November 15, 2015
25th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer
Sisters and brothers in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen
As many of you know, I spent the first two weeks of my sabbatical in Europe, including four days in Paris with my favorite four people in the world. It had been a dream since I was in grade school to visit this beautiful city, and it did not disappoint. Our sightseeing and touring was amazing. I had to keep pinching myself to believe I was really there, seeing these magical places I had read about for years, walking the Champs de Elysse, watching the Eiffel Tower light up, smiling back at strangers and tourists from all over the world, and taking it all in. I hope I’ll never forget it.
If Jesus had walked along with me through the streets of Paris, and had told me that not one stone of those monuments would be left on stone, or that more than 100 people in that beautiful city would be massacred on a soon to come crisp autumn night, it would have broken my heart. And if he had added that those would be only the beginning of the birth pangs, he may have lost me for good.
Is this what the disciples experienced on that fateful walk through the temple in Jerusalem just three days before Jesus’ death? Can they have heard him describing the coming massacres and destruction of their city, of even the Temple, the center of their communal life, and kept following him?
Let me first be clear about this. Many people interpret this passage as if Jesus is condoning the destruction of Jerusalem, as if God is somehow behind the violence. They claim that God tells us there will inevitably be wars and rumors of war, and it’s all simply part of God’s plan. “Of course we will hurt and destroy each other,” they claim, “That’s what scripture tells us.”
No. That’s not what scripture tells us. That’s not what God designed for us. The same people will tell you that Jesus wanted to die, that he came hoping that his message would be violently resisted, and that he welcomed his death.
No, he didn’t. Jesus came to announce the reign of God come near. He came to heal, to feed, and to bring back to life. He came to bless us, to teach us to love one another, and to restore us to sanity.
So why do we hear him talking so violently in today’s gospel? If he’s not coming to bring us wars and rumors of wars, what is he saying?
I believe Jesus is aware of world’s opposition to God’s reign. I suspect he senses the forces that are trying to destroy him, and knows that the same forces will work to destroy the goodness of his community. I believe he recognizes the formidable force of empire challenging a message of love, and that his hours are probably limited.
But then he adds that these violent things are only the beginning of the birth pangs — that after the violence and destruction, there will be even more serious work in order for new life to be born. It’s not the beginning of the birth pangs that are so bad. It’s when hard labor hits that we start struggling. It’s when they tell us to push.
What do we do after violence has destroyed the city? I think there are some walls God does push us to bring down.
In her novel, The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty keeps using the image of walls going up, and coming down. A young girl in the story, just a minor character actually, has become fascinated with the Berlin Wall. And while the story has nothing to do with the Cold War, or Germany, we keep hearing of the construction and demolition of that Wall which divided Berlin for nearly three decades.
In the forefront of the novel are the stories of three separate women, whose lives have been shattered by horrible circumstances. One woman’s daughter has been killed. Another’s husband has betrayed her. And for the third, a secret’s revelation shatters her sense of wellbeing. All three of the women are convinced that because of these events, nothing will ever be the same. Their lives are destroyed.
For a while, days for some, years for another, they allow those events to define them. They live as victims to the violence and pain that they unfairly faced, and refuse to believe that anything else matters. They start constructing walls of their own — walls of resentment and fear, shutting out the support that any of their loved ones are offering them. Isolation, anger, revenge, and bitterness shape their responses, as they resist moving forward.
And that’s when the story gets good, when those walls start to come down.
This is where the hard labor starts. Not when life deals us disappointing, or frustrating, or even horrendously awful circumstances, but when we face the horror of a broken world, and choose to live and love in spite of it.
Friday night, the president of France ordered the borders closed, and locked down the city. I don’t blame him. In the first hours after an emergency, or certainly while it’s still unfolding, putting up walls to protect and secure a society is appropriate. It will take time for the police and the officials of Paris to care for the injured, to clean up the crime scenes, and make sure that order can be restored. It’s what any of us would do. It’s how we cope.
But the world would suffer further if they keep those borders shut permanently. Eventually, the people of France will find the courage to stand up and trust again, The subways and trains have already started running. People will learn to open up their windows and smile at strangers once more. And the lights of the Eiffel Tower will shine again soon.
While those whose loved ones died will grieve for the rest of their lives, they will not need to be defined by this violence. Through hard labor, they will be freed to be born again. To once again learn joy, and hope, and care, and what it means to be loved.
Yes, it will be hard work. Giving birth to a new future always hurts.
But we believe that the destruction of the temple will never stop God. We believe that even the death of Jesus will never prohibit God from pouring love into the world. In fact, we know that that’s when this story gets good, because we claim a God who has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly.
When nations rise up against nations, or when rumors of war build walls of resentment, when fear or isolation try to threaten community, we remember that God is in the midst of the city, restoring it to wholeness, calling us to address the roots of despair and violence in our society, and against all odds, reconciling us to one another.
So when the world teaches violence, we show love. When terrorists claim power, we care for the poor. When empire cries for revenge, we sing a song of mercy. We sing a song of justice. We live a life of praise to our God who is making all things new, right now, in our midst.
Jesus is here to bring Paris, and Beirut, and all of us into new life today, pushing us here at Gloria Dei to be generous, as we invest in our future, inspiring all people to love kindness, to share hope, and to seek the welfare of the city.
Let’s get to work. Amen