What is the World Coming To? – Sermon by Bishop David Altus
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’
2 ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’
5 Jesus said to them: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth-pains.
I might be a brave or foolish bishop tacking these words of Jesus here today because Jesus begins by talking about buildings. Big buildings… Church buildings.
And I know that has been a challenging and sensitive issue for you here at St Petri in recent times.
Building projects always are… (My office is near the old LeCornu site in O’Connell St … a plot of land that has remained empty for the last 32 years. Rob Voigt probably wondered if he would ever see anything go up on it and so have I for 12 years now. They did plant some grass so I have watched that grow…. Nothing gets built because no one can agree on what any building should be and whatever the entrepreneurs put up the North Adelaide residents knock down!)
Buildings mean more to us than we admit.
Take your own home and what it means to you …
And Churches like this mean something to us for good reason too …
A lot of prayer here, listening to God here, time at the altar and table here, longing expressed to God in prayer here, maybe with tears … a lot of confession and forgiveness here. Saying “I do” and “goodbye” here … It means something … It matters what happens here, apart from whatever we have invested personally in this place.
We meet God in places like this.
That’s why this place matters
No wonder when someone suggests we alter it in some way that can be threatening, it can mess with our faith sometimes.
So imagine when Jesus said to his disciples “see these stones, see this temple -It is about to be demolished…”
That must have mattered to them – big time! Not just because the temple was huge (some stones were 12x6x3 metres large, some of them marble, some overlayed with gold making archways, tunnels and staircases – it was an impressive building that was worked on for 80 years!
The temple was not only impressively big but it was also about a big God for them. It was where they met God and it was literally the centre of the universe, God’s throne, his seat from where he directed everything! So you don’t mess with the temple!
The church as they knew it – and it was at the centre of their faith and their world, was at some point in time going to come crashing down around their ears.
So what would that mean? About God and for them?
‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down
And it was not long after the last stone was put in place and decorated that the whole house of God came down like a house of cards in 70AD- destroyed by enemies. All that remains is the wailing wall – and Jews and Arabs still argue about who it belongs to!
Imagine God’s house being torn down…. What would the destruction of God’s house mean for where God is now? And where God can be met and found? It would seem like the end of the world to them… And maybe that’s what Jesus was preparing them and us for too in what he says when they asked him how they would know it was about to happen what the warning signs would be… He hints at the end of something even bigger than the temple building.
Near the end of the church year as we reflect on the end of life on earth as we know it and the appearing of Christ we wonder too what signs we will get before the end happens.
Today it can feel like the church and the world are falling apart politically, environmentally, and morally. Things we have grown up with relied on and treasured are being taken away from us, torn down in some way. The church we once knew is no more or endangered. We wonder what will be left?
My mother used to say “what is the world coming to?”
And her mother said it before that….
Both thought the end was near soon.
Us kids just rolled our eyes and went off to play……
But mum was trying to read the signs of the beginning of the end in her own way and her own day.
Jesus said there would be signs before the temple as they knew it came crashing down…
‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’ 5 Jesus said to them: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.
- People offering false hope to save the world – How many voices out there are telling us what we have to do to save ourselves and our planet, or voices telling us there is no God so we have to fend for ourselves.
- Political upheaval – Lately we’ve trodden on Chinas and France’s toes – what will that mean next? Leaders calling leaders liars… Wars of words and threats of war with even more damaging weapons.
- Natural disasters – some would say man made natural disasters threatening the world with extinction. Whatever you make of the gathering in Glasgow we have a problem that isn’t going away.
In a way these signs have always been there in every generation. But we are meant to read these signs in our own way and day so that we are always alert and ready for what is to come.
“Be alert but not alarmed” was what we were told a few years ago when we were afraid of terrorist attack. Be alert but don’t panic or despair – Jesus would say too.
This old world is not rolling on forever.
There will be an end to it.
But in Jesus mind and world view its not an end in the sense of “caput” or total disaster….
It will be an end in the sense of “end goal” or “conclusion” or “finish”, the “completing” of something God started even if we have damaged it along the way and even if something humans do or don’t do brings the whole house down around our ears!
Jesus says these uncomfortable signs really the beginning of birth-pains.
Now obviously I don’t know birth pains firsthand.
I have only watched on in fear from the sidelines and my only help was to act as a punching bag and a stress ball for Carolyn to squeeze the life out of!
Birth pains can be pretty rough going for everyone in the room! But I have seen the end result – three times, and from where I stood it was definitely worth it!
A new life
A future beyond myself
Jesus says to his disciples:
What you experience and see in a world falling apart and in a church that isn’t what it once was are signs not of a disastrous end to everything, but the contractions that will give birth to something God is about to create, a new beginning to a new future.
What you and the world may be going through may be painful and fearful and self-induced by human sin (sorry about the pun) but there is hope, a new day and a new creation on the horizon.
Jesus said these words before he died. Jesus, the place where we meet God, know God, experience God – he is really our the temple, the place where God is real for us!
And his body was about to be destroyed on the cross. In a sense the temple would come down on Good Friday – in fact the curtain separating everyone in the temple from the holy place where God was supposed to be was torn apart when Jesus died. Hebrews 10 reminded us today that the body of Jesus was the torn temple curtain giving us access to God, and he is also the priest who takes us through the curtain into God’s presence in heaven itself!
The broken lifeless Jesus would and did rise to life, to a new beginning, a forever life to which we would be invited and joined when we were washed in our baptism. Go home and read the Hebrews passage again today! It’s why we are encouraged to keep on meeting together in places like this!
So the agony of the cross was worth it for Jesus and us
The birth pains of a dying breaking apart world and a battered and bruised church will be worth it for us!
These days are the contractions before birth.
The pain before the gain.
The times we are in are not for lamenting and despairing but reading the signs wisely and living faithfully. Living like expectant mothers. The sharper the pain the nearer the delivery!
For Christians the sharper the pain the nearer the time when we will be with Christ forever.
Jesus says you may experience a world falling apart in all sorts of ways and a church being torn down too.
Don’t live in denial about that.
But don’t live in despair about that either.
Don’t be deceived by those who claim you and this world can save yourselves or that they can.
Don’t be alarmed, rather be alert, watch out, be on your guard, stand fir
In the verses following Jesus calls his disciples to
“preach the gospel to all nations”
– the good news of his saving help, his forgiving love and forever promises
Most Saturdays I get on my bike
One street I ride past is called Hope St
Underneath it says “no through road”
Many out there experience the signs Jesus talked about with no real hope. They fear that all roads offering hope might be a dead end. Hence the fear out there, the noise and the panic.
I saw a bit of Bert Newton’s funeral on Friday and on Tuesday it will be Russel Ebert’s. Pillars of entertainment and sport – now gone…
What does that mean for them and us? People wonder.
At funerals we are conscious that everything we have built for ourselves and constructed about ourselves will be dismantled so what does that mean, what next?
Two radio jocks asked that as I was waking up one morning during the week. They were trying to get their heads around these deaths.
“How can you believe in an all powerful God if these great people are taken?” one asked. The other (who had been to a Lutheran school) said nothing and switched to an ad break.
What would you have said?
You who have sat in God’s house like this one for years?
What is the good news you would have offered them at that moment?
They are out there and they are wondering…
They don’t want false hope either, they don’t want to be deceived either.
So how would you tell them about the hope you have in Jesus that is not a dead end but the way through to heaven itself!?
The way that Jesus is.
Our hope is in Jesus and he is the good news of God we share as the way through these times we are in. Our message is not that “the end is near” but that “God is near” and near in Jesus. In him the past is forgiven, God is present with us in it all, and the end is not something to be feared, but will be the beginning of forever with him.
So here we meet today in this magnificent building.
Nothing is permanent in this life, our buildings or ourselves.
I am not foolish enough to predict its demise and I am not going to tell you what to do with it.
I am looking forward to seeing what you will do with it, for the sake of the gospel, your witness to Christ to searching people. We make our decisions for the sake of those who need to hear the good news of Jesus in the face of the bad news in the world.
We are here in this place today at the end of the church year, a time that puts everything in God’s perspective and ultimately the return of Christ.
It’s a time when we ask what matters?
What will stand and who will stand God’s coming judgement?
When our Lord returns he won’t be looking to see if this or any other church building is still standing but if we are still standing – in faith hope and love, the loving mercy of God we have come to know in Jesus the place where we truly and personally meet God himself.
God bless you as you give witness to him in here, whatever in here looks like in the future.
And most importantly as you stand for him and give witness to him out there, as you live and breather serve and speak out there in a world falling apart as people who are already part of his new beginning …
Bishop David Altus
‘I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?”
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 ‘You said, “Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.”
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.’
Real complaint to God, brings real clarity from God.
Now Job sees. He sees his own limit, weakness, lack of power and certainty and he sees God’s unlimited goodness, power and commitment to the world. Job sees God as Giver: everything the Lord lists here is gift – gift for life, gift for human life, gift for Job.
In Job’s suffering the sun rises, the clouds form the rain comes the stars shine the wind moves and life is sustained for Job.
Nothing has changed when it comes to the gracious sustaining gifting of God ,,, Paul says;
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you
What are you doing with the trouble you face? What are you doing with the trouble you feel? What are you doing with the trouble in this troubled world that seems to be heaping up on us all? Where is faith in this giving God; this man for others,; Jesus; his giving, his sacrificing, his calling, his gifting and guiding by the Spirit?
Here’s God’s direction for you in your suffering from a man who knows suffering (Job) and a Saviour who suffered it all for you (Jesus)…..
Repent and be restored
Complain to Jesus. He knows the pain and the triumph through it.
Listen to Jesus. Our complaint is turned to praise. Our doubt to trust; our suffering to joy again. Paul puts it well …
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[i] knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counsellor?’[j]
35 ‘Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?’[k]
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory for ever! Amen.
Repent and be restored.
Why? Because that is where the ‘gold ‘ is’.
The gold? To be a person for others. To be a person of prayer for others.
For instance, Philippians 2 says: Have the same attitude that Jesus had.
Even though he was God, he didn’t hang on to his glory, but humbled himself – the Greek word means “emptied” himself and became a human being so that he could suffer and die in our place. Following Jesus involves having an attitude that we find hard to have by nature – to turn the other cheek, go the extra distance, do things for others even if it’s not ‘fair’ for you, to forgive people – always, and to love and serve people whether we think they deserve it or not.
So we come back to Jesus’ question: “Are you also going to leave?” We’ll come back to Peter’ reply in a minute.
We love this verse from the Psalms, but it can easily become nothing but words if we don’t allow the Word to do what it says it does:
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul writes:
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
So we come back to our Hebrew texts, which don’t need any further commentary from me. Listen to them – read them – carefully! The Holy Spirit wants you to hear them clearly today:
Hebrews 2:1 – We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
And the second verse Is Hebrews 3:1 – Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus . . .
And I also want to highlight Paul’s words to Timothy in his first letter – ask the Spirit to speak to you through these words:
But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
So we come back to the question that Jesus asked his first twelve disciples, and now asks each one of us: “Are you also going to leave?”
Can you answer that question confidently and boldly today? If you can, please give Jesus your answer now, in Peter’s words.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver[a] and a gold ring.
12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life …..
16 ….Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.
Repent and be restored.
Job finally learnt to pray!
10 “After (all of this) Job prayed for his friends….”
Repent and be restored.
Job suffered and he complained to the Lord, listened to the Lord and acknowledged the Lord’s authority and goodness in it all and was restored by Lord so he could truly be a man for others.
Same for you.