Building For Eternity
Sunday, 17 November 2019 16:49
"As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." (Luke 21:6)
Every year I go up to St Andrews for a conference of Chemistry teachers. Most times I wander about after it’s over and have a look around the cathedral. Not that there’s much left to see - it’s been a ruin for centuries. But, as my wife will testify, I am happy to spend hours looking at the piles of rubble that used to be magnificent buildings, like the many castles that litter Scotland. In their time they were magnificent edifices that were designed to impress and show off the status of their owners and builders. Now, though, they are often hollow shells, their walls fallen and their fine decoration faded to nothing. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Maybe that’s what we should have in our minds when we read Jesus’s words in our text this morning. He and his disciples are in Jerusalem for the Passover in the days leading up to his Crucifixion and Resurrection. These are guys from the boondocks of Galilee and they are walking through the Temple complex and they are so impressed by the building itself and by the fine gifts that had been given to decorate it. This was one of the marvels of the age - a vast temple complex built on the temple mount and linked to the magnificent royal palace. Herod had spent a fortune building it and it could be seen from miles away - much in the way that the spires and towers of the largest cathedrals in Europe can be seen from miles away. It had been built to impress by someone who very much likes to impress people.
Within forty years it was gone; destroyed during the Jewish Revolt. There are those who have claimed that Luke must be putting these words into Jesus’s mouth because he couldn’t possibly have known what was going to transpire decades after his death. Well, Son of God and all that. But even leaving that aside, his words would have been true anyway. That’s the way it is with things in this world. It doesn’t matter how majestic the buildings we create are, it doesn’t matter how finely adorned they are or what has gone on in their courts, the days come when they are ruins, or demolished to make way for something new.
That’s the way it will be for this building one day. That’s the way it will be for all that we build in this world. It’s not a matter of if but of when. In Science there’s a principle called entropy that underlies all this, but our first hymn this morning captured it well - “tower and temple fall to dust”. That’s something we have to bear in mind when we think about our priorities as Christians and as the Church.
I don’t mean to be gloomy here. I’m just pointing out that the things we, as human beings, build are as transitory and as impermanent as we are in this world. They reflect our mortality here in this world. We are gathered, though, in the presence of another builder, in the presence of God. We are gathered in the presence of the builder who will, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, create a new Heaven and a new Earth. The builder who has created the dwelling places in which you and I will spend eternity. With whom you and I will spend eternity.
This is the odd thing about Christianity and the Church. We spend so much of our time trying to keep things the same; holding on to traditions and forms of language, to buildings and habits. I’m reminded of a story I read when I was training. A Minister was visiting a vacant charge with a view to putting in an application and was talking to the Session Clerk who told him that the service was at 10:20 on a Sunday morning. This was, seemingly, an odd time so the Minister was asked why and was told that it was to fit in with the train that stopped at the station at 10:15. Or had stopped at that time. Twenty-five years ago. When there was still a train. And a station.
Yet the scriptures we read every Sunday ring with the promise of change; with the promise of a new Heaven and a new Earth - that God’s creation is growing and evolving toward a final destination when all that is wrong with this world is washed away and forgotten - when poverty and hatred, war and fear, greed and pain are gone as surely as every work of vainglorious men in centuries passed have gone. This is what Jesus is pointing to in his words this morning - that God is building for eternity.
But he builds with rather different materials than the stones and precious metals that so impress the disciples. He builds with people - people like you and me. People who might think that they have little to offer when it comes to building a world like the one we heard of in Isaiah. I mean, that’s a pretty big project - the kind of thing carried out by a God who builds for eternity. Maybe that’s why Luke prefaces this big speech by Jesus with the story of the widow’s mite; of the poor woman who put a tiny coin into the offering at the Temple and Jesus insisted that it was greater than all the fine gift that impressed the disciples.
She gave what she could, when she could. That’s how God builds - through countless tiny acts of generosity and kindness that insist, when it really matters, that people matter. Through countless words spoken in times of hardship and strife that insist that everyone matters. Through countless hands offered across the barricades that humanity throws up to divide ourselves one from another that insist that everyone matters. Everyone matters because everyone makes a difference in the lives of others and it is those differences by which God builds for eternity.
Maybe it’s hard to see that. Of course it is - we have this narrow slot of time in which we live to try to discern the plan of a God who builds for eternity. It’s easy to get disheartened when folk don’t roll up on a Sunday morning. It’s easy to feel disheartened when churches close or when our faith and beliefs are mocked and derided. Think that’s hard? Listen to what Jesus has to say about the challenges that will face the disciples in the years to come. Now those are a challenge.
A challenge we are faced with right now, just as they were. The challenge to point to that world made new that God is building. To speak for peace when there are insurrections and they beat the drums and let loose the dogs of war. To speak for generosity when there are earthquakes and famines and there are those who insist that they are in faraway places that don’t matter. To bear witness to the love of God for all humanity when humanity divides in fear and hatred.
To be like the widow offering all that she could when she could. That’s not always easy, but God doesn’t build the easy way. He builds the way that lasts. It’s when we’re called to be compassionate when we’re tired and feel we’re unappreciated that God challenges us to make a difference. It’s when we think that we can’t make a difference that God challenges to make a difference. It’s when we are at our lowest point that God challenges us to lean on him and make a difference. And that’s how God builds - not just the world that is to come. It’s how he builds us. By inspiring us to develop habits of generosity, of kindness, of forgiveness and love for our fellow human beings, he builds us for eternity.
Lord build us. Strengthen us to meet the challenges that come our way to love as you have loved us; to live peace in the face of war; to live generosity in the face of greed; to live compassion in the face of hardheartedness. Build us to be citizens of your eternal kingdom
Preached at Gretna Old parish church