The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire

Sermon  November 15, 2015
Scripture Reading: Mark 13:1-8

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Imagine yourself for a moment at the Temple in Jerusalem, in about the year 30 CE.  Just a note, many of you have heard of AD and BC, the most accepted way now is CE for Current Era and BCE for Before Current Era.  Back to the temple. We donít know all the history of it, but you know that a temple was there, which was built about 957 BCE, or almost a thousand years ago.  A huge structure, you have heard, but unfortunately about 500 years ago that one was destroyed by the Babylonians.  But it was rebuilt, a bit smaller, a bit less impressive.  And over the past 500 years it has struggled.  It came close to being destroyed a few times, was ransacked several times.  Not everyone was Jewish at that time, and even as a Jew you were living under Roman rule.  But now there was building going on again.  It had been started by Herod the Great, and would be known by some as Herodís temple.  Yes, this is the same Herod the Great that ordered Jesus killed just after his birth, which is why, the story goes, Jesus and his family go to Egypt after he was born.  No other sources talk about this mass murder, but if you are looking for a great first century BCE twisted love tale, take a look at Herod the Great.  At the very least he banished his first wife and son, married another woman, who he killed, and also killed several other members of his own family.  Hardly great in my mind.

     But he did build much of this temple.  Although much of it was completed by 30 AD, there may have still be some work needed.  It was an amazing site.  An imposing structure, different gates and courts.  Places for women to gather, places for Gentiles, or non-Jews to gather, and of course at the center, the Holy of Holies.  This was where the Ark of the Covenant was, or might have been.  If you have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know that it is missing.  Not really clear when it left Jerusalem, if it did.  But if the ark was there or not, it was the place that the early Israelites believe God lived.  Now they didnít really have the sense of God like we do today.  We pray to God, believe that God is all around us.  But for the Jewish at that time, and perhaps many others, God lived at the temple.  Once a year a chief Priest was allowed to go into that area, but only once a year. 

     And the temple was not a quiet place with people praying here and there.  A big part of the Jewish life at that time was sacrifices.  When you had a child, you went to the temple and performed a sacrifice.  When you did something wrong, or you celebrated something, you went to the temple to perform a sacrifice.  Now if you were required to sacrifice a lamb, and you did not have a lamb you could buy one here at the temple.  You would change your Roman currency into Temple currency, buy your animal and then go in and sacrifice it.  There were fires burning, money being changed, animals making animal noises, and of course some people teaching, some people praying out loud, children running around, seeing your neighbors, maybe old relatives.  If you were Jewish you had to go to the temple, so lots and lots and lots of people.  While it was an obligation, you also wanted to go there.  That was Godís house, and who would not want to visit Godís house.

     So there you are, the smells of animals, and burning meats, the smoky air, noise beyond belief, tons of people.  What an amazing sight, and what an amazing structure.  And now it is done, or almost done.  1000ís of people working on it for years.  Rebuilding what was destroyed in the past, and while there were certainly stories about the first temple, that was over 500 years ago, this was the new temple, would stand for at least 500 years, but probably much, much longer.  This was going to stand forever. 

     And Jesus says, not a stone will left here upon another, all will be thrown down.  The temple destroyed.
     What?  When this happen?  Today we know the temple was destroyed in 70 CE, so the prediction was right.  Also, many see this as an illustration of Jesusí life.  We obviously do not sacrifice animals today, and many explain this by saying that God sacrificed Godís son, the ultimate sacrifice, to pay for our sins.  So the need for the temple, the need to sacrifice animals, which had to be done at the temple is gone.  The temple is destroyed.  But was Jesus talking about the physical temple, the temple that would be destroyed by his being hung on the cross, or the end of the world?

     Those who predict the end of the world, at least until this point, have luckily for us, been wrong.  But why would Jesus say this, and why would it be included in our Bible today.  The Bible, as I mentioned last week, is a collection of books.  These books were not set until around 400 CE.  Until that time, there were many different Bibles, containing different books.  So in the about 400 years since Jesusís death, some rang true, and others did not.  But even the book of Mark was probably just oral stories until later in the first Century, probably after the physical temple was destroyed, and well after Jesusí death.  Certainly if I predicted something as major as that happening, someone writing about me after my death would remember hearing me say something about it.

     Some take this passage as a warning.  Others will come in my name, there will be earthquakes and wars.  Well it is easy to look at the world today and say ďThe end is coming.Ē
     I was born in 1970.  Go ahead, I know you are all doing the math in your heads.  This is 2015, so 1970 would make me 45.  I donít really have any memory of a time in which we have not been at war.  I was too young to remember Vietnam.  My earliest memories were of the cold war.  Of course not really a war, but more a potential for a big world ending war.  There were those conflicts in Central America.  And the first Gulf war.  Of course the war on drugs, and more recently the war on terrorism, which started the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq.  It is hard today to figure out which wars have ended, which ones we are still fighting and which ones we are advising about.

     Earthquakes, yes we have those.  According to the USGS, United States Geological Survey, the central and eastern United States had an average of 21 earthquakes a year between 1973 and 2008, over a magnitude of 3.  Between 2009 and 2013 that rate went up to an average of 99 per year.  Average 21 per year to average of 99 per year.  In 2014, last year, there were 659.  Now most of these are in the range of 3 to 4, which is enough to feel, but normally does not cause a lot of damage.  But an average of 21 to a year with 659.  If you are reading Jesusí words, that has to be a clear sign on the end of the world.
     And famines.  You donít have to do much research to see famine.  19.2% of US households with children had some form of food insecurity in 2014.  Food insecurity means that at some point during the year you didnít have the resources to get the food that you and your family need.  Of course you can take these numbers and see how many actually went hungry vs. those who used the services of a food pantry or government assistance.  But for today, almost 20% of households in our country could not go to the store and purchase what they needed to feed their families at some point in the past year.

     Seems to me that we have all the makings of the end of the world.  But letís be honest.  What is on your mind today?  The Holly Berry fair seems like one of the things people are thinking about this week.  The recent violence is Paris, France.  Thanksgiving is not too far off, so many will either be visiting someone, or having someone visit.  Have to get the house cleaned, pick up that big turkey, and all those sides.  If you are like my parents, you are worried about how you fit everything into the fridge, and which order things have to go into the oven.  Many of you remember last Thanksgiving, I imagine that Marlborough had similar weather much of the rest of New Hampshire.  We were without power for about 3 days, probably would not be a bad idea to start up the generator to test it out, and even get out the snow blower and make sure that still runs.  And those who are in school, are mid-year tests coming up?  My teachers always wanted to get in those last tests in December before we went on Christmas Break, along with collecting all those projects we were supposed to have been working on since the start of the school year.

     Frankly, adding one more thing to my list is not really possible right now.  The end of the world will have to wait until at least January.
     But what is Jesusí message anyway.  The destruction of the temple, already happened.  Now, on that site, sits the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim mosque.  Although many believe a third temple should be built on that site, I donít see that happening in my lifetime.  We donít know what the end will be.  There are plenty of predictions.  Read the book of Revelation, last book in our Bible.  Filled with imagery, a grand final fight between good and evil, a new heaven and a new earth.  Go outside the Bible and you will see other predictions, even in modern movies and TV shows.
     We donít know.  But if we pick and choose what we want about Jesusí message, we can just forget about this message, pick those that we like better.  Love your neighbor as yourself that is a good one.
     But may I suggest that we do have to take seriously that at some point the world will end.  Could be in 5 minutes, could be in 5 hours, could be in 5 years or could be in 5,000 years or more.  And what end will be, we have no clue.  Will we destroy it through our pollution and reckless behavior?  Will there be a plague that will be not be able to be contained or controlled?  Will we use our nuclear weapons?  Will it be an asteroid?
     When I get off of I-89 headed toward Keene on Route 9 and 202 there are these rumble strips.  You are cruising along as 65 miles per hour, because that is the speed limit, and nobody ever exceeds the speed limit, get off on a left hand exit, and you go into a 40 mile per hour zone.  Traffic merges in on your right, so you have to be aware suddenly of your speed and this merging traffic.  There is no longer a center lane, just one lane going each way.  Those wake you up, hey, things are changing here.  You are no longer cruising along at 65, but have to slow down, pay attention.  As you go further down the road, there are often places where they have installed those strips not across the road, but just on the far side of the white fog line.  If you are not paying attention and drift over a bit too far, you know it.  You hit those strips and they wake you up, hopefully figuratively and not literally.

     Can I suggest that this passage is honest, the world is going to end, and a lot is going to happen before it does.  There have been wars, there will be more.  There have been earthquakes, there will be more.  There have been famines, there will be more.  But it is not a call to compliancy either.  Not: ďIf the world is going to end, we donít have to worry about it.Ē  The truth is the exact opposite.  Because we know that the world is going to end someday, we are called to action now.  We are, in my opinion, called every day to care for our earth.  Called every day to help each other.  Called every day to share our new good news of Godís action in our lives.  Called to participate in the Holly Berry Fair, called to plan for Thanksgiving, called to pray and worship and be the church.
     We donít know if Jesus was talking about this amazing structure, completed just about the time of his life, which was destroyed in 70 CE.  Or was predicting his own death and therefore destruction of the temple as the center of Jewish life, or predicting the end of the world. But since two have happened, I think it is helpful to read as a wakeup call, a rumble strip if you will.  Slow down, pay attention, get back in your lane, donít be alarmed by these signs, they are all there, but have been for a long time.  Be the best Christian, the best person that you can be.  Fulfill what God is calling you to do.