This was the center of Jewish identity. This was like the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument for us, except on steroids. The Jerusalem temple was the place where God was most deeply present with human beings, the place where heaven touched the earth.
It was also problematic because King Herod had built it. We will hear about King Herod soon enough. Herod the butcher, who killed members of his own family to stay in power. Herod the tyrant, who killed all the children, two years old and younger in and around Bethlehem in an attempt to destroy the baby Jesus.
“Yes it was built by Herod, but look at it, it is so amazing, so impressive!”
Jesus says, “The days are surely coming when not one stone will be left upon another. All will be thrown down.”
You know, when things come apart, when our identity, who we are seems to be thrown down, it’s the little people who suffer most.
Here are two stories about people for whom things are being thrown down.
Some years ago my friend Rob and I got in our 1982 Mercedes Bens and drove off into the hills of Eastern Kentucky. Yes, we had arrived, driving in our Mercedes Benz. Never mind that we had bought it because that model of Mercedes was easy to convert to running on vegetable oil. We converted it too. Rob would get vegetable oil from local grills and restaurants, filter out the crumbs and bits of food and use it as fuel for the Mercedes.
We would head out in our vegetable oil Mercedes into the hills once or twice a year. Rob would visit with some friends. Stop by a surface mine or two that had been recovered, see if the forest was growing back. We would walk in the woods, see the trees and landscape. Beautiful place.
One day, on our way home it was getting dark, and our Mercedes Benz made one of those sounds that a Mercedes is not supposed to make. Wumph. Wumph wumph wumph. It was breaking down.
We managed to get it into the gravel parking lot for a trailer court, and, you know how some prejudices rise in your mind? Sometimes we are prejudiced against African Americans or Latino people. Sometimes we are prejudiced against whites. Like when the sun is going down and your car is broken down in Eastern Kentucky and you begin to remember that banjo tune they played in the Movie Deliverance. Ruined a perfectly good banjo tune! And you remember the jokes people sometimes make, like, the cost of living in Kentucky is relatively low, especially since you don’t have to pay all that money for shoes.
That kind of joke is fun to tell. Not so much fun when you’re on the receiving end.
So one of these Eastern Kentucky folks often at the receiving end of such jokes came out of his trailer and said “Hi, my name is Jeff. Looks like you all broke down.” Rob is very good at meeting people, and very respectful of the people who live in the hills. He says “Yes, cant’ get the pump to work right.”
So Jeff climbs on top of the engine and under the engine and we climb on top of the engine and under the engine trying to get the car to work. We fail. Rob calls his wife Margie to come get us. It’s going to be about two hours. Jeff invites us into his home.
We step into his trailer, sit down on the couch in the living room. Cream colored carpet on the floor. He gives us a glass of water. We talk. Jeff tells us about his son, who has autism. His wife loves the Twilight movies. Those are the ones about the teenager Bella who falls in love with a noble teenage vampire Edward. Except Edward is not really a teenager. Edward is like, ninety years old and so on.
Rob asks Jeff about the job situation in his community. Jeff says “I work part time but the factory forty five minutes away might be opening in a few months. I got my application in. Wife works but it’s really hard to make ends meet.”
Rob says, “What’s the biggest problem in your community?”
“Drugs,” Says Jeff. “Nobody has a purpose. Tearing everything apart.”
Not one stone on another. The people will least power suffer.
Second story: My friend Terry stopped by his wife’s office late this week. Sherryl is a physical therapist there in Washington State. One of her colleagues at her physical therapy practice is Muslim. From Iraq. Wears the head scarf and all. She’s five months pregnant. Terry says to her “Been thinking about you this week.” She leans into his chest and cries for a couple of minutes. She says “My husband is Italian. I don’t know what shade of brown my baby will be. But I am afraid after this election. I am afraid of how my baby will be received in this country.”
When things come apart, the little people suffer.
Here is what Jesus says to people who are impressed by how huge and powerful their symbol of identity is. The beautiful stones of their temple. Here is what Jesus also says about when all of that temple, that core identity is thrown down.
He says “Do not be terrified.”
You remember that word, “terror?”
Do not be terrified. These kinds of things will happen. You will be hauled before governors and magistrates because of me. That is, the things you will say because of me, the things you will do because of me. Who you are because of me. Do not be terrified. This is your opportunity to Tell The Truth. To tell the truth about our identity, who we really are, who God created us to be, who God calls us to be.
Jesus’ teachings ask certain questions from who we are. Here are a couple. Because we are saved by the grace of God, forgiven forever, how can we live in peace?
Here’s another question from Jesus’ teaching about who we are and who we are called to be: Because we are saved by grace and forgiven forever, how we can build a world where everyone has dignified work whereby they can feed themselves, put a roof over their heads, have healthy families, safe homes, free lives?
We may come up with different answers to those questions. We may disagree passionately about those different answers. That’s okay. But these are the questions.
Here are a couple of questions that Jesus does not ask: “What’s in it for me?” Jesus does not ask that question. In fact, he opposes it.
Here’s another question Jesus does not ask: “How can I exalt myself and my group above everybody else?” That is not a question Jesus asks. It is one he opposes.
We are here to tell the truth. We little people.
Now, here is some good news. The Truth is also here to tell us. God is here. God remakes us, re-utters us every day. God makes us into a temple of living stones, a statement of identity, who we are, that is alive and active.
In the verses immediately before the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is sitting before the temple treasury. People are putting large amounts of money into the offering plate, the money box. “Plonk, plonk” go the golden coins.
Then a widow, one of the little people comes up to the offering plate, puts in two tiny copper coins. Not much. Nothing, really in our eyes. But God’s eyes are different from ours and God’s ways are different from ours. Jesus says, “She has put more into the offering plate than anyone else.” She has put more into upholding the true identity of the people, the true calling of God’s people than anyone else, because she has put in all she had.”
Whether we are rich or poor, feel little or big, see things coming together or coming apart, the questions we ask are the same: how do we live in peace, how do we provide for all. And our witness is the same. We put in all we have, and God takes it up and God makes it more than anyone else’s, a temple of living stones, a testimony to the truth.