Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As a pastor, I have learned to expect life’s interruptions. I know it’s going to be a bad day when at a wedding I call the groom by the bride’s former boyfriend’s name. Frankly, I know it’s going to be a long night as well. I know it’s going to be a bad day when I am informed that the Church Youth were using steel wool sponges at their car wash, or when the telephone rings and the couple I married only a year earlier are inquiring about a money back guarantee. When my wife Janna questions me on Monday morning, what I have scheduled for the week ahead, I can truthfully answer, “I don’t know yet.” I simply wait for life’s interruptions. For inevitably, the temples built by human hands do topple. Surprisingly, I am not that worried about the Great Apocalypse that Jesus describes in St. Mark’s gospel. Whenever that happens, I know it is going to be disruptive. No, instead, I am much more concerned about the temple walls that fall every day.
St. Mark’s image of the disciples walking with Jesus through the temple admiring the mighty stones is just as real today as it was 2,000 years ago. We often place our trust in institutions and structures built by human hands. And we are surprised and shocked when the earth shakes beneath our feet and the walls come tumbling down. 8 years ago when the massive 35-W bridge spanning the Mississippi River collapsed into the rushing water below, 13 people were killed and 145 people were injured. Lives were changed. And many people that evening pondered how different their lives would have been or for those of their loved ones had the bridge tumbled down at the hour they were passing over it. The temple walls came tumbling down.
Of course, the temple walls are not always shaken by natural disaster or human error. Sometimes the walls tumble down because of human hatred and terror. America was shocked by the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. Life in American suddenly changed- or this weekend as darkness and carnage spread over Paris, the city of light.
There is a personal, intimate dimension to Jesus’ warning to his disciples as well. As a pastor, I have discovered that the temples where we worship aren’t always the house of the Lord. Far more often the temples that fall are those of our own hopes and dreams. And they do fall. For you, the temple walls may have toppled when your supervisor closed the door of your office to explain to you the necessity of downsizing. For you, the temple walls may have toppled when the doctor informed you that the lump you had discovered while showering was cancerous. The temple walls may have toppled, when the police stopped by your home to inform you that your son had been killed in a motorcycle accident.
Or perhaps the tumbling stones were far more subtle. You walked past the mirror last night, and you saw your mother or father standing there. You looked again, and you were surprised to discover that you were no longer as young as you thought you were, and you wondered what have you done with your life? Or perhaps you pondered what more you could accomplish? Your temple walls are falling. Your ten-year old son asks you to play catch with a football, and all you can answer is that you are too busy. But as you look out the window and see him alone, you can’t concentrate on anything else. Your temple walls are falling. You pick up your cell phone, and you hear the angry voice of your 7 year-old daughter, “Where are you?” At that moment you realize that you have forgotten her piano recital… again.” Your temple walls are falling.
But let me be truthful. Falling temples are not always bad. Some personal temples need to fall. Places of false worship and misdirected praise may need to be toppled. The timing, however, may not be great. A dear colleague of mine in the ministry had been struggling with depression all his life, but he didn’t know it, until the day the temple came tumbling down on him a week before Easter. He was in isolated therapy for three months. But he never considered that “temple falling” to be a break down. He considered the falling stones to be his personal break through.
In a previous parish, I would visit an old man who would take down an old photo album of his children. His eyes would well up with tears, as he paged through the pictures of their youth. His children lived near to him, but they were two busy with their lives to visit him. They had learned well their lessons and patterns from him. In his old age, he regretted that the stones of the temple where he had once worshiped had not fallen down. It would have allowed him the possibility of overhauling his priorities. The joyless, lonely days of his old age might have been different.
My friends, where are your thoughts and energies being drawn today? Does a temple in your life need to be toppled, or does a temple need to be built up? Jesus’ prophecy to his disciples was not simply a warning of what will come to be. Rather he spoke to them as a people of hope. And that is your promise as well. For those who have placed their trust in God, you need not fear the future. You have the promise of a kingdom that shall not be moved.
That is what the ministry of Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church is all about. We are here to proclaim that good news, and to equip and inspire men and women to walk faithfully and confidently with God. Who else will do this work, and who else will proclaim this message?
On this Stewardship Sunday, we are reminded that one of the ways that we grow in faith is by using our financial gifts wisely. Jesus teaches us again and again, that money can be doing so much more when we simply return it to God’s service. And in faithfully offering your gifts to God, you are building up your own spiritual reserve.
Throughout scripture men and women are called to return a tithe or a tenth of their wealth to the service of God and their neighbor. For Christians who have never learned to give a tithe, the challenge may seem too daunting. For you, I invite you to begin with the biblical call to offer the “first fruits.” Many people wait until they have covered all their desires and necessities, and then they may turn over a portion of what is left to God. You will never build up the spiritual reserve if you wait to offer what is left over. Faith is nurtured and grows when you offer a portion of your gifts, the first fruits, from the very beginning. In this way, you learn to know God’s provision. You learn to trust that he will provide all that you will need from day to day. In this way your stewardship becomes a way of knowing God by leaning on him.
A plant nursery displayed this sign: “The best time to plant a tree was ten-years ago. The next best time is today.” A lifetime of consistent growth in devotion and faith would be ideal, but if not, the next best time to begin is here and now. My friends, it is in nurturing that relationship with God today that you will come to know and trust that Christ will support you even when the walls are tumbling down. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.