, living into this text might mean getting crystal clear about your mission in the community. It might mean listening very carefully to the community itself, to find out the spiritual questions and yearnings. It might mean thinking outside the box, and serving outside the box, the church box. It might mean bringing young people into leadership in any way possible to get their perspective on things. Who knows what God might do? But most of all, it means loving the world that God loved so much he gave his only Son. It means trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit in life and in death. Because, as Jesus said, when the temple is destroyed, and not one stone is left upon another, that is just the beginning.