Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sermon for Nov 18, 2012; Mark 13:1-8

Rev. George Miller
Mark 13:1-8
“Traveling Truth”
Nov 18, 2012

Anyone who’s been a resident of Highlands County knows that there has been some controversy over the FCAT.

FCAT is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It was designed in 1998 to increase academic achievement by implementing standards which consist of criterion-referenced assessments in math, reading, science, and writing, which measures student progress toward meeting specific benchmarks.

To the ear it may sound good, but ask most teachers, artists and creative thinkers and they’ll tell you their true thoughts.

While the FCAT measures a student’s ability to remember facts, it does not measure one’s ability to think, create, integrate or have fun.

A computer can remember facts, but the human brain learns truths. That’s where things such as art and poetry come into play. Yeats. Dickinson. Shakespeare.

How many recall having to learn and recite poems in school? There are two I recall.

The 1st is “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns which features a line that goes something like this “The best laid schemes of mice and men are often led astray.”

How true is that? No matter how well we plan our lives, nothing will ever go 100% the way we want it. Just ask Mitt Romney.

The other poem is “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It goes like this:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

This poem teaches a valuable truth: the danger of hubris and the reality that none of us are invincible. Just ask General Petraeus.

Facts learned for the FCAT do not necessarily equal the truths that can be found in poetry, plays, and literature.

What is fact and what is truth? We encounter this in today’s reading.

Jesus and his disciples leave the Temple and one of them says “Look, teacher, what large stones and what large buildings.”

This disciple wasn’t making this up, he was speaking a fact. According to writings of the day and archeological excavations, we know just how large some of the stones were. Anyone want to take a guess?

The stones could be as long as 68 feet, 9 feet high, 8 feet wide, and weighing 500 tons. I’m going to let you soak that in: 68 feet long, 9 feet high, 8 feet wide, and 500 tons.

That’s a lot of stone. No wonder the disciple was impressed. Could you imagine how majestic, how indestructible the Temple seemed?

The fact of the matter was that the Temple truly was an amazing place. It was where the people believed God lived. That within those walls, between those stones, one could have an experience with God unlike any other place in the world.

The Temple was also where the people received forgiveness, where they brought their sacrificial offerings to experience the washing away of their sins.

The Temple was not only the place where God dwelled, a location of worship and of forgiveness, it was the center of the city, the place in which everything revolved around.

Yet something happened to the Holy Temple over time: it became corrupt. It became the means of domination and political manipulation.

First, the Persian Empire took it over and used it as the center of government, turning the priests and temple authorities into rulers of the Jewish people.

Then, King Herod came along and rebuilt the Temple with grand opulence, using large stones and so much gold to cover it that when the sun hit the Temple, people were said to be almost blinded.

Does blinding gold and tons of stone sound like a suitable home for a God who is devoted to doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly?

Does blinding gold and tons of stone sound like a suitable home for a God who made sure a widow didn’t run out of her rations of oil and flour?

So, perhaps we can understand why Jesus was not impressed with the Temple, especially when we read this story in its full context.

It takes place on the Tuesday before Jesus’ death. He and his disciples have gone into the Temple and immediately Jesus is accosted by the chief priests, scribes and elders who challenge his authority.

They get so angry at his teachings they want to have him arrested. They send in Pharisees to see if they can accuse Jesus of being unpatriotic. The Sadducees try to stump him with an end of life question.

Jesus watches as the corrupt treasury allows a widow to give all she has while the scribes are walking around in expensive clothes and sitting in the best seats.

Jesus is in the Temple and instead of experiencing the presence and grace of God, all he sees around him is corruption, accusations and hypocrisy.

So he is nonplussed by the wonders of the stones; instead he is riled up about the truths he has just encountered: his father’s house has indeed been turned into a den of thieves and robbers.

The Temple has become like Ozymandias’ statue and its’ leaders are like scheming mice, so it’s not that hard for Jesus to imagine a time when the Temple will be a colossal wreck and led astray.

Here is where truth and fact come together: Jesus was right. In 70 CE the Temple was attacked by the Roman army: they burned it down and then razed it to the ground.

Though the Temple had become corrupt, its destruction created a monumental dilemma for the people.

With it gone, where did God dwell? With the Temple destroyed where could the people turn for forgiveness?

The answer, for an emerging group of people, began to appear: Jesus. It was in Jesus that people believed God dwelled.

Though he had been crucified, his resurrection meant that Jesus eternally lived and was forever present.

Since God dwelled within Jesus, it meant that people could now experience forgiveness through their own personal encounter with the risen Christ.

They no longer had to go to a Temple; they no longer had to offer an animal sacrifice.

In Christ the experience of God can now take place anywhere at anytime. In other words, Jesus Christ became their traveling truth, not confined by time or space, stones or gold.

Think about that. Think what it means. It means that no building can control God, no building can take the place of God, and no building is God…

…Now, we just went over a lot of information; perhaps too much truth and facts to fit in one sermon. So before I wrap up, let’s do a little audience participation in which you get to put on your thinking caps.

We just had our Annual Meeting. In January we’ll have new members sitting on Council and on the various committees. And as we heard last week, the planning for the kitchen remodeling is going very well.

But it’s important to remember that we are not God, and no building takes God’s place. Instead our church is part of the Body of Christ, called to do Jesus’ work in the world.

If we were to call upon our imagination and think of words to describe the different types of stones, the different traits to be used in the continued growth of our congregation, what would those stones be called?

(Let members of the congregation call out words, like compassion, grace, mission etc)

These, I believe, are the kind of stones that Jesus is looking for.

These are the foundational attributes which make God well pleased; gifts of the Holy Spirit given to assist our church in the continuing process of becoming the place it was created to be.

The event of Jesus has changed the truth of all our lives forever.

In conclusion, how can we, as members of Emmanuel UCC share this truth with others we meet?

How can we share God’s love with a world where mighty people fall and all that seems to stretch before us is lone and level sand?

How can we find ways to be Jesus to a world where best lead plans of mice and men often go astray?

Let us continue to discover these truths together; let us trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to share God’s wisdom with us all.

Amen and amen.

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