SERMON: When It All Comes Crashing Down
As he 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.’
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (Mark 13:1-8)
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They said I got away in a boat
And humbled me at the inquiry. I tell you
I sank as far that night as any
Hero. As I sat shivering on the dark water
I turned to ice to hear my costly
Life go thundering down in a pandemonium of
Prams, pianos, sideboards, winches,
Boilers bursting and shredded ragtime. Now I hide
In a lonely house behind the sea
Where the tide leaves broken toys and hatboxes
Silently at my door.
Those words are from a poem by Derek Mahon called, “After the Titanic.” People are still fascinated by the story of that great ocean liner, which sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, off the coast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic after sideswiping an iceberg during its maiden voyage. Of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 lost their lives in the disaster.
In the early 1900s, there was intense competition among shipping companies to see who could produce the fastest, the biggest, and the most luxurious steamships. One of the most famous of them was the Lusitania, which was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat in 1915, precipitating the United States entering World War I.
But by far the most glorious of them all was Titanic. As one author writes:
Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship afloat. No expense had been spared in her construction. She boasted opulent state rooms, luxurious dining rooms, sumptuous smoking rooms with ornate ceilings and magnificent candelabra, and an elegant grand staircase. She had elevators, libraries, a swimming pool, a Turkish bath, a gymnasium, a squash court, even an eight-piece orchestra—everything to satiate the desires of 325 first-class passengers as well as all the rest. She was at the leading edge of technology, inspiring awe and wonder in those who saw her. And most amazing of all, her builders assured, she was absolutely unsinkable. (John Meakin)
And yet, on April 15, 1912, it all came crashing down. The great Titanic broke in two and sank. All that state of the art engineering, all those elegant furnishings, all those magnificent appointments went to the bottom of the sea, along with many rich and famous people who prided themselves and found their security in having the best things in life.
The Jewish people in Jesus’ day felt the same kind of pride in the Temple at Jerusalem. You know, it wasn’t like today — there weren’t religious buildings and gathering places everywhere like we have throughout our communities. There was the Temple — the one great Temple. King Herod had rebuilt it, with magnificent stones and with porticos and great stairways and a vast plaza. It was an impressive campus, the centerpiece of the city of Jerusalem, and, to the Jewish people, the great palace where God, the King of the Universe, had made his dwelling among them.
You can understand the disciples in today’s Gospel when they say to Jesus, “Aren’t these stones and these buildings amazing?” They were bursting with admiration and pride for the awe-inspiring Temple, much as I’m sure the people who saw the Titanic oohed and ahhed with wonder over that mighty ocean liner.
Leave it to Jesus to throw cold water on their amazement. “It’s going to all come crashing down,” he told them. “Very soon, this place will be a pile of rubble.”
When the disciples questioned him about that, Jesus foretold a coming time of trouble that would not be for the faint of heart. People following false leaders, wars breaking out, natural disasters like earthquakes and famines.
These, he warned them, would be like birth pangs leading to a great climactic event.
Jesus was talking about what would happen leading up to the year AD 70, when the Roman armies invaded Jerusalem, sacked the city, leveled the Temple, and brought an end to the Jewish nation. The Jewish people never had that status again until 1948. It all came crashing down for them, and it took nearly 2000 years for a glimmer of hope to reappear.
My friends, I think we must be careful about what we’re impressed with. We must not take for granted that this world and our lives will be forever stable and untouched by sudden trouble. We must not put our ultimate trust in the powers and institutions and structures of this world that are often so impressive and that seem so strong.
Just ask folks in the Florida panhandle who now look out on a wasteland after Hurricane Michael. Or talk to people in northern California who have seen everything in sight turn to ashes by wind-whipped fires. Ten years ago, thousands of people in the United States were unceremoniously evicted from their homes because of an economic collapse few saw coming. Many are still trying to recover. And every day, people hear bad news that seems to have come out of the blue about their health and future prospects.
You and I don’t like to think about it, but we all know deep in our hearts that it can all come crashing down. I say this today not to frighten you or make it hard for you to sleep at night, but to help us all prepare for whatever comes by learning to trust in things that can never be shaken.
- God loves you and will never stop loving you.
- Nothing you and I ever go through can ever separate us from God’s love.
- Jesus has already suffered the worst evil can throw at a person, so he sympathizes and empathizes with us in our times of trouble.
- God promises and Jesus showed us that even death itself is not the end of the story, but only the end of a chapter — there is life to come even beyond the grave.
As Lutherans we love Luther’s great hymn, Ein Feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God). Its words were paraphrased and adapted from Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
That psalm goes on to say, “Be still, and know that I am God.” It is though God comes to us while all the world is crashing down around us. Even the great mountains are falling down and splashing into the sea like the Titanic. And in the midst of it all, God wraps his arms around us as a parent does a frightened child, saying,”It’s ok, I’m here, you don’t have to be scared. I won’t leave you. You’re safe with me.”
In the words of Frederick Buechner, “This is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”
Even if it all comes crashing down. Amen.