Title: A body at home
Texts: Dan 12:1-4; Ps 16; Heb 10:19-25; Mk 13:1-8
Date: Nov 15, 2009
Author: Isaac Villegas
Jesus stands outside the towering temple in Jerusalem—at its highest point, the walls probably reached up to 175 feet high. You can see the building from miles away, dwarfing all the other structures in Jerusalem. The temple is at the heart of the city, the center of religion, of politics, of commerce. All of life circulates through and around the temple.
And Jesus says, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (v. 2). The disciples are confused. They don’t understand how Jesus’ prediction can come true. The temple is so big, and so permanent; and it seems somewhat eternal. It’s hard to believe that it will crash to the ground. But it does. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
I know Jesus is talking about the temple in Jerusalem, but I can’t help but think of the Twin Towers in New York City: those massive buildings that were at the center of Manhattan, dwarfing all the other structures, dominating the skyline. Those towers were at the heart of American power, of commerce, of politics—and maybe religion too, if we want to call capitalism the religion of our postmodern age.
All of life seemed to circulate through and around those two towers. It’s hard to believe that they could come crashing to the ground. But they did—and we’re still living in the rubble: people are still trying to figure out how to go on after losing family and friends on 9/11, and presidents continue to spend human life and money to satisfy our thirst for revenge. We still live in the rubble, in a world that’s always falling apart.
“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” It’s not that Jesus wants the buildings to come down. He is simply talking about what will happen. The center will fall out. The heart of our way of life will be torn away.
Then God will put everything back together, right? Then the end will come and we’ll be rescued, right? Wrong. This only marks the beginning. “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs,” Jesus says (Mk 13:8). After the buildings are destroyed, there will be chaos—wars and rumors of wars, nations against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms, earthquakes and famines (vv. 7-8). And that’s only the beginning, Jesus says.
This is our world: wars and rumors of wars. The former U.S. president had his “war on terror” in Iraq and now there are rumors that our current president will have his own war in Afghanistan. Wars and rumors of wars. “But this is only the beginning of the birthpangs,” Jesus says. There’s more to come.
I don’t really know what birth pains are all about. Some of you mothers can clue us in on the pain. But from what I’ve heard, it’s pretty bad. And what gets a mother through it, is knowing that it will all be over soon enough—that the baby will soon emerge, and then there will be joy. The pain will all be worth while because you will get to hold that bundle of new life in your hands, and you will rest together.
But, the birth pains Jesus talked about don’t seem to end. They’ve been going on a long time. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed; towers in New York were knocked down, killing thousands. And between those two events, the history books record a long list of wars and rumors of wars. Yet the end has not come—and there seems to be no end in sight. The world still groans with birth pains, waiting for something to happen, for new life to be born, waiting for redemption, for salvation—waiting for eternal life, not our cycle death.
Part of what’s going on for Jesus is that he’s a realist. He knows the nature of our violence, the nature of our systems of sin. Jesus knows that we have become vengeful creatures, and would rather kill our enemy than engage in the slow and painful process of reconciliation.
But another reason why Jesus says that this is only the beginning, is to give his followers a healthy dose of skepticism. As he says in our passage, “Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray” (v. 6). Jesus wants to make sure that his followers don’t jump on the latest bandwagon—to make sure that they don’t join the new projects that promise final solutions.
There will be many others who claim to be the Messiah, there will be leaders who say that they know how to accomplish the kingdom, how to establish heaven on earth. We have seen a lot of these false messiahs. They convince their followers that if we finally kill off the right people, then everything will be better. Or if we send our troops over there, and cripple the enemy’s network, then peace will come. Or if we just fly these planes into those towers, then the end will come, then the devil will be vanquished, and God will establish a new order of peace.
War in the name of peace—it’s the oldest play in the Messianic game book. Once we kill these people, then peace will rain down from heaven—these violent acts will be the apocalyptic event that shatters the power of evil, and peace will finally come. The birth pains will be over. We will finally establish a just and fair political order—not just for us, but for them…because, after all, we are compassionate killers, benevolent imperialists, democratic colonialists. But we need one last push to make this happen, one last battle, one more murder, one more building to destroy, a strategic target to wipe out, or one more troop surge. Then the end will come.
No, Jesus says. All of this, the rubble from the buildings, from the temple, from the towers, all of the wars and rumors of wars—this is just the beginning. “This is but the beginning of the birth pains,” Jesus says. Despite all the promises, the sword will not bring the final solution—just another cycle of violence, another reason for revenge.
And Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will…say ‘I am he!’” Christians are people who are skeptical of leaders who promise the end, the consummation, the solution to all our problems.
But that doesn’t mean we have to be cynical about the flow of love and peace in the world. God is always already at work, even though we don’t see it all the time. God’s eternal life of love is always flowing through this world and through our lives, even though it’s not a spectacle that makes the news. We are not the first people to live in a collapsing world, and we probably won’t be the last.
The author of the book of Daniel also wrote in the midst of a disaster. His people were in exile, forced to live among enemies and under their enemies’ control. But Daniel is able to hope for deliverance during a time of anguish (12:1). And the same goes for the author of Hebrews. He’s writing during a time, or right after a time, of persecution. Yet he tells his church to have hope. “Therefore, my friends,” he writes, “we have confidence” (Heb. 10:19). We have “hope without wavering, for [God] is faithful” (v. 23).
For Hebrews, hope is not something we do in our heads, in the privacy of our homes, in the solitude of our quiet times. It’s not like we wake up in the morning and decide to be hopeful, despite all the stuff going on in the news and in our lives. That’s not what Hebrews means when he tells his people to hope. For Hebrews, hope is concrete; it’s material. Hope has a body—or, a better way to put it is to say that hope is a body. God’s hope happens in the gathered community. Hope comes through a people, the church.
That’s why Hebrews tells us to get together for church. He says, “[Do] not [neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some, but [encourage] one another” (v. 25). We get together because that’s how God’s love happens; God’s love comes through the body of Christ, through the gathering of our bodies. This love isn’t something we decide to do on our own. It’s happens through our gathering.
We come together, as it says in verse 24, “to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” We inspire God’s love and goodness in one another. Instead of the verb “provoke”—as in, we provoke love and good deads—a better translation of the Greek word is “arouse.” Our gathering, our worshipful assembly, arouses God’s love and goodness in one another. Coming together for church is how we create a home for God’s love to dwell. As I said in my last sermon, we become homemakers with God; we become a home for God’s love.
But this home is not just for the people you see every week here at church. We are sent out from here with God’s love, to share God’s love and goodness with all creation. Through our gathering for worship, God’s love is provoked in our lives, and we can’t help but share it during the week.
Here, at church, we make a home for God’s love, and rest in God’s presence. As the Psalmist says, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure” (Ps. 16:9). Our bodies find a home with one another; we find our rest together, our rest in the joy of God’s presence.
That’s what homemaking is all about. That’s what a mother does when she feels the birth pains. We start preparing for new life; we start making a home for life to grow. Not just our own life, not just the life that we can claim for our own. But also the life of others, life that doesn’t belong to us, foreign life.
I think one of our tasks as Christians is to make space for others to find a home, to make room for others to do their own homemaking. And these days I’m thinking especially of Muslims. Our country does not know how to let Muslims be at home, to give them space to be at home, to rest secure. What would it mean for us to become homemakers with and for Muslims? I don’t know the answer; but it’s at least something for us to keep on our minds.
I want to close by reading something I wrote about you. As a few of you know, I occasionally write a column for a magazine called, The Mennonite. I wrote a short piece this last July and it’s finally going to appear in the magazine next week. It’s all about how you have become my home. So I thought I should read it as a way to bear witness to your homemaking here at church. Here goes—it’s edited… a lot less sappy than the printed version, if you can believe that:
I didn’t expect to get back from Columbus in time for church. But I got back just as our worship service was starting. So I quietly slipped into the sanctuary and found a seat in a back pew next to Eric, Rebecca, and their 6-month old child, Grace.
God feels different from the back pew. I experienced a lot more wiggly and noisy life. I heard Grace squeak with joy at the most ordinary parts of the service. And I saw her chubby legs and arms stretch and swing. The Holy Spirit must have enlivened her little body. Grace seemed to dance in Eric and Rebecca’s arms, and I wanted to dance too.
At the Mennonite Convention I learned that the Holy Spirit longs for our companionship. That’s what Pastor Megan Ramer from Chicago shared in one of the worship services. “The Holy Spirit longs for my companionship,” she said, “this Spirit waits with us and for us, drawing us again and again.” And that’s exactly how I felt when I watched Grace. I saw the invitation of the Spirit to enjoy God’s presence; I felt the longing of God drawing me again and again into companionship. Grace’s ecstatic little body showed me that worship is where, as Pastor Ramer said, “I am being sought by a Spirit who longs for me.” And when the Spirit flows through us, we “create a home with the Spirit, we make a dwelling place together.” The Spirit draws us into worship where we find our home with God.
As I watched Grace I could feel myself resting into my home after a weeklong trip full of busy meetings. These people are my home; they are how the Spirit offers me companionship with God.
Worship that evening choreographed our bodies into a dance with the Holy Spirit. We were like Grace’s wiggly and noisy little body. We sat and stood, sang and prayed, listened and talked—and all of that movement was how the Spirit drew us into companionship. Mary Jo led us in hymns that blended our voices. Laura’s prayer opened our minds to God as we let our thoughts flow through one another. And Dave’s sermon broke into our hearts and invited me to share in his tears; my vision turned misty when his voice cracked and paused and trembled. We were companions, all of us, together.
Pastor Ramer is right: the Spirit draws us again and again into companionship. God’s grace is an invitation to get mixed up with a bunch of ordinary people and realize that you love them—and to come to know this love as what God feels like. To borrow a line from Sebastian Moore, I always look forward to coming home when all the mysteries of God are revealed in the clasp of my sister and brother’s hands.
AND ALL OF THIS IS THE GOSPEL—to feel my way into God, to welcome Christ’s companionship, to let the Spirit overwhelm me with the goodness of eternal life.