What Isaiah’s people long for, Luke’s people enjoy.
First we hear Isaiah describe the ancient people of Israel
after the destruction of the original temple, Solomon’s temple.
Then we hear the Gospel story with their descendents back in the Holy Land, back at the reconstructed temple, able to worship once again in their own space, in God’s house.
What Isaiah’s people long for, Luke’s people enjoy.
And yet, even as they worship, Jesus warns them it will not last.
A third group, us, reads these stories as we prepare for Thanksgiving, It’s a time when we ask, “what are we grateful for at this time, in our lives?” Let’s ask these earlier people the same question. “What did you have to be grateful for?”
It may help us answer the question for ourselves.
1. If we’re talking about tangible blessings, goods in hand, Isaiah’s people sure seem to have the least cause for gratitude. Look at them, ripped from their homes, forced to walk about 500 miles due east, away from the shores of the Jordan, the Mediterranean, and the Salt Sea, shores that bounded their land and their imaginations. It’s no wonder that they cry out in the songs of the Psalms:
By the Rivers of Babylon-there we sat down
and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there, we hung up our harps.
For our captors asked us for songs and out tormenters mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
But how could we sing the Lord’s Song in a foreign land? Psalm 137
One the face of it at least, Isaiah’s people, God’s people, have very little to be grateful for. And yet,….and yet… from the mouths of these same people, come these extraordinary words of hope!
All the earlier troubles, chaos and pain are things of the past….
Look ahead with joy. Anticipate what I am creating!
…I’ll take joy in Jerusalem and create my people as pure delight!
They’ll build houses…and move in.
They’ll plant fields and eat what they grow!
No more building a house that some outsider takes over.
No more planting fields that some enemy confiscates…
For they themselves are plantings blessed by God.
With their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.
How did they get from point a to point b? What could possibly have changed?
The singers haven’t gone home, they haven’t gained independence, what has caused them to find the song to sing? Read the words once more and listen for the answer.
Anticipate what I am creating! plantings blessed by God.
And what can these people possible have to be grateful for?
They have God. And they have each other.
II. Now let’s turn to the folks in the gospel story.
Here they are, back in the temple again, and not just that prosaic little place that the first re-settlers rebuilt under Nehemiah. This place is gorgeous. Herod, has done himself up proud showing both the Jews and the Romans that he knows how things ought to be done. Of course, his house is still a bit bigger, but……hey..
The Jewish people can now worship their own God in their own temple. What’s not to be grateful for? Do you remember what passage is right before this one? A poor widow pours out her copper coins into the treasury and is commended by Jesus, while the wealthier patrons look on. “For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
Wait a minute. Why is there still poverty? Didn't God promise their ancestors that there would be abundance for all, old and young, when they returned to the their own land?
But that doesn’t seem to be what’s on the people’s mind, does it? As our passage this morning picks up, they’re all craning their necks, gawking at the magnificence of the building and its accoutrements.
Is the wonder of what human hands have made distracting them from God’s command to seek justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God?
Then Jesus says the unthinkable….its all gonna come down.
its all gonna come down. That gets their attention!
Oh Lord, how will we know????
Man I don’t want to be anywhere near this place when it falls!
Aren’t you going to save us?
Jesus' followers must have had a horrible case of historical déjà vou.
Maybe Jesus was confused, momentarily living in the past…….
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"
Now Jesus doesn’t always give a straight answer.
(Have you noticed that?)
He often gives us what we need to hear
rather than what we want to hear.
Teachers. Go figure.
So Jesus tells them what NOT to pay attention to:
people claiming to be messiah, doomsday predictions, ……
And Jesus tells them what NOT to be afraid of:
war, natural disaster, famines and plagues, even dreadful signs from heaven.
Can you hear Jesus peeling away layers of security?
He’s exposing our real need, the ultimate foundation of our lives.
What is of lasting importance is not the beautiful gifts or the decorations in the temple.
What is of lasting importance is not the temple itself.
What is of lasting importance is not all of the things and circumstances in life that that make us feel secure:
Jesus gets down to the most basic, ultimate matters of importance.
If this place burned down tonight, what would he have left tomorrow?
What is of lasting importance isn’t in our hands at all.
It’s not our jobs, the ones we have or the ones we wish we had.
Its not the retirement plans; the houses, big or small; or the well stocked grocery store right down the road.
It’s not even the assurances of love we seek by finding the perfect holiday presents to give. Whether its shopping with the pre-dawn thrill of “black Friday,” or hours spent researching the catalog and internet pages, or knitting the perfect sweater, these things will not save us.
Not only that, Jesus tells these folks that they have even more to lose in the hard times ahead. Even their friends and family will desert them. Its so hard to imagine times like that being truly possible. Times like the Civil War in our country when brother fought brother. Times like living in the mountains of Pakistan now. Times like the aftermath of the Typhoon in the Philippines when neighbors start looting for food to survive or anything they can lay their hands on because they’ve lost sight of any thing else they can count on.
Jesus tells the followers with him that day that they will be stripped of everything important except one thing.
The question is will they remember that one thing,
or be absorbed by all that they have lost.
The one thing is this:
I, Jesus says, will help you remember who you are. I will give you words and wisdom.
This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
I am with you and you are with me. And that’s what saves you. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
III. What do WE have to be grateful for?
SO much that it sometimes becomes difficult to remember what is ultimately worthy of our deepest gratitude, God’s presence with us.
There’s a story Jesus used to tell:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” -Mark 4
Too many wonderful options can create a weedy garden where the essential is choked out if its not nurtured.
One wonderful project, if it displaces God, becomes an evil bird raiding the garden of it potential for growth.
Admiring something beautiful becomes superficial, a ground of gravel, if one doesn’t move beyond the beauty to the source of all beauty.
And the tough times that we all experience in our lives together and alone:
-For Isaiah’s people, the Diaspora; for Luke’s people the looming destruction of their beloved temple;
-For us, the trials we face as a nation and as a community,
Those tough times will burn us to a crisp like an unrelenting summer sun if we do not protect and care for the tender and basic ground of our presence with God.
This is where the real test comes.
What we can and must ultimately be thankful for is God’s self, who makes all blessing possible, and even probable-the God who demands we express our thanks by seeking justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.