A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., on November 18, 2012.
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
I Samuel 1:4-20; I Samuel 2:1-10; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25
If we understand the chronology of Mark’s gospel correctly, Jesus speaks these words at the end of Tuesday, three days before his crucifixion. He and his disciples are standing on the Temple Mount, gazing at the sheer opulence of one of the grandest structures of worship ever built. For them, its grandeur still took their breath away. Jesus and those who followed him were working class Galileans, not the sophisticated urbane crowd that had grown blasé about the glory of the Temple.
They marveled at the Temple for good reason. It stood majestically on the peak of Mount Zion, towering over the old city of King David. The courtyard walls were of white marble, glistening in the bright sunshine. Massive stone columns majestically lined the perimeter of the Temple Mount holding up the porches that surrounded God’s great earthly plateau. The Temple itself, standing in the center of the Temple Mount, was over a hundred feet tall. The walls of the Temple were covered with great sheets of gold that nearly blinded the approaching visitors.
From a distance, the Temple Mount was a brilliant spectacle. First-century historian Josephus wrote of a winter scene in which the gold on the temple “reflected so fierce a blaze of fire that those who tried to look at it were forced to turn away … it seemed in the distance like a mountain covered in snow, for any part not covered in gold was dazzling white.”
It was the week of Passover when Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem, a time when the city was bloated with religious pilgrims. During Passover, it is estimated that the city’s population swelled from its normal 25,000 to as many as 125,000 people and one can only imagine the congestion of pilgrims and priests, beasts and blood, and lots and lots of money. It must have been mind-boggling.
And there they all stood, gaping at the blinding wonder of it all and thinking about how magnificent it all was, when Jesus blurted out the stunning words, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2, NRSV).
Hard to imagine? Perhaps it might be like standing on the mall in Washington D.C. during a bright, sunny July 4th celebration with hundreds of thousands of visitors. One of us, seeing past all the breathtaking grandeur of it all begins to speak as if overtaken by a blinding vision and imagining the utter desolation of everything. It would be as if one of us had a supernatural ability to envision the absolute destruction of every significant building of our national capital and in its place having a vision of rubble and smoke and destruction.
Jesus looked past the swarm of visitors, past the cacophony of sights and sounds, past the blindingly beautiful opulence of the stark white Temple and all he saw were ruins. Only stones left in a heap. No rhyme or reason about the way they were skewed on the ground as if they were a child’s wooden blocks strewn carelessly on the floor. Only the remembrance of what they had helped to form when they were originally brought to this peak of land. The disciples were bowled over by what he saw and the absolute clarity by which he described it to them and they anxiously asked him, “When will this be?” “And what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”
Those have been the questions asked by every generation of believers that has come along in the two millennia since who’ve wondered, “Is this the time when Jesus will come back?” “Are the signs of the times warning us to be ready?” Every generation of believers that’s lived has struggled with those questions. And yet, the answer has been “No” over and over and over again.
Jesus has some direct advice for those who fear the end is approaching: “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed;
this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of birth pangs” (Mark 13:5-8, NRSV).
This past week’s news has focused on a tragic and senseless murder of a young woman who was one of the thousands of young adults who’ve come from all over the world to worship, study, and pray at a church steeped in apocalyptical thinking, some of it biblical and some of it not. I’m of course referring to the murder of 27-year old Bethany Ann Deaton, wife of IHOP group leader Tyler Deaton, allegedly killed by Micah Moore, a young man who was a part of a small group studying at the International House of Prayer. IHOP has rightly denounced the murder and over the last few days has tried to distance itself from the murderer dissociating themselves from Tyler Deaton who is now under investigation for his possible role in his wife’s murder.
It’s a sordid tale and shocking to the church that’s centered its teaching on the belief that we are living in the last days and that all of life is a spiritual battle between God and Satan. Many consider them to be cult while others have held they are simply taking this text from Mark’s gospel to its logical conclusion. You live in this community, and like me, you’ve run into many of the young adults who live and work in this part of town and who have been drawn to the church’s teaching and fervor.
So when we read these words by Jesus, how do we connect the dots to what they teach at IHOP and what most every church I know would consider in its beliefs about the world as it is and where it’s headed?
The word “apocalypse” is a Biblical idea marked by symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom. Apocalypticism is an idea regarding the imminent destruction of the world and the foundation of a new world order as a result of the triumph of good over evil.
Clearly this teaching is evidence of faith under duress lived in perilous times. The idea of apocalypse comes from the Greek word, apokalypsis, meaning “to uncover.” It’s a word we see in the book of Daniel, or John’s Revelation and from these words in Mark 13, a text that’s been labeled, “Jesus’ little apocalypse.”
There are Christian doomsayers who are adding to the cultural hysteria with their warnings. And Jesus tells us simply, “Do not go after them.” Do not be terrified. When the sky is falling? Yes, even when the sky is falling. When the world is coming to an end? That’s right. Do not go after them. Do not be terrified.
When he first appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, he mysteriously appeared among them and the first thing he told them was, “Peace be with you.” Peace … not chaos and confusion. Peace … not fearfulness or trembling. The Prince of Peace came among us bringing the hopeful message that we can have peace in the midst of every strife and hardship. The message of peace has been a profound part of the gospel message for centuries. But peace was a fragile thing for those early Christians.
The promise of Jesus is that when our moment of truth comes don’t fear that you won’t have the courage to say what is needed. Don’t concern yourself with whether the words will rise up in your throat. The presence of God through the Holy Spirit will be with you and will give you the things you will need to say. You can have faith that you will reach for the right words when you need them and they will be with you, ready to be spoken. And Jesus helps us understand that by enduring whatever trials and persecution may come our way, we have the promise of gaining our very souls.
Jesus offers us his peace as a gift of grace in that moment. The message of peace has been so deeply ingrained in us that it’s virtually a genetic gift from Jesus to all believers of all time.
A two thousand year old tradition has been celebrated by the Christian family that reminds us of what Jesus told us throughout his life. The “passing of the peace” is the enduring sign that the church has celebrated throughout the history of the church. It is the sign that has been shared lovingly throughout the harshest of times, even when being a believer meant the possibility of betrayal by one’s own brothers or sisters. It was shared when just the name of Christ was enough to put you in harm’s way from the evil of the world.
In passing the peace, one believer takes the hand of another and from the depths of his or her soul says to the other, “May the peace of Christ be with you,” and the other responds, “… and with you.” Whenever we pass the peace, we remind each other that Jesus told us to be at peace and to not let the fear in our hearts overwhelm us. In that peace, we prove to the unbelieving world we are God’s people.
As we stand and sing the song of commitment, let’s pass the peace with one another. Look one another in the eye and say the words, “May the peace of Christ be with you.” And the other may answer, “and with you.”
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).