Proper 28, Year C, 2007

Before I begin, I must say that the research and many of the images from today’s sermon are the result of the work of the Thursday night bible study group this month.  I’d like to thank Steve Bragaw, Emily Bardeen, Sherry Hauff, and Elizabeth and Bruce Guss for their insightful contributions.

“Ozymandias”

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.                       

In this poem, by Shelley, the reader is invited to picture a looming sculpture, vast in its scale and imposing in its grandeur.  Over time, the sculpture has been worn away and all that is left are two legs and a disembodied head, surrounded by desert sand.  On the pedestal of the sculpture lie the words, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my works, ye mighty and despair”!  This statue has once represented a great King, a great society and yet now nothing is left but ruin.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus overhears some people oohing and ahhing over the temple, which is beautifully decorated with stones and gifts.  The temple was the center of religious life in Jerusalem.  Since the time of David and Solomon, the ark of the covenant, which held the very presence of God, was kept inside a beautifully built temple in Jerusalem.  This temple had been destroyed and rebuilt 581 BCE, and the temple remained a sacred place. 

After he overhears these persons admiring the temple, Jesus acts as a prophet, warning his listeners that this very temple they are worshiping will be destroyed, and sure enough in the year 70 CE, the temple was destroyed by the Romans. 

The destruction of the temple was a symbol of the end of an era.  Since the time of David, controlling Jerusalem had been a fundamental part of the Jewish identity.  When the temple was destroyed, an entire way of framing the Jewish faith was destroyed.  So, it is strange that, when Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple to his listeners, he does not seem dismayed by the news. 

Jesus does not seem dismayed because he knows that  yes, a new era is coming, an era in which a temple to contain God would be wholly irrelevant.

This incident in the temple happens toward the end of Jesus’ ministry.  He is days away from being betrayed and arrested.   He knows that after his death will come his resurrection and that resurrection will change everything.  His resurrection will transform faith.  No longer will believers need to visit God in a static temple.  Instead God will be found in the hearts of all believers. 

And this message of hope is communicated on another level in our passage today, as well.  Many modern scholars believe the Gospel of Luke was written after the year 70 CE.  So, Luke knew about the destruction of the temple when he was writing the Gospel.  He also knew that Christian, during the time he was writing his Gospel, were being arrested, tortured and killed because of their faith by authorities of the Roman Empire.

Jesus words about the destruction of the temple and of an apocalyptic future were relevant to those who received Luke’s gospel.  They were the ones being brought before kings and governors because of Jesus’ name.  They were hated.  They were terrified. 

In this Gospel, Luke reminds the persecuted Christians that Jesus cares for them and that the Holy Spirit will be with them, even as they are interrogated and threatened.  This passage gives them direct advice:  not to try to create their own defense, but to trust the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will give the persecuted the words they need to speak, when they need them. 

Luke also reminds them, through the prediction about the destruction of the temple, that no earthly authority, whether instituted by religious or civil law, lasts forever.  The power that oppressed them would not oppress them forever.  In fact, the Roman Empire would  not even be a power forever.

`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The Jewish temple did not stand, and neither did the Roman Empire that destroyed it.  The British Empire dissolved, and our capitalist empire will too, eventually.  The world around us is in constant change, constant flux.  Political power, physical structures, even social norms and behaviors-none of these remain constant forever.

Even our own Greenwood has seen enormous changes over the last hundred years.  In this month’s Crozet Gazette there is an article about Greenwood in the early part of the century.  Greenwood had a train station, shops, a highschool, even a hotel!  When the Langhornes moved into Mirador, Greenwood even had an early form of. . .paparazzi, believe it or not!

And while Greenwood may no longer have the population to start a high school or enough visitors to need a hotel, God’s faithfulness to those who live in Greenwood has never dwindled.  God’s love and affection for his people is not rooted in their structures or political systems or earthly power.  God’s love is the love of the creator for his creation.  God’s love is a parent’s love for his children.  And God continues his relationship with each of us regardless of our external circumstances.

As Christians, we don’t need political or religious structures for our lives to have meaning.  We don’t need to live in the most booming town or go to the most ornate church or be ruled by the biggest empire for God to love us, pursue us, and use us toward his ends.  God’s kingdom is about behavior and belief, not about power and wealth.

God’s kingdom is an active, living, breathing place.  Because it has no temples or structures or giant statues in the desert, it can never decay or be overthrown.  When we participate in God’s kingdom, even our temporal lives become connected to the eternal.  We may not be able to see or feel God’s kingdom, yet it will last longer than any kingdom that has ever been established on this earth.

Thanks be to God!

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