The Blue Mountains Franciscan Church
Sermon preached at Springwood on Sunday 15th November 2015:
“Do you not see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
May I speak in the Name of the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’ve often heard a common criticism about the Church from people who are not religious. They walk into a beautiful cathedral or Church and say, “How can they waste all of that money on these buildings; they should be taking care of the poor.” It reminds me of the Gospel story where the woman anoints Jesus’ feet with costly oil and Judas gets upset, “That money could have been used for the poor.” (John 12:8)
My dear mum, bless her, had a different take on this. She loved stopping into beautiful Church buildings whenever she and my late dad travelled. As they would walk around, I’ve been told she would say, “ look at how much the people who built this Church loved and honoured God.” She didn’t see dollar signs she saw the beauty born of devotion.
Jesus and his disciples are hanging around the Temple in Jerusalem. One of them says to Jesus, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” By all historical accounts the Temple was an impressive and gorgeous place.
But Jesus issues a warning, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down!” In other words don’t put your hope in the buildings; don‘t be too impressed with outward appearances. Some forty years later that Temple would lay in ruins after the siege of Jerusalem. It has never been rebuilt but the faith of the people has lived on.
When some ask him when this destruction will occur Jesus tells them to not be led astray by false prophets. You will hear rumours of war, you will watch nation rise against nation, there will be famines and earthquakes but it is not for you to know the timing of the Day of the Lord. The world will experience devastations and civilisations will crumble but don’t get obsessed with these birth pangs of a fallen humanity. Be ready every moment for the Day of the Lord to come even when there seems to be peace.
Jesus is speaking as a prophet. In our Scriptures prophets are not fortune tellers. Prophets diagnose the spiritual life of the people. While the religious edifices may be impressive it is what is going on inside that really matters.
Our devotion can produce beautiful things but if we start to focus on the outward practices instead of the inward transformation we lose our way. This is what the prophets preached. But they also taught us that we do not have to meet destruction. We can repent and change course.
So often in the day to day institutionalism of Church life, we forget the root of our joy: the salvation given to us by Jesus Christ. We get snagged by the details of our human traditions. These snags are what cause the bulk of our conflict and failure.
A book I have written by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, wrote, “Come to Jesus, to that living stone…like living stones be yourselves built up a spiritual house.” He points out, “that is what the word ‘church’ meant to the Christians of the first century: not stone or brick or wood, but the Christian people themselves …when people are converted and baptised they are united to (Christ), and there grows, stone by stone… a spiritual house…through whom Christ is now made known in the world…human lives united to Jesus receiving his presence, and showing his goodness, his love, his sacrifice, his humility, his compassion.”
Christ calls us to embrace, not the things of the body but of the soul, not the things of the world but the things of God: the lasting, eternal treasures of love and mercy, the joy that comes only from selfless giving, the satisfaction that comes from lifting up the hopes and dreams of others.
Jesus urges us to recognise the “signs” of change with eyes and spirits of faith: to appreciate what a precious gift our limited time on earth is; to realise that every changing world and passing stage, every pain and triumph, are opportunities for growth, maturity and understanding of the transforming presence of God; to embrace change — the passing away of our own “heaven and earth” — as part of our journey to the dwelling place of God.