This morning’s gospel reading about the walls of the temple being leveled reminded me of the first time I had ever heard about this kind of doomsday message: One summer morning in my mid school days, my friend Carolyn and I were sitting on the wall outside her house, trying to decide just what to do with our day, when two visitors approached us. Inquiring if “the parents” were home, -- they were assured that they weren’t -- and so they decided to trust two girls with their “very important message.”
“We are finding rooms for our members,” they said, “who will gather in Albuquerque later this summer in order to prepare for the end of times and we would like to give you an opportunity to provide room and board for the five conference days here.”
Wide – eyed and a little overwhelmed with the news that we were to be preparing for the last days, Carolyn informed our visitors politely that they would be leaving shortly to spend the summer away at the lake and so their home wouldn’t be available. She smiled sweetly, obviously relieved that using their home as a base for this ominous get together wouldn’t be possible.
To this turn down, one of the visitors responded. “Oh that’s no problem - your family can turn over the keys for the house to us and great will be your reward when the end time comes.” Then the other visitor added this: “If we don’t find the necessary rooms we will surround the city and our trumpets will sound as in the days of Jericho and the walls of this city will fall down – and this will be a sign of what is to come”!!!!!!
The visitors then left and Carolyn and I giggled a bit at the thought of the walls falling down admitting to each other that what these “Witnesses” had said just didn’t sound right at all! Fortunately for us, the humor of it saved us from falling into the fear and despair of what sounded terribly hopeless!
– Jesus predicts that this temple was to be destroyed. This temple that Josephus described as having its entire face and sides covered with massive plates of gold. Imagine the outer walls of the Temple which were constructed with extremely large stones weighing 2-3 tons each. The walls towered over Jerusalem, 400 feet in one area. Inside the four walls were 45 acres of bedrock mountain -shaved flat – and during Jesus’ day a quarter of a million people could fit comfortably within the structure. It’s been said that “No sports structure in America today comes close”!!!
Jesus’ prediction that a structure so immense would be leveled to the ground seemed implausible. But the listeners pressed Jesus for more information. They wanted to know when this would happen. What would be the sign that this was about to take place? In their voice was fear - fear of the unknown -- fear that this structure in which they placed their hope and their security - might be taken away..
The first temple had lasted four hundred years until it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 Before the Common Era (BCE). Jesus’ prediction that the Temple would be destroyed did actually come true in 70 of the Common Era (CE) when the Temple was destroyed by Rome?
So what message was Jesus trying to convey in this prediction? A temple on 45 acres of bedrock mountain - shaved flat ----a temple that appeared so secure –leveled to the ground--
Perhaps this was the key to their fear – they were putting their hope, their sense of security in the wrong place!
Perhaps the message is: that the bedrock of our HOPE is not in TEMPLES -- is not in SIGNS! Rather the bedrock of our real HOPE – IS IN THE LIVING CHRIST!!!!!!!
I have heard that there were those on the islands of Japan who gave up their new found Christian faith when the bombs of Hiroshima were dropped during the war. They couldn’t find the hope of the gospel in the midst of the devastation.
In the 14th century, in the midst of the impact of the Black Death, the Plague that swept across Europe, much theological optimism was devastated in the Western and Christian world.
A man that I greatly respect, Bishop William Frey, has said that TRUE HOPE HAS THE POWER TO DIMINISH THE EFFECTS OF ADVERSITY.
In the INFERNO, Dante tells us that the sign above the gates of hell says, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
ABANDON HOPE – can anyone here today remember a time when they were at least tempted to abandon hope?
TO GIVE UP - TO forget Paul’s reminder: “to rejoice in hope, to be patient in suffering, and to persevere in prayer. (Romans 12:12
Christian community is the place where we keep the flame of hope alive among us and take it seriously so that it can grow and become stronger in all of us.
Christian community is the place where we can live into the Gospel Message which is grounded in HOPE -- a place where we can live with courage, trusting that there is a spiritual power within us when we are together -that allows us to live in this world without surrendering to the powerful forces constantly seducing us toward despair.
And as Father Christopher reminded me this week: “the idea of Hope allows us to live into a future where we can see God’s triumph and the tearing down of that which impoverishes humanity, in the form of greed, the abuse of power, the hoarding of resources, and the inequity of care and education. HOPE for the Christian is a practice, something that we all need to cultivate and live into!
I think that we are being invited this day to take a fresh look at what it means to BE A PEOPLE OF HOPE -- A PEOPLE OF HOPE REGARDLESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES!!!!!!!
What would it mean to take a fresh look at the GOSPEL OF HOPE through a different lens ---- from a fresh perspective. Are we willing to have a fresh encounter with the LIVING GOD?
Miller Williams, a young assistant curator at the Hermitage in Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg), tells this story about a group of people who saw through a different lens.
They knew the Germans would come and so they had boxes precisely built to every size of canvas in that great art museum, the Hermitage,. The boxes were then sent from Leningrad in less than a week and stored somewhere in southern Russia.
But they left the frames hanging, so that after the war it would be a simple thing to put the paintings right back where they belonged.
Each day the staff stayed on to clean the rubble after the daily bombardments which lasted nine hundred days. Much of roof was lost and snow would lie at times a foot deep on the floor, but the walls stood firm and hardly a frame fell.
Then one dark December morning, Miller Williams tells, three young soldiers were seen waiting outside, pacing and swinging their arms against the cold. They were from far away they explained, but all had dreamed of one day coming to Leningrad to see the Hermitage. Now they were here to defend the city and couldn’t believe their good fortune.
Sadly the young soldiers were told that there was nothing to see but hundreds and hundreds of frames, hanging where the paintings had hung.
“Please sir,” one of then said, “let us see them.”
And so they were led around to most of the major rooms, allowing them to take their time as the staff tried to tell them part of what they would see if they could view the paintings.
The next day a dozen more waited to see the “frames” and then more and more visitors came as the staff pointed to even more details as the days passed – and so it came to be called the “UNSEEN COLLECTION.”
Miller Williams ventured to say that before the war the staff didn’t pay much attention to what they were telling. In fact, he says, it probably sounded more like a memorized speech and they weren’t even looking at the very paintings they were describing.
Then something else began to happen. Blind people began to come. They listened, cocking their heads - and they even seemed to shift their eyes, those that had them, so that they could better see what was being described for them.
After the siege was over, and the Germans left and the roof was fixed, and the paintings were back in their places, the blind never came again. “It might seem strange,” says the young curator, “but what I think is that they couldn’t any longer SEE the paintings. They might have listened, but then the lectures had become rather matter of fact again.” There was no passion or life in the stories. The lens had become dull once more..
It is in choosing to hope that something happens for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is in giving up the control over our future and letting God define our lives that we are able to allow” the God of HOPE to fill us with all joy and peace in believing. …So that We can abound in HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
Let us not be negligent “in holding fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” because WE ARE A PEOPLE OF HOPE – A RESURRECTION PEOPLE. Like the Unseen Collection we know that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Christian hopes should include the ability -- an interior ability to laugh, perhaps even to giggle at what looks so insurmountable, so devastating that only the power, love, and tenancity of God can overcome it --- to see those moments as something to smile about, or to giggle about because after all: THE END OF TIME IS ALL IN GOD’S HANDS.