Drexel Hill is known for it's beautiful stone buildings. In my opinion, one of the remarkable things about the beauty of IHS and the rectory is the stone edifice. Have you ever taken the time to notice all the matching stone in our neighborhood? You can actually see the difference in stone laid at different times, like generations of buildings. When I first moved in I was told that all of the stone came from the same quarry. Though that quarry today is a shopping center, the legacy remains.
I thought of our beautiful stone church when I read the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday:
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Sometimes, visitors or newcomers will ask me about the history of IHS and our building. I will usually give them a brief history of how our building came to be, additions to the building, and the people who've worshiped here, to the best of my ability. Imagine if, when talking to one of these visitors, their response to me telling them about the history of our stone building was to say, "oh yeah, you see all that stone? Not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down." It would be pretty shocking!
It would also be completely accurate. We human beings like to build up stone buildings we think will last forever. But if you've ever traveled to Europe, the Mediterranean, South America, or really anywhere else in the world, you've likely seen the ruins of past civilizations who may have imagined timeless stone buildings that would stand forever. The truth is, all will be thrown down.
The question is, was Jesus simply making a statement about the nature of life in a world where all things fade, or was he directly predicting the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 78 A.D.? It would be very hard for me to explain the significance of the destruction of the Temple to the Jewish people and religion. It's difficult for me to even begin wrapping my mind around it. But we are talking about a historical moment of tremendous trauma and lasting impact to this day. Those stones Jesus so casually refers to stand as the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, a holy site that millions visit every year to pray and collectively mourn the loss of the Temple, an event that would trigger a long history of Jewish persecution. Does Jesus predict it so casually? Does he not care?
In my limited insight, here is what I think is going on in Jesus' teaching and what that means for us today. I think Jesus is perhaps both speaking to the truth of the nature of this world and also accurately predicting the coming turmoil with the Romans. Regardless, the truth is the same. Jesus knows, and is trying to teach to all who will listen, that the stone of the Temple, and even what happens there, are of fleeting importance. All things in this world are passing, but God never changes. The only thing that endures, the only thing truly meaningful, the only thing that lasts forever, is the endless love of God that provides life to all Creation.
We make things we think are important. We build structures we put meaning and value into. We do these things often without much thought as to their true important and value. How will they care for the poor and hungry, the oppressed, the sick, suffering, those in grief, trouble, or any need? How will the things we build - usually in our own image - bring the love of God more presently into a hurting world? Jesus begged these questions when he came up against the rigid walls of the Temple system, practices of the Pharisees, gatekeeping of 'who is in' and 'who is out', who you forgive, who you love, and wherever he found these metaphorical or literal stones.
Jesus begs really hard questions for us now. What are the stone walls we've built? Do we build stone walls to hold up something wonderful, beautiful, and uplifting, or do we build walls to keep people out? What are the rigid structures or the things we built that have become more important to us than the Way of Love? I ask you to take a few moments and really think: what things do you cling to as important, that you would be hard pressed to get rid of? Do you cling harder to those than you do the teachings of Jesus or practicing the Way of Love that Jesus teaches?
Put this into clear example. What if we decided to sell our big stone building at IHS because it is old and we sink money into it, money that could instead go to ministry and mission and helping people? Perhaps we should get rid of the pews and replace them with free standing chairs. We could worship in round set up instead of facing forward. Perhaps we never bring back the Procession of the Cross. Maybe we should sell the organ and replace our music with a hard rock band!
I don't mean to exaggerate too far to make a point. Truthfully, many of those things I just listed make me cringe. But that is my question for us: why do we cringe? What makes us bristle? What do we hold onto as important, and how do they hold up to what really matters: grace, forgiveness, new life, the way of love, and the teachings of our Lord Jesus.
One last thing: I sometimes think I spend too much time thinking about this in a church context. I know that 99% of your life is not in church! So the more important question perhaps is, how does this apply to the rest of your life. What are the things in your day to day life that you cling to that are not of God or keep you from fully loving God and your neighbor?
In C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce he presents a character with a little creatures on their shoulder. An angel is inviting them to let the angel destroy the little creature, and if the angel does, the person will be able to fully enter God's kingdom. But the person is terrified to let go of the little creature, they cling to it, and do not want to let go. All they have to do is give the word, just give the word to let go, and the angel will rid them of this little creature and they can fully enter into the joys of heaven.
What little creature is on your shoulder? What thing are you afraid to let go of? In the end, the person lets the angel destroy the creature, which is in fact transformed into a steed. The person mounts that steed and rides hard and fast upward and inward into heaven and the life of the Triune God for eternity.
"Not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down."
May it be so, Lord Jesus. Thrown down the stones we have built and remake us into your image!