25th Sunday after Pentecost
S. Pentecost 25.21 “Don’t Get Too Attached…” Mark 13:1-13
Imagine if your church had spent 46 years and untold millions of dollars on building the coolest worship complex the world has ever seen, and—as you’re getting the grand tour—your Guide says “Don’t get too attached! There’s nothing here that won’t be torn down!”
This is the experience Peter and Co. have in our Gospel today. And it was a bit unsettling for them. But I love this scene for how it resets our imagination of what flourishing in this world, what being fine here, now, looks like. And maybe putting ourselves in their shoes will help with that?
As devout Jews of the 1st century, a reverence for Jerusalem’s temple would have been instilled in Peter and Co. from childhood—because this is the Holy Place where God has promised to dwell with his people. A quick history of the temple might help. When God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (his only son) he had to make a 3 day journey to Mt. Moriah and guess where Mt. Moriah is? Uh-huh! It’s the mountain on which the city of Jerusalem gets built.
When David became King, the city of Jerusalem was controlled by the Jebusites—we hate those guys because they were mean pagans! David hated them too, so he and Joab defeated them in battle and captured the city of Jerusalem which was called from then on Zion, the City of David.
In those days, God moved around in a (nice!) tent, with the ark of the covenant and the altars for sacrifice. It was the mobile focal point of Israel’s worship life, the place God promised to dwell. But David wanted to replace the tent with a fixed temple on Mt. Moriah, in the center of his royal city. God told him building a permanent house was something David’s son “Peaceful” would do, not him. So David renamed Jedidiah “Solomon” “Prince of Peace” and told him to build the temple on the threshing floor David bought from Araunah—where the Angel of the Lord finally stopped killing all the people after David’s ill-advised census. (A good reason not to fill out the Synod’s annual membership statistics, I’ve often thought 🙂
It just so happens that this threshing floor was around the spot where Isaac was spared from being sacrificed and it was in the center of the holy city. So Solomon built his temple there (not understanding the temple, the house of which God spoke to David was not a building made with human hands but is the Body of Jesus the Christ!).
Anyways, Solomon’s temple was finished around 956 BC. It was one of the wonders of the ancient world and drew tourists from all over. But God was never a huge fan. He really preferred his (nice!) tent because he’s a nomad God—a Wanderer drawing us to a better city than any on earth—a heavenly city. And the tendency of Israel to settle down and get attached to earthly stuff was a big reason God had insisted on nomadic wandering in a (nice!) tent as the way to go. A moveable feast, as Hemingway beautifully put it…
So, after a lot of shenanigans, God had the Babylonians destroy Solomon’s temple in 586-7 BC. He had Israel take 70 years off in Babylon; and when they came back, they built a very modest little worship space on the site of Solomon’s magnificent edifice. They were slow in doing that, but Haggai challenged them with this: “Notice how your crops don’t yield well, your business ventures fail? Try building a house for me and see if I don’t turn that around.” They did. And God did.
Herod the great came along, and, in 20 BC, decided to build a temple even more magnificent than Solomon’s. Much of it was completed, but some of the huge colonnade, Solomon’s Porch, was still under construction that April day in 30 AD when Jesus and his disciples are visiting. Actually, the whole complex would only be completed in 63 AD, and destroyed in 70 AD.
But it seemed cool, then. Everyone viewed it as a nice thing they’d done for God, a big upgrade for him from his old tent. The disciples say to Jesus, “Quite a place huh?” And Jesus goes, “I guess. But I wouldn’t get too attached. There will not be left here one stone that will not be thrown down!” And the disciples go, “What?! No! When will this happen, and what will be the sign of the End?” Which is to say, “But it will be a long time, right?—like the End of the World—definitely not in our lifetime, right?”
But, Jesus is like, “Uhm, well… Actually, it will happen in your lifetime and some of you will see it. Zombie Apocalypse, chaos, explosions, pretty extreme stuff…” And the disciples are like, “Whoa! But my house will be fine, right? And my vintage 911?” And Jesus is like, “Well…” And the disciples go, “Whoa!! But we’ll be fine, right, physically?” Jesus is like, “Well…” and the disciples are like, “Whoa!!! What’s going to happen to us?” And Jesus goes, “Well… you’ll be delivered as miscreants to councils, get beat-up in church, stand before governors and kings to be martyrs (that’s literally what the Greek translated here as “bear witness” is!). You’ll exit the stage with a bang, not a whimper—like Josiah—very cinematic, all propped up in his chariot, dying magnificently with the fading light. Oh, and your families will turn on you, so don’t get too attached to the whole family values thing; actually, everyone will hate you. But I like you. This is what I call fine…”
But, not what you’d usually call fine, right? Well, I’ll level with you. It doesn’t immediately strike me as fine either. I like my health and my stuff more conventionally fine; as much, probably a little more, than the next guy. A member once complained that her well-to-do son had too many toys that he was too attached to and I (as a spiritual man) should talk to him. And I was like, “Well… if that talk takes place on his yacht or in his Porsche (which I think is extremely cool) it might not go the way you’d like.”
“Deep down, we’re all pretty shallow,” as my old teacher Paul Holmer used to say. The thing I love about Peter and the other apostles is they’re just like us—only more so. But what changed with Peter? In Caiaphas’ courtyard, the servant girl goes: “you know Jesus well don’t you?”—Peter was like: “I wouldn’t say “well”; Jesus who?!” But after Jesus died and rose, he and Peter had a little talk, after which, Peter was a different guy, cocky, ridiculously courageous, shockingly eloquent in front of a hostile crowd. At the end, led off to the Circus Maximus by Nero’s soldiers, to be crucified, Peter goes, laconically: “Hey, guys; how ’bout crucifying me upside down, since I’m not worthy to die like my Master? Besides, the Circus is the place for a circus trick, right?” Which they did, marveling at Peter’s incredible insouciance.
What changed? How did Peter become all “The only thing about the Zombie Apocalypse that’ll be difficult for me is pretending I’m not excited”? Well… that’s a great question with a simple answer: he got more attached to Jesus and his Kingdom than to any earthly joy or possession or treasure. And if that could happen to Peter, it can happen to you and me; and here’s how:
By this Story of Jesus and his Cross, by his Body and Blood going in your mouth, his Baptism going over your head, in his Divine Service, you get a little detached from earthly treasures as you get more attached to the Son that never sets, the glories that never fade, the joys that never disappoint. And Peace, surpassing understanding, guards heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.