STANDING OUTSIDE THE TEMPLE
Jesus and his disciples stand outside the Temple which is the most important building in the city of Jerusalem. It is, in fact, the most important building anywhere in the world to the Jewish people. It is the centre of the people’s faith. It is the throne room of God, the dwelling place of the Almighty. It is the pride and joy of the Jewish people. It is where they leave their tithes. It is where they worship and where they make their sacrifices. But it is even more than that. In a nutshell, it represents who they are as a people of God. It, more than any other physical structure, defines them as a people.
It is in front of this great building, constructed by Herod the Great, that our story unfolds in Mark 13:1-8 (NIV):
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 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.
Remember that this is the centre of the Jewish world and faith. And yet Jesus looks at the Temple and declares in Mark 13:2 (NIV), “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down,” you can imagine the reaction that he must receives from those who hear him. Are they surprised? I imagine they are. Shocked? Sure, their sense of self has just been challenged. Angry? Probably; after all, who is this Jesus to threaten the safety and security of the Temple? All sorts of people have been very upset by Jesus’ words.
So what does Jesus do? Does he refrain from talking about the Temple in this way? Of course he doesn’t. He knows what he has to say. He knows what he is supposed to share and he shares it. His popularity is not the issue. It doesn’t matter whether or not he is liked by the people. The real issue is that he has to tell the truth, regardless of whether or not anyone likes it. The truth is that the day is coming when not one single stone in the Temple will remain on another. Everything will be upset and thrown down. And when that happens, the Jewish world will be turned on its head.
TURNING UPSIDE DOWN
What does this story say to us today? It doesn’t necessarily suggest that our house of worship is going to suffer the fate of the Temple any time soon but, hey, it could happen. The last eighteen months with Covid-19 has taught us that, if nothing else, we can expect the unexpected. But what it means for us is really something quite different. To me, what it says is that we should not allow ourselves to get too comfortable with the familiar things of life because we never know when something might happen to turn our worlds on their heads.
Most of us already know that. We know that life can change in an instant. You can go to work one day, like on any other day, show up at the gate and discover that the plant closed during the night. That could change a few things. You could go to the doctor for a routine physical only to discover a serious, maybe life threatening illness. I know people who have arrived home after work only to find the spouse and children gone along with all the furniture. You could walk out the front door this afternoon and get hit by the proverbial bus. I was walking done Belle River Road with Ella earlier this fall and, the next thing I knew, I was flat on my face on the ground having been run over by a teenage on a bicycle. Fortunately, there was no serious damage done but I sure didn’t see that coming. You just never know what can happen.
But let’s slip out of the negative for a few moments. Good things and happy events also can change your life. Here are a few phrases that have been known to turn someone’s world on its head. “Will you marry me?”; “Congratulations, folks, the test shows that you really are going to have a baby! Oh, and by the way, it’s twins”; “We are happy to inform you that you have been accepted into our university in September.” I know two people who received phone calls from the Canadian Cancer Society informing them that they were Ontario’s newest millionaires courtesy of they annual cancer lottery. Big changes are not always negative – in fact, they can be quite positive. But positive or negative, they all have the potential to change everything. Life, indeed, can be turned on it’s head in an instant for the good or bad, happy or sad.
That really makes sense from a theological standpoint because our God is a God of change. God is not the great static spirit in the sky. God is dynamic. While God does not change – God is constant and perfect – his creation does change. It is, in fact, inevitable.
What we are going to discover this morning is that God transforms our lives by doing two things. God, first of all, will tear down the walls in our lives. God will take the stones that we have used to build our lives and he will rip them down one after the other. Second, after that God will rebuild our lives into an image of his glory. That is how our God turns lives upside down. Let’s talk about that right now.
TEARING DOWN THE WALLS
In Mark 13:2 (NIV) Jesus says to those around him: “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” He says that not one stone in the Temple will remain on another. The day will come when all of them will be cast down. Here’s a question: are you ready for God to do that with you? Are you ready for God to dismantle your life? Remember that Jesus said that every stone of the Temple would be cast down, every single one. Not a single stone will remain in place. In the same way, whether we like it or not, God’s tears down the walls of our lives.
That should not be a difficult thought for a Christian to accept. After all, when we give our lives to Jesus Christ, we should expect a few changes. We believe that inviting Christ into our hearts is the beginning of transformation. He is able to root out the rotten stuff of our lives and replace it with that which is good and righteous and holy and just. It’s what Paul calls sanctification, the ongoing process by which the Holy Spirit works in our lives to enable us to live closer and closer to the way the Jesus calls us to live.
We expect a few changes but do we expect God to change everything? The answer has to be a resounding, “Yes!” When we give our lives to Jesus, there are no sacred cows. There is nothing in our lives that the Holy Spirit cannot touch with God’s transforming power.
That’s not always a comfortable thought for many people because, if truth be known, there are some things that we’d just as soon keep out of God’s hands. There are many things that we are more that willing to give over to Jesus and we do that but there are other things that we want to keep all to ourselves.
Sometimes, it’s very difficult to break long established habits. When I gave my life to Christ in 1971, one of the toughest things to change in my life was my language. Like a lot of teenagers, I used all sorts of words that my parents hadn’t taught me. I didn’t use them around the house because I didn’t want my Mom turning me back to dust, but I used them almost everywhere else. That was how my buddies talked and I wanted to fit in. But then Christ came into my life and I knew that he wanted me to change my language. I learned verses like James 3:10 (NIV) which says, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” And so God went to work on my life convicting me to change the way I talked. Those language stones were taken down one after the other and the profanity decreased.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the problem went away. As an Army Chaplain, I have the privilege of hearing soldiers talk on a daily basis. I am constantly amazed at how the f-bomb can be used for a noun, verb, adjective, adverb and maybe even a preposition from time to time. Army air is sometimes just blue. And it was the hardest thing to not fall to the temptation to talk just like everyone else did. To be honest, sometimes I fell and said something that I knew went against essential meaning of Scripture. But it was hard because that was the environment that I lived in. But the Spirit would not stop and and continued to convict me. God didn’t say, “because you are in a difficult language environment I’m going to give you a pass on your language. No, God kept ripping at those stones and tearing them down. And if I’m going to be totally truthful, not all of those stones are gone yet.
What about you? Is there anything in your life that God wants you to give up? Any stones that need to be thrown down? Does anybody here have a temper? Does anyone have a drinking problem? Are there any people here this morning who struggle with pornography, gossiping, drug addiction or gambling? Are you one of those people who is guilty of consumerism, of putting way too much emphasis on your material possessions? Let’s be honest, all of us have things in our lives that we know are not in accordance with the will of God and we need to do something about them. Those stones need to come down.
Don’t get upset with yourself if you’re not yet perfect. Sometimes it takes a while for God to turn you upside down. Even Paul had to come to that realization. In Romans 7:19 (NIV), he talked about his own struggles when he wrote: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Does that sound familiar? Paul realized that there were areas of his life where he fell short of God’s plan for him. He recognized that he wasn’t perfect, that he kept on doing those things that he knew he shouldn’t do. But the point is this; he didn’t give up and he didn’t get down on himself. He understood that he was a work in progress and he allowed God to continue to transform his life.
Each of us is uniquely called by God to give up things that are not consistent with the life that Jesus calls us to live. That is what Jesus’ words say to me. These are the stones of our lives that need to be cast down one by one until not a single one is left on another.
REBUILDING THE WALLS
God tears down the wall of our lives. God also rebuilds our lives into an image of his glory. That’s the second thing I want to talk about. There are certain things that, as Christians, God wants us to stop doing. But there are also things that, if we are to be faithful, God wants us to start doing.
There came a time in my life when God called me to take tithing seriously. It was one of those times when God said, “Okay, Gilliland, if you’re going to be a pastor of a church, then you’d better start setting a better example.” Up until that point in my life, I had given my offering the same way that a lot of people do it. I looked in my wallet on Sunday morning to see what was in there and base my offering on that. Basically, I was giving God out of what I had left over from the previous week.
God laid it on my heart that that wasn’t good enough. Proverbs 3:9 (NIV) says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” I was convicted by the knowledge I wasn’t supposed to be giving out of what was left over. God was calling me to give out of the first fruits and for me that meant 10% – the tithe. The reality was that I couldn’t do that right away. My lifestyle meant that, if I gave 10%, my other bills wouldn’t get paid and that wouldn’t be right either. But the Spirit went to work in my life and over about eight or ten years we were able to rearrange our spending habits until we reached that goal. And we’ve maintained that now for twenty-five years.
There are two things that I want to say about this. The first one is that just as we don’t always want to give up the things that God wants us to stop doing, we also don’t always want to do the things that God calls us to do. If you think for a moment that I wanted to tithe 10% then you’ve got another thing coming. There were all sorts of other things that I could think of doing with my money like go on bigger vacations or buying a more expensive car. Ruth could always use a new sewing machine. But that was not God’s plan for us. We also discovered something else; as we are faithful, so is God faithful. As we follow the Spirit’s direction on our lives, we discover that God has an amazing ability to provide for what we need. We have never gone without anything we truly needed because you cannot outgive God.
The second thing that I want to say is that just because God called us to tithe in our family does not mean that God calls everyone to do it in the same way. While everyone is called to tithe, tithe does not necessarily mean 10%. Sometimes it means 3% or 5% and sometimes it means 20% or even 50%. You have to listen to what God says to you. One of the biggest misconceptions that you can make is to assume that God calls everyone to do the exact same things that God is calling you to do. That’s just not the way that it is. Each of us has our own personal callings.
Can you imagine for a moment what it would be like if God called each and every one of us to do the exact same things? How would we function in this church if everyone here was a preacher or if everyone was a teacher or if everyone was a music director? Wouldn’t it be odd if everyone was called to lead a prayer group or a Bible study? There would be no one left to form the study groups. Would the turkey supper happen if everyone was called to carve turkeys? Who would serve the peas? In Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV), it says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” In the same way, God calls different people to teach Sunday School or sing on a worship team or organize the turkey supper. God uses the gifts that we have been given for the very best purposes. God calls all of us to different tasks in order that everyone may serve Christ in their own ways and bring people into the Kingdom of God.
Are there some things that all of us are called to do? Of course there are. Just like the things that none of us are supposed to do, the things that we are all supposed to do are outlined in the Bible. All of us are called to love our neighbour as ourselves. All of us are called to love God above all things. All of us are called to go the second mile for someone in need, to help the poor and seek justice in all things. Those are givens. But there are also those individual callings that are unique to each person. As we seek the Spirit’s guidance and strength, God builds up the structures of our lives so that we can develop into the faithful people God wants us to be.
RESTING ON A FIRM FOUNDATION
The last point that I want to make this morning is this: Jesus didn’t just say that some of the stone of the Temple would be cast down. He said that all of them would be. “Not one stone here will be left on another;” he said, “every one will be thrown down.” That’s significant because it says that there are no sacred cows when it comes to God’s ability to transform our lives. Everything, absolutely everything that we do or don’t do is open to change. God does not want the bad stones to be mixed in with the good. His desire is that all of the stones in our lives be the ones that he wants to be there.
The other thing that I want to say about this is that the reason why all of the stones have to be thrown down is because if God is going to transform us, he needs to not only change the walls of our lives, he also needs to ensure that the foundations upon which our lives rest are firm and secure.
The changes that God wants to make in our lives don’t happen all at once. They take time and energy and a whole lot of trust in the Lord. But no matter how long those changes take, no matter how much God is going to turn things upside down, ultimately your life has to rest upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.
No reputable builder would dream of building a house without first laying a solid foundation. No matter how good the structure of the house might look, if the foundations are weak then the walls and the floors and the roof will eventually crumble and come crashing down. No one wants that.
The same thing is true of our lives. Your life is only as strong as the foundation upon which it is built. Here’s a question: how firm is your foundation? Upon what is your life built? Is it Jesus Christ or is it something else? Each and every one of us needs to think very carefully about that because if your life is built upon something other that Jesus, then it will not stand the test of time.
As we seek to grow closer to God we need to keep that in mind. As it says in 1 Samuel 2:2 (NIV):
There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
How true that is. He is the one who turns our worlds on their heads, who throws down the stones of our lives. He is the one who builds us back up again on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. On that solid rock we can stand.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Great God of Love, we come to you with thankful hearts. A light blanket of snow covers the ground and we are reminded of the cleansing that you have given us in Jesus Christ. He is our Brother. He is our Saviour. He is our Shepherd and our Friend. We offer our grateful prayers for his sacrifice and for the forgiveness that only he can offer.
We thank you for healing in its many forms. By the power of your Spirit, relationships are restored. New life is breathed into tired institution. People are able to come together despite their differences to share their common faith and bond of love.
Gracious God, we are grateful that regardless of circumstances, we are never alone. Even in those times when we may feel alone, help us to confidently trust in the promise of your unbroken companionship and unchanging presence. You are always here with us.
We pray for those who have been sick this week, either at home or in hospital, remembering especially Carol, Mark, Rachel, Fay, Richard and Angela. Grant them peace. Grant them love. Grant them your special blessing.
O Holy One, there are many opportunities each day to respond to others in anger, unforgiveness, rudeness, or vengeance. Help us to make love and compassion the motives and model for all that we do and say. We are thankful that you forgave us and gave us the gift of eternal life. Help us to share that Good News with others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
November 14, 2021 / Pentecost 25 / Proper 28
1 Samuel 2:1-10; 1 Samuel 1:4-20; Mark 13:1-8; Hebrews 10:11-25
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: The light of God shines above us;
ALL: around us and within.
ONE: Let us give our praise to God;
ALL: who give us life and loves us eternally.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Earth and Altar, your grace abounds. The hills shout your praises. The seas roar your glory and the heavens declare the wonder of your amazing love. We thank you that we can always trust you, and that your Spirit leads us through every moment of the day. Help us, in our worship, to understand your will and purpose for our lives, for in you we find shelter, protection, and direction for all areas of life. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Gracious God of Mercy, our desire is to live a good life here on earth. We want to do your will but the struggle for perfection is a difficult one. We want to do good things with your gifts but we stray from your path. We need you to guard our lives and our hearts that we may resist temptation. Turn our minds from any action that would be, or even appear to be, evil in nature. Help us to follow the path of peace and life which you have given. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
We are grateful that we can approach the Throne of Grace with confident assurance, without fear or guilt, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. We can hold fast to the hope of eternal life that is God’s gift to us. Our confessions free us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Holy One, we want to live in a manner that is acceptable to you. Enable us to live self-controlled lifestyles, not driven by lusts and passions, but focussed on the wonder of your love. Help us to keep the priorities of life in proper order as we give our gifts to you. Amen.
The joy of worship is the coming together of people who share a common bond of faith. The integrity of worship is that it strengthens us to move back into the world to share God’s love with those whom we meet. As we leave, remember that we go with the Spirit and with the support of one another. Let’s go and do our part for the Kingdom.