In the name of the one, true God, who is our beginning, and our beginning, again. Amen.
I’m pretty sure I warned the search committee in our first meeting that this might become an issue, but now that we’re actually in the midst of the circumstances, I’m going to have to trust all of you to be honest with me. If, at some point, you should discover that I rely too heavily and too often on references to musical theatre in my preaching… I hope you’ll be kind enough to let me know. I’m not sure I can do anything about it, but it’s worth recognizing, at least.
But surely I’m not the only one who, upon reading the Gospel lesson for this morning, immediately thought of the classic old Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma. Am I?
“As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’”
It comes across like a cue line for a musical number: “Everything’s up-to-date in Kansas City. They’ve gone about a far as they can go. They went and built a skyscraper seven stories high. About as high as a building ought to grow…”
But then, right in the middle of the dance break, just as everyone is starting to get into it, Jesus jumps in, and pulls them all into focus. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
And just like that, the mood shifts.
In our worshipping life, the mood is shifting, too. The snow this week helped. We’re moving into a different pattern in our worship. We’re coming to the end of the year. In the church, the year ends next Sunday. We’ll finish this long season of “ordinary time”, and shift our focus, once again, to the advent of the incarnation – the time of preparation for seeing Christ. We get to the end, and we turn around and start again.
And the message we hear from Jesus as we prepare for this renewed focus is this: No. They have not gone about as far as they can go. The big buildings, and the physical majesty, and the power, and all the rest… Soon you’ll see that it didn’t mean a thing. We’ve got further to go than you thought we could go. This is just the beginning of the birthpangs of a new creation.
In the context of the story of Jesus – at least as it’s told here in Mark – this is all at the end of the line. Jesus is gathered with those who are closest to him on the Mount of Olives – just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Sitting there, it seems like the whole of creation is captured right in front of them. God’s house – the temple – stands above it all. But it’s wrapped in the embrace of everything they know: the centers of commerce and culture, and education and law and faith. But Jesus knows that their world is about to change. Soon, he won’t be with them as he had been, but he has to leave them ready to look for him in everything and everyone they see.
“Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”
One of the things we’re about here in the church – the reason we come back to these same stories again and again, year after year – is because we’re readying ourselves. The world is filled with false prophets. We see them every day – in such a constant barrage that we almost don’t even notice them – but they’re there, slipping into our minds, just beneath our consciousness, and working at embedding themselves into our actions. They tell us that we’re not good enough. That we’re not worthy of love. That we need to guard ourselves against each other, and serve only ourselves. They tell us to isolate and decimate – to take all we can and to ignore the needs of others.
But we know that’s not what Christ looks like. We know that’s not who Christ is. We know that we haven’t gone about as far as we can go. We have to keep looking for Christ, even through the cloudy veil of all the false prophets we constantly face.
The false prophets are no more than the birth pangs of the glory that God has in store. The glory of seeing Christ – in our own lives, but even on a larger scale. Imagine if we lived in a world where people could see Christ? Imagine if we lived in a world where the peace of Christ was loud enough to drown out all the things that disrupt our inner lives – the self-doubt and fear and shame.
That’s the new creation. That’s what’s being born.
It may not look like much when we leave church every Sunday morning. It may not seem like enough. But little by little, with every good deed, with every heartfelt prayer, with every change of heart, no matter how small… Each of those adds up to a new creation – a new way of seeing the world and working to make it even better still.
Don’t think you’ve gone as far as you can go. Don’t rest on the wonder of the skyscrapers, seven stories high. Keep searching. Keep working. Keep finding Christ in new ways and in new people. And, just like the church practices, when you think you’re done, start again. Amen.