Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Nov. 13, 2022

Posted by on Sun, Nov 13, 2022 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Nov. 13, 2022

Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem at the Temple, and it’s a magnificent sight! They are awed by enormous stone walls, beautiful detail, adornments gifted by people of means, all dedicated to God. People stare in reverent admiration exclaiming over the sight, and Jesus deflates the moment saying, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

The disciples ask when this will be — which sounds odd to me; wouldn’t we ask why or how? They ask ‘when’ because they know Jesus is truth, they know it’s happened twice before, and this is the third temple built there. Babylonians destroyed the first one after standing four hundred years, and the second one lasted five hundred years. This temple was only about fifty years by then, and twice as large as the last one, taking some ten thousand workers to build it, and the whole city economy would have been engaged in it somehow, much like the growth of Apple or Amazon or Microsoft affected so much around our area; housing, services, restaurants and stores, transportation, education, and so on. In Jesus’ day it might be a proliferation of embroiderers and weavers, stone masons and apprentices, carvers, wine makers, incense sellers, food, clothing, animals for sacrifice, money changers for temple currency. It’s estimated that the temple personnel was close to 20,000 — plus the temple priests and Levites. 

It was a city economy built around the temple, such that, to Jesus, the religious identity and purpose was being overshadowed by the sheer magnificence of the Temple and by business burgeoning around it becoming ever more important. Great cathedrals and churches are also built to inspire awe and remind us of God’s immensity and divinity, and yes, they too can become more about the building’s history, administration, grandeur than about God. When Jesus said, “not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” they’d have known such a thing would make shockwaves throughout Jerusalem, which it does not long after Jesus’ time when the Roman army destroys it. Every monument or structure humankind can build will eventually fall.

Jesus answers their question about when the destruction will occur by telling of other signs to come; wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues, “dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”We’ve gone from awe to dread to fear, and then Jesus says before all this will come their persecution and arrest because of him, questioned by authorities and given The “opportunity” —to testify! How many of us would think that way? We’d be packing the car to escape, hoping we had a charger in the car, or that we could get out ahead of these impending disasters! Go to prison? Testify? 

The Greek word we translate at “testify” isμαρτύριον or marturion (mar-too’-ree-on). And yes, it means testimony, witness, evidence, proof. The root word of is μάρτυς or martus (mar’-toos), in English, martyr; a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce their faith or a religion, which does indeed happen to Jesus’ disciples. It’s important to remember this link between witness or testify and martyr, because it’s part of why people are often rather quiet about faith or don’t mention being part of a church, afraid people will equate our Christ centered faith with the worst examples of Christianity that’s more about judging than mercy, or launch into why they “don’t do organized religion” etc. Like it or not, Jesus is saying this is a an expected result of following him and seeing times of chaos and upheaval. The disciples stuck around and did it anyway, and I have seen and heard the effects of you doing this too. As Jesus said, he will give us the words and wisdom, and he still does. 

At the start of our giving pledge drive I passed out tiny angel trumpets (which some still insist look a little bit like golf tees). On them are the words, “St Michael’s Angels – Sound the Horn! Spread God’s Love!” I’m not saying these tiny words of encouragement are the words and wisdom Jesus’ disciples received, only that we too are emphatically and joyfully called because this world needs us to do it. God’s love is the good news; we have the opportunity to witness, to speak truth, to sound the horn and spread Christ’s love, and we do even at the risk of judgement for showing that we are members of the Body of Christ.

What about when the Jerusalem Temple was gone? We think of it as so remote, way back then, way over there, old as scripture! And yet what if all of the beloved reliable ways of worshipping and being St. Michaels community were gone? We would know that the real temple is not a building or even a location at all, and it is utterly indestructible. Our real and eternal faith home is being the Body of Christ. This building could leak or flood or even fall, —even our wifi could fail(!), and we would still be St. Michael’s, a living breathing faithful Body of Christ. 

We know this because even as a pandemic rocked our world, shut us down and kept us away from our reliable beloved ways of worshipping and being, St. Michaels community, by the grace of God and the Spirit’s gifts found a way and our faith grew! Although most of us are able to be here in person now, some are online, some have sadly moved away, and new friends have found their home here. We grow, share, and deepen this journey together. How marvelously symbolic (and practical) that serving on the vestry here means arriving early to open doors and turn on the lights! That’s how Christ’s body works, by faith and witness, by remembering. Every Sunday (and Wednesday) at Communion we hear the words of Christ giving the bread and wine, “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Do this to remember me.” We call ourselves ‘members’; do we realize the membership is as part of the re-membered body of Christ? The temple was dis-membered, the pandemic threatened to dis-member this body, but the people of God re-membered. 

In Jerusalem they met in homes, workshops, barns, and any place they could gather with the words of Torah, perhaps candles, a table. God was present in those smaller less grandly appointed gatherings, and they endured. We did too; each from our own home, computer or phone, and many of you created beautiful little personal altar spaces using the seasonal colors, candles, flowers, perhaps a prayerbook, a cross, even symbolic bread and wine. We re-gathered, re-membered, as St. Michael’s outside of our beautiful sanctuary, and thus we welcomed that sanctuary into our homes; by the creative, loving, determined, inexhaustible grace of God. “This is the Lords table and all are welcome” and so is that table and that desk, and that kitchen counter, and by those altars too, all are welcome. 

St. Michael’s is constantly renewed and recreated; our prayers, our connections, the talents and gifts we put to work, the pledges we make and fulfill, the time you give serving, welcoming, learning, growing. They aren’t given to keep the walls up or to keep God happy, or even to support the ‘organized religion’ we call The Episcopal Church. Your gifts are all given for that temple which need never fall. We give so that a world of people who are both broken and blessed, may (as our Collect said) “embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.” 

We give as members of the Body of Christ, re-membered, so that others may know this hope too. No gift is small, none unimportant, and nothing is given that we ourselves didn’t receive from God. Jesus told them that day, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Amen.

© 2022 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.