During Jesus ministry, he had the opportunity to take his disciples on many journeys to places they had never seen before. The disciples had no doubt heard of the great city of Jerusalem and the splendor of the temple which had been restored by King Herod, but being from Galillee, the “country bumpkins” of the time, most had probably never seen Jerusalem until Jesus led them into the city to begin the last week of his life. During that week, they spent several days observing life in the temple courtyards and Jesus continued teaching and preparing them until the day he was executed on the Cross.
While in the temple courts, the disciples did their fair share of “rubbernecking”, craning their necks in amazement at the size, beauty and busy-ness of the city and its central building. Any of us who have toured a city for the first time in our lives can relate to this, and to the momentary loss of awareness that might ensue as we are captivated by something grand, beautiful or unusual.
For a short time, it was the temple that held the attention of the disciples, and no doubt for thousands of others alive at the time. For some, the temple might have symbolized the efforts of King Herod to "make Israel great again". Not only had the temple been restored to its glory from the days of Solomon, Herod commissioned the restoration to double the size of it. Could a return to Israel's former glory be far behind? For others, the temple symbolized the continued exclusion of various people from the benefits contained inside. Each of the temple's outer courts served as obstacles, first denying access to those who were not Jewish, then to those who were not male, and then to those who were not priests. For those people, the restoration and expansion of the temple could not have been the image of hope.
Can you imagine what the disciples were thinking? After dreaming about how great again the newly restored kingdom would be like under King Jesus; after musing about how they might live in the city as Lords and not working class Galilleeans, Jesus stops them dead in their tracks and reorients their focus.
Jesus told them that as great as this looks now, don’t count on it. Don’t rely on it. Don’t give it more attention than it deserves. Because it will not last. It will go away. It will come tumbling down. It will let you down. Don’t be distracted by this most temporary of symbols. Instead, Jesus says to keep your eyes focused on me and it is through my view of the world, my love for the world, my sacrifice for the world, through my breaking down the walls of exclusion that you will find the true greatness in life.
As I was looking at this text, it seemed appropriate for reflection after last week's surprising election results. For some, the Trump election was a victory, a symbol of America rediscovering its way to be great again. 60 million citizens were willing to vote for a man whose grand persona is indeed larger than life, while looking past the ruthlessness of his character which has left victims in his wake for decades, sacrificed at the altar of his business and his own ego. It remains to be seen if Trump can deliver on that promise to his followers, and what that vision of a great-again America will look like.
Sadly, I think Trump supporters will be disillusioned before long.
For others, the Trump victory was a reminder that there remain forces in our country that are fond of the traditional social boundaries that stand as high walls between women, minorities, immigrants, same-sex couples and others, preventing access to equal rights and equal opportunities. They see the Trump Presidency as a monster who will gobble up freedoms and progress made in recent years. The amount of hatred being spewed by both sides is appalling, disgusting and dangerous to our very souls. For Christians, our focus on the coming Trump Presidency has distracted us from the one voice that should matter to us, the same voice that told his disciples “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come and say “I am he” or “the time is near”. DO NOT GO AFTER THEM!
In a country where separation of church and state is an important, though often misunderstood value, you might wonder where I am headed right now. Well, let me be clear, though I voted for Hillary Clinton, I won’t stand here and denounce the President-elect with hate in my heart. I will honor the legal will of the American public and stand in support of him and the office he will occupy. I will pray for God to grant him wisdom, patience, compassion and repentance so that the way in which he governs will stand in contrast to the way in which he campaigned. This does not mean, however, that I will be silent, and the church should not be silent if the policies of a Trump administration cause harm to people without voices of their own, who have long been kept outside the dominant center of opportunity in this country.
My friends, this will not be easy. We know how deeply entrenched the power systems are in our own country. But we also know how deeply entrenched the Gospel commands to love God, to love one another, and to love even our enemies is in the heart of our faith in Jesus Christ. And we know because of God’s promises that our faith is something that will stand the test of struggle, and the test of time.
The walls of the Temple will crumble. A Trump presidency will be temporary. But we the children of God have something precious to carry us through the distractions and through the struggles – the promise that not a hair of our head will perish, the promise that our struggle will be life-giving to ourselves and to others, the promise that God loves us and has claimed us for Christ, for the Gospel and for love itself.
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Devotions for Week of November 13, 2016
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.