"See these great building"-Sermon for In-Gathering, Mark 13:1-8
Now I have to say that, in our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus’ reply to the awe and wonder that his friends and followers are experiencing as they gaze upon the architectural and artistic masterpiece that was the Temple in Jerusalem, for all evidence suggests that it was indeed a marvel of the ancient world, but, again Jesus’ response to this jaw dropping moment of awe and wonder for his disciples is a bit disconcerting for a family of faith like ours who is embarking on both a capital campaign and construction project to build our own temple of sorts to the living God. For Jesus responds, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” I sort of want to cry out…but not ours Jesus…ours will last!
This eye-opening moment of revelation shared between Jesus and his friends in Mark’s gospel always reminds me of Percy Shelly’s 19th century poem that I have shared with you before titled Ozymandias. Shelly writes:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Ozymandias is thought by scholars to be Rameses II the 13###sup/sup### century BC Pharaoh of Egypt, perhaps even the Pharaoh that is named in the story of the people of Israel’s Exodus, led by Moses, out of slavery in Egypt beginning their 40-year journey to the Promised Land. And, the statue itself, referenced in the poem, is thought to be a giant multi-story edifice of the Pharaoh, an awe inspiring and intimidating symbol of the power of Egypt and the power of Ramses who was considered a sort of demi-god in Egypt. Like the Temple in Jerusalem the statue was a marvel of ancient engineering and human ingenuity. But over time, as is true with all things crafted by human hands, as Shelly writes, “nothing…remains…of that colossal wreck…the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
And with that colossal wreck in the background, I think Jesus’ comments about the temple stand as a corrective or helpful perspective on the edifice that we hope to build together. Please don’t get me wrong, I know we are called by God to build this church…to put deep roots into the ground…I believe it will stand for many generations yet to come…till long after, at least, I stand on this side of glory…and it will fulfil its God inspired and created purpose…because it is God’s inspiration and call that we follow, as we enter into this good and Godly building work together. Yet, still, Jesus’ words stand as the corrective or, better said, the proper perspective that we need to understand as we enter into this good and Godly work of building our own edifice.
For, I believe Jesus is suggesting that it is not, nor should it ever be, that the building itself is the ultimate purpose of its creation. That which we build will be lovely…it will grow, be improved upon, added on to, age, decay and eventually it will go away till not one stone stands upon another. This is a fact. Thus, if the purpose of the church we build is to somehow be eternal…simply a monument to human ingenuity and our ability to marshal funds and resources to create something we stand before in awe and wonder…ultimately our purpose will fail…entirely. If the building itself is that for which we hope and look most forward too. If we see the physical structure as our means of salvation as a church. If we are more excited for a building…more space…than that which happens at and through it…then all our efforts are utterly self-defeating. We have already failed. For over time, hopefully over much time, that which we build will go the way of Ozymandias and, even, the great Temple in Jerusalem.
But…that great theological word…but if the purpose of the church we will build together, for the time it lasts, is to hold, shape, encourage and form that which is, indeed, eternal…that is human souls…it will forever be a part of the story of God’s salvation of the world…the story of God’s eternal and never-ending love-life. For what we build, like all sacred spaces, is, at its very best, a tool and catalyst for the building up of living stones, human souls, that time and space have no power over…that death and decay cannot destroy. We build a church to create an intentional space, that within, eternal souls can encounter the living God and be utterly transformed, more and more, into the Christ-like life-giving, love-spreading, never-ending beings they were created by the God of love to be. This will happen through the prayer, worship, spiritual formation, planning, and fellowship that will happen in and around the church we build. And, this will happen as we share our church with the community around us offering retreats and meeting space and concerts and trunk or treats and playgrounds with our neighbors, community partners and friends. And, this will happen as those souls, our souls, filled with the living God…well met…in our church then walk out our doors bringing the love of God into our work places, classrooms, individual homes…out into this world…all the light and dark places…like the strong branches of a tree spreading out from a trunk that grows at the center of the church we will build together.
I mentioned already the phrase “deep roots”, and I did so intentionally…for that is the name of our next Capital Campaign. Our first Capital Campaign was called Good Soil…for with those gifts that this community so generously has already given…partnering with the Great Commission Foundation of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas…has provided for us the good soil on Brushy Creek Road where we will now over the coming years plant ourselves. Deep roots sprouting from that which we build together…the very tree of life…growing ever upwards to heaven itself…and outwards to those around us who need us…much like the vertical and horizontal beams of Jesus’ own cross. What we build will not last forever…but the fruit it produces…for it is God’s own planting…shall never end.
Now, you might fairly be wondering what this has to do with In-Gathering Sunday, to today’s celebration. And the answer is everything…everything. For like a seedling planted in a pot that when nearing maturity is transplanted into the ground. That which we continue to grow right now, right here…as we grow and mature…as we are fed and begin to sprout leaves…which are signs of hope and health for ourselves and all those around us…all of that goodness we create and grow right now, here, will be transplanted, in God’s perfect time, into the new good soil that we even now work and till in preparation for the day we will be transplanted in that place awaiting us where our roots can spread out…unencumbered by the walls of some pot…grow deep and strong in our new parcel of soil in God’s eternal vineyard. Thus, the commitments made today of prayer, time, talent, and financial resources will entirely shape what we will be and become. The strong, healthy, verdant, maturing seedling that our investments today nurture and grow will entirely benefit the oak of righteousness we are destined by God to become when our roots are transplanted and grow deep into the good soil that with God’s help and our generosity has already been provided.
Yes, Jesus himself reminds us today that those material things we invest in and build already shall come to their God determined end, but what therein, by the grace of God, will grow are, nothing less than, life, love and immortality…the deep-rooted tree of life…the very essence of eternity. Human lives, eternal human souls, reaching up to God and out to others…through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.