A few years ago, I worked as a tour guide at the Old North Church in Boston’s North End. You know the place; it is famous for a couple of lights in the window and a poem. People would visit this renowned church from all over the world, and most are surprised to discover that it is still an active congregation.
I would often get asked, when was the last time a service was held here? To which I would reply, last Sunday at 11:00. There would be this look of astonishment on their faces, and many would just walk away. It seemed hard to comprehend that, except for a few years during the Revolutionary War, services were held at Old North every Sunday.
However, one of my favorite stories involved the painting hanging on the wall above the altar. As fitting its location, it’s a painting of Jesus, sitting at a table with bread and wine before him. As I mentioned, it hangs above the altar as a clear indication of communion. Every couple of weeks, a tourist would point to that painting and ask if that was Paul Revere. I would chuckle and say no, it’s Jesus.
On one particular day, I was feeling rather cheeky, and when I was asked the question about the painting, I replied that no, it was not Paul Revere; it was Jesus who completed his assigned mission. I received some rather interesting stares, and I could tell it was all being worked out in their minds.
People are easily distracted from the reality that is going on all around them. We see what we want to see and ignore what we do not want to see. We have an idea, a preconceived notion of what something is or is not, and our minds fill in the rest. For example, tourists come to Boston to see historical sights; they do not expect that any of these places are still being used for what they were initially built for, including a church.
In today’s Gospel passage from Luke, we listen in on a conversation Jesus is having in the Temple. The Temple they were standing in was the Second Temple built about 538 BCE. The first Temple, the Temple of Solomon, was built in 957 BCE and replaced the tabernacle, which was constructed under the direction of Moses. Unfortunately, this Temple was sacked a few decades later, and it was not until 538 BCE that a new one was built.
Details of the construction of the Second Temple can be found in the Book of Ezra. Construction of the Second Temple took 21 years to complete after being called for by Cyrus the Great. In comparison, the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, took 83 years to complete, and Boston’s Big Dig took 15 years. However, I am not sure the construction of the Temple made as much of a mess of the traffic in Jerusalem as the Big Dig did in Boston.
When picturing the Temple, one must imagine more than one building. Yes, the place of worship, the building that held the altar of sacrifice, was one, but the Temple precincts comprised many buildings. But the Temple was the grandest of all the buildings and the largest.
Now, Jesus is sitting in this building with his followers, and he is talking about the destruction of this building. They would know the history and that it has been destroyed before, but they cannot imagine it happening again. Those with Jesus naturally want to know when this will happen and will there be any signs, and Jesus tells them not to be distracted.
He goes on to describe what some of those distractions will be. Beware, Jesus says of those who will come and say that the end is near. There was a time when the world was coming to an end just about every week. One TV preacher or another, no doubt in need of a new plane or an expansion of their mansion, would say that the world was ending, and you needed to send them all of your money. I’m not sure why since the world was ending, but I will let you meditate on that.
Even today, people are constantly looking for signs, but even Jesus tells us that he does not know, so don’t worry.
Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
Then Jesus offers these words of comfort, “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.” So, we have that to look forward to.
Distractions are designed to make us look the other way. Make us give up and choose a different direction or give up all together. But what Jesus offers us today is hope, which we must cling to.
Hope is an essential aspect of the Christian life. Actually, I think hope is an important aspect of life in general.
We had a national election on Tuesday, and it might have gone differently than you had hoped. I remarked that the critical part was that the system worked and there was no violence.
The next day I noticed some prominent people making fun of some candidates and not picking at their policies or lack of policies but at physical features of physical disabilities. This angered and depressed me that in 2022 we have come to this. Why is it that every disagreement was to devolve into childish name-calling? Disagree with the other side and what they believe, but when the conversation devolves to Middle School name-calling, it is all over.
As I am prone to do on occasion, I expressed my thoughts in the social media realm and, as one can imagine, was greeted with opposition from some quarters. The essence of the conversation boiled down to the fact that people are so angry and divided that this is what is left. My response was that I disagreed, that adults can, and should, rise above petty nonsense and that we agree on more than we think. The disagreement comes on how we fix what needs fixing, not that things need to be fixed.
The conversation continued, mainly with the people who disagreed with me, restating their objections. In the end, I was told that this was an idyllic view of humanity, with which I disagreed. I said I disagreed because I hoped for a better tomorrow. I have hope because I have no other choice. Hope drives me forward because hope brings life, and the opposite is unacceptable.
I will admit that it might be a little “pie in the sky,” but I honestly believe we can change.
I recently began a new job as Spiritual Advisor at a drug and alcohol treatment center. For many people, this is their last stop before jail or something worse. This past week we talked about gratitude and the power that changing the way we think about things can change the world. I came across a quote that impacted me, “if you are breathing, you can make a change.” It does not matter your situation, and maybe worse days are ahead, but if you have breath left in your lungs, you cannot give up; you can make a change.
Jesus never promised that our lives would be easy. In fact, he said on several occasions that if you follow him, life will be difficult. However, the promise that Jesus made and makes is that although life will not be easy, he will be right there with you.
Jesus came to earth the way he did; he was born sort of life us. He lived his life the way people of his age did. He fell in love, had his heart broken, stubbed his toe, skinned his knee, and had friends and relatives die. He was persecuted, tried in a mock trial, and sentenced to death. All this was done so we can relate. God took on the frailty of human flesh, so we had someone to show us the way through the good times and the bad, which involves hope.
Friends, last week I challenged us to make a difference, to work to bring God’s kingdom to earth, not in the future but now. We cannot wait for some politician to do it; we need to do it. We need to make it happen, and we have to have hope that it will happen.
Do not be distracted by what the world wants, do not be distracted by what you see and hear on the news. Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus and remember, if you have air in your lungs, you can make a change.