Sermon 11-15-15

Pastor David Minnick

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sermon Text

Sermon    11-15-15

Mark 13: 1-8


          They were small town men.  Living a simple life along the shores of the Galilee, most were content spending their days out on their boats fishing, gathering in their catch, mending their nets, before heading to their simple homes.  And then he came along.  With a presence like none other whose paths they had ever crossed, he called them and by his simple command, something changed within their hearts and they followed.  Many left their nets, their boats, their families behind in order to follow.  And it had been an incredible couple of years.  This man Jesus had about him a quality like no one else who had ever walked the earth.  He spoke with a wisdom and said things in a way that engaged their hearts and made them all the more eager to follow him and learn more about the wonder of God’s love. 

          He engaged the powers of that time.  Finding ways to answer the questions put to him by the political powers that allowed him to skirt the law and avoid the brutal punishment that the Roman Empire was known for. 

          He seemed to save his best retorts for the religious powers.  Time and again, the disciples had seen him seem to get boxed into a corner by their tricky questions and time and again, he answered the challenging questions of the religious authorities in ways that served to open people’s minds and hearts to rich new understandings of the mystery of God.

          In following him, Jesus had led them far away from the comfortable shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Over the years, they had traveled throughout the land, living simply, inspiring more people to come and hear and see and sometimes follow Jesus.  And now, he was preparing to lead them to a place most of these simple fisherman from Galilee had heard about, but never thought they’d ever see-Jerusalem.

          Some of them may have made the trek on the high holy days to Jerusalem, but most were unable to afford such an expensive trip, and lived simply hearing the stories of the holy city and the incredible Temple found in the center of it.  Finally, they were there, and looking around at the majesty of the Temple, Mark records their awesome impressions.  “Look Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”

          The Temple in Jerusalem was an incredible sight.  Built out of huge blocks of stone, each of which weighed between 2-3 tons, with some weighing up to 50 tons, they were the foundation of the most sacred site for Jews of that day.  The largest stone in the Wailing Wall, the remnant of the Temple of that day measures 40 feet by 10 feet.  The stones of the Temple foundation and walls were stacked almost 400 feet high, a feat that amazes modern engineers.  Inside the Temple walls was 45 acres of flat stone, worn down and made smooth by the feet of the pilgrims.  It was estimated that ¼ million people could gather within the walls of the Temple compound at one time.  (The Rose Bowl in Los Angeles seats about 100,000.)

          And so we can imagine the sense of awe that this incredible structure inspired within the minds and hearts of a group of simple fisherman from Galilee, where the largest building was probably two stories in height.

          Imagine the experiences of seeing these majestic buildings, soaking in their grandeur, and then hear Jesus speak of their coming destruction.    They stood in the shadow of the most magnificent building the world had ever seen, a building that dwarfed even their wildest imaginations and Jesus speaks of it being destroyed in the days to come.   Can you imagine?

          Nineteen centuries later, a curious and inspired group gathered on the docks in Southhampton England.  There it stood, 883 feet long, 92 feet wide, 59 feet from the water line to the boat deck, one of the lower decks on the ship—the RMS Titanic, the greatest, most majestic ship in all the world.  The rich and famous gathered by the gangplank, eager to set foot and set sail on this incredible ship, heading out on a several day luxury journey to New York. 

          How great it must have been to set sail on a ship so well designed and well built that nothing could cause it to sink.  People’s faith in the ability of ship builders was never higher than on that April day in 1912.  Can you imagine?

          Looking around the sanctuary today, I think many are of an age to remember where we were on a cold January day 29 years ago.  I was working indoors in the garage of a country club, sharpening the blades on the mowers while others worked scraping rust and re-painting some equipment.  We had WEBE 108, a popular radio station in that part of CT on in the shop, when the DJ broke in, speaking of a disaster along the Florida coast.  The foreman yelled for everyone to shut up so we could hear, and the news came, that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded on take-off 73 seconds into it’s flight. 

          Lift off of NASA rockets had become routine to us by then.  The news stations no longer even broadcast them live.  They had become a last story shown before the commercial break on the evening news.  And even though, many of us knew that there had to be risks when a group of men and women are placed atop several tons of explosive materials, nothing ever went wrong.  The safety precautions were in place.  The technology and engineering was flawless, but still the Challenger had exploded.  Can you imagine?

          We learned and moved ahead.  A new day, a new century, a new millennium.  It was not that long ago, and so I suspect the memories are raw and the scars are tender for many of us.  “Quick, put on the Today show.  I just heard on the radio that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.”  And within two hours, two buildings, 110 stories high, buildings that likely inspired within the hearts of many that same sense of awe, majesty and wonder that the Temple had inspired within the hearts of the disciples, buildings that dwarfed the New York City skyline were rubble and dust.  Can you imagine?


          Jesus’ prophetic words echo throughout history.  The Jews in that day believed that the Temple was the sacred place where God lived in their midst.  They dared to believe that God’s house would be beyond any threat.  Centuries later, others put their trust in a ship that could not be sunk.  After that, technology became our god as we took for granted what a few years before would have moved us to stop whatever we were doing to marvel at.  And just a few years ago, the forces of sin and evil, amplified by those who hated us and our world more than they loved life, conspired to turn to dust and rubble the twin towers of the civilized world.

          Seven years ago, we were reminded yet again of the fallibility of all that is made, organized and administrated by human hands.   “Too big to fail” was the mantra as the economic and housing crisis shocked the world.   We heard of banks too big to fail, of auto makers too big to fail, of airlines and other industries whose future was unquestioned until those days.

          Back in 2007, I attended a workshop on the future of the church, held at the First Congregational Church of Springfield MA.  The workshop organizers brought in some well-known speakers on this topic and it was a wonderful series of workshops that were held that day.  First Church/Springfield held this workshop as a good-bye present to the churches of Massachusetts and Connecticut.  You see, despite having a several million dollar endowment, the church had diminished so significantly over the years, that the church leaders could not justify spending down this resource just to keep the doors open for a few more years.

          First Church/Springfield had been in operations since 1637 when it began, 140 years before the revolution.   When John Quincy Adams died in 1848, his body lay in state in the sanctuary for mourners to pay their respects to.

It was the mother church to dozens of churches in western MA and north CT.  When I served First Church/Suffield and we celebrated our 300 th anniversary back in 1998, First Church/Springfield sent a letter of congratulations to one of the many churches that had begun as a mission outreach by them.

In their own way, they were “too big to fail.”  Until the challenges of serving in an urban area, in the heart of the corporate and business center, with a dwindling population of residents, the challenge of parking, an aging congregation and a challenging physical plant combined to force the church leaders to tough choices.  After 370 years, the sold the building to the city of Springfield and used the resources, along with their endowment, to support a number of churches in the immediate area.

The church universal has withstood centuries of challenges and threats.   In many places, persecution and threats have strengthened the church and leaders and we see instances throughout history where churches have thrived under challenging conditions.   And we see and face the challenge of these days.   When unparalleled freedom and opportunities have spurred challenges to our being and future.

This day, as our stewardship campaign concludes, is our time to determine how we choose to support and empower our shared ministries and missions here.  The lessons of history are abundant.   Nothing made by human hands, including the local churches, including Spring Glen Church, is “too big to fail.”   

But we are blessed with an abundance of resources.   From those that come from our efforts to earn our daily bread to the wealth of energy and drive that so many invest in our programs and ministries to the freedoms we enjoy in this day and age that afford us time to pursue meaningful efforts in our days to love and serve God.

As they entered Jerusalem that day, Jesus knew his time with the disciples was coming to an end.  He knew that Jerusalem would be Ground Zero in his continuing confrontations with the religious and the political powers. 

          Jesus’ words remind us today, that nothing made by the hands of men and women, whether they be the majestic walls of the Temple, or the marvels of modern technology and engineering, or even the good intentions of an institution such as the Church, the body of Christ alive in the world, nothing can exist apart from the majesty and wonder of God.  And nothing, nothing in all creation, whether it be made by the hands of men and women, or even that which is inspired by God, there is nothing that we are to put our ultimate faith and trust in but God.  God is our Rock and our Redeemer.

          That was the message that Jesus believed crucial to drive home in as dramatic a way of possible, which he seeks to do in today’s lesson by speaking of the impossible—the mighty walls of the Temple coming apart and crashing to the earth.  Time and again throughout history, we have seen that when men and women put their hope and faith in that made by others, they will be disappointed. 

          May we draw on the inspiration of this lesson in the course of our days as we work to establish, build, nurture and support the imperfect institutions of the world, all established in an effort to follow God’s command.  But may we do this, trusting in the words and life of Jesus which underlines the good news that it is indeed within the spirit of God that we live and move and find our lasting peace.  Amen.