Monday, November 19, 2012

Sermon for 25th Sunday after Pentecost: "Indestructible Stones"

+ 25th Sunday after Pentecost – November 18th, 2012 +
Guest preaching @ Trinity, Whittier
Series B, proper 28: Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Stones. You can polish, stack them, or skip them across water. Carve, sculpt or build with them. Natural wonders and marvels. From the miners’ halls Machu Picchu – the world over, the stones speak power and poverty, triumph and tragedy, fame and folly, beauty and bane, wonder and woe, remembrance and ruins.
            “Look, Teacher, what glorious stones and what glorious buildings!” 
Indeed they were. Herod’s great temple walls towered over 80 feet tall; its ramparts seemed impenetrable. Herod spared no expense. It was said that…“He who has not seen Herod’s temple has not seen beauty.”
            It was magnificent and majestic, feet of engineering. However, its splendor was short lived. Solomon’s warning of vanity was ignored. You could count on two hands the years between its completion and its utter destruction.
            As his disciples oggled the temple, Jesus, delivered yet another shocking prophecy.“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.”
            Say it ain’t so? The temple was the center of their religious world. The place of future hope and salvation. Mount Zion. YHWH’s promised dwelling among Israel. Destroyed? No, this ship is unsinkable. What glorious stones!
            And just like the Titanic, pride was its downfall. For YHWH’s promises, sacrifices and atonement of sins were no longer the center of the temple and the life of the people. His house of prayer had become a den of thieves. The firm rock of God’s Word had been undermined by the shifting sand of man’s opinion. The righteousness of YHWH had been exchanged like a tax collector’s coin for their own self-righteousness, a mere façade. It was no longer the house of the living God, but a coffin.
            Such is the house that Satan builds: chaos, confusion and corruption. His foundation is built on half-truths and twisted words; he sits on a throne of lies. “Did God really say? If you eat of it you will be like God. Surely you will not die.” This is not a mighty – but a crumbling fortress; the stronghold of the gods of this world, but how it entices our flesh.
            The Church is tempted to erect the same kind of edifice today. How easy it would be to trade the Word of God for the word of man. How easy it would be to sooth our itching ears with prosperity and self esteem rather than our daily death and resurrection in Baptism. How easy it would be focus on moral platitudes and entertainment rather than the forgiveness of sins in holy absolution. How easy it would be to cater to our desires and felt-needs rather than the Holy Supper that cures our greatest need.
            The building plans of the world are broad and easy compared to the narrow way of the Kingdom of God. But we’re left with no mansion…no safe haven, only a prison. An endless slavery to sin, death and the devil. An impotent salvation.
            Like the three little pigs, we need something stronger than a house of straw and sticks and even bricks. We need the chief cornerstone that can weather the scorching arrows and fowl breath of the Big Bad Wolf. Such a Cornerstone you have in the flesh and blood Jesus.
            And behold, something greater than the temple is here. Ironically, the most glorious manner of stones were staring those disciples in the face, having a conversation with them; Jesus, the Chief Cornerstone: a stumbling block to foolish men but a refuge for sinners.
            As Jesus left the temple that day, the Glory of YHWH departed as in the days of Ezekiel. But God’s glory was not gone. The temple was simply relocated in Jesus’ flesh. A new Laborer and a new House of the Lord, located in all places and of all people, in a carpenter’s Son, a baby. He who formed the foundations of the world was carefully built, layer after layer of cells and sinew, in the Virgin’s womb.  Then this New Temple was dedicated in the very temple he was born to replace. And He taught in the temple accomplishing his Father’s business.
            Once again YHWH dwelt in a tabernacle wandering the wilderness. He would atone for sins. He would declare people holy. But the curtains were human flesh. The ark of the covenant walked about with dusty feet. Gritty hands. Sweaty brow. This temple pulsed with the holy blood of the Living God. And like a resolute contractor, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem determined to get the job done. Healing the blind and deaf. Teaching repentance and forgiveness of sins. Setting the captives free. And for all this, what did he receive? The praise and fame of men? “O what glorious stones, Jesus.” No, he was despised and rejected by men, by his disciples, by his own family – even by you and me.
            Jesus fulfills his own prophecy: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” And here is the life of the Church. Your life. Not in fame or glory, numbers or power but in the brick and mortar of Jesus body and blood. In a new temple framed with Roman nails and cursed timber. Jesus’ wounded hands and bloody arms envelope you like a temple courtyard, surrounding you with his life-giving death. His pierced side is your gate to paradise: upstream you go, through the font, through Jesus’ death and resurrection t0 the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  His thorn punctured head is the true temple mount where the Lord provides the sacrifice.
            The Lamb goes uncomplaining forth to his throne on Calvary, to be the priest and the mercy seat for the sins of the world; to make atonement for all people by his blood; to make for himself a holy people.
We are God’s house of living stones;
Built for his own habitation.
He through Baptismal grace us owns
Heirs of his wondrous salvation.
Were we but two His name to tell,
Yet he would deign with us to dwell
With all his grace and his favor. LSB 645:3
             Jesus is rejected by men and in his rejection is your salvation. But in the ruins – up from the ashes – of Calvary’s demolition stands your Chief Cornerstone.
He is crucified in humility so you stand before God and boast in his salvation. For he has exchanged your self-righteousness for his own perfect righteousness. He is rejected by men so that you might be given an eternal home-coming, welcomed by the Father as sons and heirs. Jesus, the new temple is crucified, dead and buried. But he was not destroyed. Jesus fulfills that promise too: I will raise it up on the third day. The new temple still stands.
            Jesus sits on his heavenly throne for you. The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. You have come to the city with everlasting foundations, whose Builder and Architect is Christ. And from heaven to earth Jesus comes, bearing your salvation in the new temple of his body and blood.
            So do not fear. Jesus did not leave his church without building plans nor without laborers nor without His promise: never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.
            And the disciples needed that promise. Everything Jesus said in Mark 13 came true in during their life: deception. War. Famine. Earthquakes. Suffering. Persecution. Martyrdom. These were but the beginnings of the birth pangs. And we still feel them. In this world you will have trouble, Jesus says. The disciples knew trouble. We know trouble. But, fear not, Jesus says, for I have overcome the world. His promise, his atonement, his sending of the Holy Spirit, his forgiveness stands for you.
            You are built, just like his creation – out of nothing, into a holy dwelling, behold it is very good. You are God’s living stones, hewn with pierced hands from the Rock of your Salvation; You are cut from Jesus’ side, a redemptive quarry split open on Mt. Calvary, the place where mercy and water and blood ever flows…into the font, into the chalice, over your foreheads, into your mouths.  You are his holy people, each one a member of His body and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
            And the Spirit continues to breathe Jesus’ life giving death and resurrection into your dry, weary bones. The Spirit trumpets Christ’s Word in your ears despite all the birth pangs you hear and see around you. Do not fear; do not grow weary or faint. Christ is your endurance to the end.
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10).
Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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