As we reflect on the reading from Luke 21 this week, we find the bright sun stunning the disciples as they strolled out from the majestic temple onto the bleached limestone. Hand-chiselled, these giant stone blocks measured eight feet on a side. A grown woman could walk two or three paces per stone, and watch hundreds of people milling in the courtyards and patios outside the temple. Rising far above the streets, these massive boulders were hewn from limestone cliffs. They. Were. Big.
The stones were here to stay, and the delicate, gorgeous temple made you gasp. As this was the holiest place in all Israel, the disciples were surely in a state of awe. Someone said, “Look, what large stones and what large buildings!” Everyone marvelled at the grandeur. So, you can imagine the disciple’s dismay when Jesus asked, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
All will be thrown down. Really? Who invited Apocalyptic Jesus? All will be thrown down. What happened to “Come to me, you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”? Well, buckle your seat belts, good people of God, because Advent is around the corner, and Apocalyptic Jesus is at the wheel. Who does he think he is, talking about the temple’s demise when he’s at the temple?
Can we relate to the disciples’ frustration? We love our houses, cars and clothes, our health, our wealth. We like the occasional shiny building, the thriving city, the world’s most powerful military. They make us feel safe, these things. We’d rather not hear that moths destroy, and rust consumes, that our possessions are short-lived, temporary like mist. We don’t want to lose our material status. This economic system works – for some – and we move mountains to prevent its crumble. We have a dark fear: Eventually we will die, and we’ll go back to God with nothing. Everything we’ve built on earth will stay here, and we’ll be gone.
Mortality is a scary thing and talk of the end makes most people fidget. But the bulk of the gospels come from messianic and apocalyptic Jews who spent their days waiting for the end. How do we live in the present when we do not know the future? As Jesus forecasts the temple’s destruction, the disciples also wonder: How do we live today when we do not know tomorrow?
As Matthew and Mark tell the tale, the disciples must have been nervous. They catch Jesus at the lunch break. Sitting at the Mount of Olives, they stare across the valley at the temple. They’re probably munching on bread and olives. Peter, Andrew, James and John ask Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Jesus’ response is less than helpful. He tells them, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place.”
Thanks, Jesus. We ask you when, and you tell us bad stuff will happen. How do we live today when we do not know tomorrow? Come on, Jesus, we really want to know. We’ve got plans to make! How do we live in the present when we do not know the future? This is a disturbing reading, and perhaps it’s unwise to release the tension. That’s not what church is for, by the way. Real life is more complex. In place of an easy answer, consider what Jesus offers all of us: the profound truth that God is still in charge. God calls us to love with radical abandon. This is less of a dream, more of a concrete movement.
We don’t know what comes tomorrow, but we know God calls us to love neighbour as self and to work indefatigably toward just society and loving community. How do we live in the present when we don’t know the future? We partner with God, giving all that we have. God has work for us to do! Jesus tried to start a revolution in which the last are first, the proud get scattered, the lowly are lifted up. God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.
Jesus tried to start a revolution in which the sick, get healed, the poor are blessed, and we are all beloved children of God. Jesus tried to start a revolution. But it depends, in part, on us. Are we in? Martin Luther adopted this posture when asked what to do if he thought the end was coming tomorrow. His advice? “Plant a tree.” In other words: Invest hopefully in the future. Something we need to take seriously as the recent Fires haven proven to us. Dealing with Climate Change and wise stewardship of creation is long overdue, yet we fail to listen to and see our God’s desire for us to stop the greed and abuse of power that is steadily destroying much of creation.
Have you ever prayed in a time of uncertainty, in a time of waiting? How do we live today when we don’t know tomorrow? We draw strength from God, who invites our participation and endures long after the cities and buildings and stones have crumbled. We adopt a posture that asks not what God can do for us but calls us to bring the Kingdom of God just a bit closer. We love neighbour as self, and we strive for just societies and a stable planet- new heavens and a new earth. This is the revolutionary Good News of Jesus Christ. Are we in?