Are we in the end times? When we hear about natural disasters, like that which has devastated the Philippines in recent days, our minds might be taken back to passages like this morning’s Gospel reading. I am sure that there will be street corner preachers still who will tell us that if we stop long enough to listen.
Looking more closely at this morning’s Gospel reading, I not sure that’s what Jesus meant. You see He flatly refuses to answer his disciples questions for clarity and timescales after He refers to a coming time when the Temple will be razed to the ground.
Herod’s newly rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem was the enormously impressive focal point of the religion of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant was kept in the centre, the Holy of Holies, and so the Temple enshrined the sacred commandments of God and was the place where the presence of God was focused. It was to the Temple in Jerusalem that the pilgrims journeyed for the religious festivals. In post-exilic times, the Temple was presented as the place of true worship of God. In this context it was natural for pilgrims to admire the beauty of the building dedicated to God, and to look for spiritual leadership there. As God was eternal, so was this holy place.
But Jesus’ actions in cleansing the Temple (19.45-46) had challenged the power of the temple authorities. He had had arguments with different factions among the temple leadership and, in this context, predicted that the Temple itself would be destroyed. Jesus was talking particularly about the fall of Jerusalem, after a lengthy and indeterminate period of time, rather than the end of all things.
Instead of answering his disciples questions about dates and times, Jesus mentions other scenarios where other things are razed to the ground - his disciples’ beliefs, political ideologies and nation states, even their own relationships will be fractured and destroyed.
This starts to sound like an unnervingly contemporary gospel reading. If something as eternal as God’s Temple will crumble and fall, what else will? The occupying Romans forces that filled the land in Jesus’ day? The corrupt tax system that kept the poorest poor and the richest rich? David Cameron’s coalition Government? The United Nations? The NHS? Jesus is questioning the permanence of power and ultimately asking each one of us, that when it comes to it, when our world is shaken, where we each place our trust?
We have seen in recent years ourselves, that institutions that we thought were effectively eternal can come crashing down with disastrous concequences. We were just as naive to assume that the banking sector was somehow immune to the rise and fall of markets and the corrupt dealings of broken people and look what has happened since.
The devastation in the Philippines is not a sign of the end of the world, or of the judgement of God, although it will feel like it to the millions caught up in it. Our hearts go out to them in love and compassion as the world which they now has come crashing down. Their plight is a sign, a reminder, to all of us of the transience of all things. Our hearts go out to them beating with a simple common humanity - giving what we can and praying.
When our lives our shaken who do we trust? Our politicians? The banks? Our religious leaders? When grief or illness, knock us flat; when others shun us or tell lies about us; when institutions fail us where are we?
Instead of timetables to destruction, Jesus talks to us about trusting in him. In the face of tragedy and transience the heart of God continues to beat with an eternal love for humanity.
Jesus talks about a series of terrible events – wars, famines, earthquakes and plagues, the destruction of powerful institutions, not to mention changes in the pattern of the natural world and the fracture of relationships. Any one of these events would be enough to fill us mind with worry - never mind to experience any of them. But Jesus also speaks of a God who loves, and goes on loving in the midst of it all, a God will keep us safe for ever.
In the midst of trauma, turmoil and tragedy, God says ‘not a hair of your head will perish’.
when we consider the times in which we live
and the events that occur,
it is easy to be anxious or in despair.
Thank you for the assurance of your presence and peace,
even at those times when there is chaos and discord.
Enable us to see the world through your eyes,
where, as a Sovereign Lord,
you are firmly in control of all events,
and there is a purpose and a plan to all things.
This we ask in Jesus’ precious name.
I couldn't help but think of this song too...