Mark 13:1-8 (NRSV)
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
Pastor Aaron warned us all last week we had a doozy of a Gospel on deck for our Building Fund’s Commitment Sunday this morning – with this talk from Jesus about temples and stones and buildings and more all being “thrown down.” “Not one stone will be left upon another,” Jesus promises. It sounds like bad news for a building program – like Jesus is suggesting what a waste of time and energy, money and resources all of those large stones and great buildings represent.
As your pastor in this place – as a Pastor in the world these days, frankly – it makes me feel like I have to defend what we’re up to around here when it comes to Building Funds and mortgage payments and Commitment Sundays. Why bother? What a waste? If all of these “earthly things” will soon be nothing but dust under the feet of the almighty, what’s the point of it, anyway?
And those are good questions. Great, faithful questions, really. Enough to make any one of us think twice, I hope, about what we’re up to. So with this morning’s Gospel and those questions spinning around in my head, I was tempted today to defend and to justify what we’re up to and why.
I was tempted to explain that, yes, it costs money – sometimes a lot of money – to make a church go, but that I think we do that pretty modestly and responsibly around here; that, just for some perspective, there are single family homes in this community that have mortgages equal to or not far from the mortgage we carry on this facility, for this family of faith.
I was tempted to preach – on yet another Building Fund Commitment Sunday – about how we’re simply called and commanded to give our money and our stuff away.
I was tempted to remind you all that our mortgage payment isn’t just about paying a bill, but that it’s about teaching us to do that – to give our money away, to be generous, to do with less – something most of us – something most people, myself included – need a little encouragement and loving accountability in order to accomplish in this culture of greed where we live.
I was tempted to remind you – and myself – that Jesus taught and talked more about giving away money than he did about anything else, because he knew it could become an idol in our lives.
I thought maybe we could use a reminder that this is an issue of faith for people like us – people with money to spare, compared to most of the rest of the world, I mean. That this is one of the easier ways, frankly – writing checks and giving money – that we can live out our faith. That making financial commitments that are faithful and generous and sacrificial – and honoring them – is a spiritual exercise that blesses us and others.
And I was tempted to simply remind whoever showed up today that our mortgage payments don’t just go to any old bank. But that they go to the Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA – an institution of the Church – which helps to build and grow other communities of faith around our country and out there in the world, too.
And I thought it might be worthwhile to remind us all that we tithe our Building Fund, remember: 5% of it is building homes in Fondwa, Haiti, and 5% of it is helping to build a faith community at Roots of Life, right up the road in Noblesville.
I guess I was tempted to justify and defend all of this by reminding you that our Building Fund is about so much more than the large stones, the large buildings and the bricks and mortar so many see or think about when they consider the Church in the world.
All of that was tempting. But I decided against it. (See what I did there?) Instead, I decided to see Jesus’ words and warnings to his disciples about the temple crumbling to dust as all the encouragement and justification I need for what we’re up to around here – as God’s Church in this place – day in and day out.
Because before the Church – and long before this church crumbles to dust, I hope – there will be wars and rumors of wars. And we don’t need Jesus to tell us that, do we? And that means someone needs to pray about and fight for and work toward peace on the planet. That means there will be soldiers who suffer and plenty of people and places who need repairing and restoring and rescue, too.
And there will be earthquakes, Jesus promises, and hurricanes and tsunamis, droughts, red tides and wildfires, too. And that means someone needs to offer prayers and hands and resources to bind up the brokenhearted, to support rescue efforts, to mourn the dead, to rebuild what is destroyed – and to do what we can to prevent it all in the first place.
There will be famines, too, we’re told. And there already are. And the Church can send food and money and people to deliver it to those who are hungry. And we can support our own food pantries and we can show up like we did last weekend, with youth groups and volunteers, to lend a hand to people who are hungry in our own city. We can sell and shop for and support fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate, too, just for good measure.
And Jesus says we will be tempted to be led astray – that others will come in his name, preaching and teaching something contrary to the Gospel of grace and love and hope he proclaimed for all people. And this is what I think we do best around here, when we get it right. It is not a stretch to say that we – at Cross of Grace and as part of the ELCA (where people of color and women and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are affirmed and ordained) – we have a uniquely wide, welcome word of grace and acceptance and love and justice to speak into and to practice in our little neck of the woods.
And that’s just the big stuff. Many of the ways we’re called to be the Church are much closer to home, aren’t they? There will be strokes and melanomas. There will be heart attacks and cancers. There will be bullies and suicides; dementia and nursing homes; lost babies, broken relationships, addictions, layoffs and more.
And all of it is why the Church is meant to be in and for the sake of the world. See, we don’t stake our faith or our lives or our hope on buildings – on earthly things like bricks and mortar. But that doesn’t mean we stop using them as the tools – the means to the ends – for which they were designed. And the Church – whether we’re talking about the building or the institution – is nothing more and nothing less than a tool, used for the work of God in the world as we know it.
So we give and we build and we grow. And we do it in ways that are generous and sacrificial and that seem crazy to the world around us – and even to ourselves some of the time. And we do it precisely because all of this will be thrown down one day – not one stone or brick or wall – will be left upon another.
And we will be left with nothing but the abundance of God’s love for us and for the world. We will be left – not with our money or our things or our stuff – but we’ll be left with God’s mercy and forgiveness. We’ll be left with God’s hope, realized. We’ll be left with God’s kind of life everlasting, which is already ours… and already enough… and worth giving to and sharing with each other and the world in Jesus’ name.