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One afternoon last spring I found myself outside the National Cathedral in D.C. I needed a change of liturgical scenery while in seminary, and decided to make the trip. I stood there gazing upward—minutes passed by and I could not look away despite some of the construction taking place on the one side of the building. I don’t know if it was the beautiful stained glass that peaked out from the curves and gothic design of the massive structure…or that I was overwhelmed by it’s sheer size. I just stood there in awe of it’s beauty but also it’s power—the power of it’s size, the manpower it took to build it and the power it represented as a beacon of faithful light in the midst of a bustling city.
For those in Jerusalem the temple held the same physical power and faithful refuge. Those standing with Jesus gazed up at the Temple’s massive structure in awe—amazed by the beautiful stones and the gifts that it held to honor God. The temple was so big in Jerusalem that it is said to have held 400,000 people in the outer court during the festival times of the year. The overwhelming size and beauty of the temple was to reflect their honoring of the one and only God.
And Jesus does not refute its magnificence. However, for Jesus, he warns that the beauty of these stones would not withhold the dysfunction and pain of the world. That the weight of the world’s problems would one day push them down but would leave only the people to make sense of the ruin. The people, the body of Christ, are what remain when all the buildings fall. The beauty of those stones will never surpass the beauty of God’s people and the beauty that Christ sees in all of us—even when we don’t.
That is why Jesus’ warning about the aftermath of the Temple’s destruction is not about immediate devastation but what the Body of Christ would face throughout time. Jesus’ warning of division, instability, war, natural disasters is to name what we as followers of Christ would encounter—that we would not be exempt from experiencing these things because of the greatness of a temple or building. And today, we are living in the warnings of Jesus where there is division over race, gender, religion, economics, etc.
We are in the aftermath of a divisive campaign year that left many angry and hurt on many sides. What do we do? As the body of Christ where do we go from here? As God’s people, how do we live in this divide and encounter the divisions?
The gospel answers this question by not just focusing on destruction this week but what we are to do when we are in the ruins. When we are surrounded by the beautiful stones and need to pick them up. Jesus says, “do not be terrified…this will give you the 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.”
What do we do now as Christians? Christ says…that the destruction, the difficult times that we are challenged with, either individually or as a community, are the opportunities to testify—to share and show the love of God. No matter what political affiliation-- we have the responsibility as Christians first and foremost to be an example of God’s love and kindness in the world.
How do we share the love of God during a time of division? Professor and Liturgist, James Farwell states that we are to “Feed the poor. Speak the truth. Protect the vulnerable. Proclaim grace. Keep working.”
We are to keep working on living out our baptismal promises that we repeated again last week when Jeffrey and Emily were baptized. We promised to continue to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We promised to love those who are our neighbor, who may be different from us.
Showing the love of God may not be easy when we are up against unkind words, or just plain disagree on anything, but love through kindness is what truly brings about positive change. And that is what I hope for in this world and that is what Christ called us to when he says to testify.
And as we keep working, we also promised to continue to strive for justice and peace among all people, and continue to respect the dignity of every human being. We are to strive for justice by standing up against racism, sexism, homophobia, and the disregard of humanity. We are challenged with this responsibility.
A priest from Connecticut was so disturbed by the increase of hate crimes this week that she wrote a letter to LGBTQ teens and young adults who fear being victim of one of these crimes based on their sexual orientation. But her letter to them of their value is a reminder to every one of our responsibility we have as Christians to live into the call to love and respect the dignity of all of God’s people, but it also a reminder of our love by God as well.
She wrote: God loves you. I love you. There are many of us who love you. And we love you regardless of who you love, what color your skin is, what part of the world you come from, what name you use for God, what gender you are, or who you want to be when you grow up. We love you if you or your parents are undocumented — whether you can dance, or cook, or sing — or not. We love you if you are funny, or serious, a Trekkie, or a jock. There is a place for you in this world, and in this country, if you are nerdy, goth-y, shy, college educated — or not. God loves you — and made you just the way that you are.
To testify, is to show love like this. To make all God’s children—the body of Christ—know they are loved like this even when the world—neighbors, family, media challenge us with judgment, hate and intolerance. Which is why our baptismal promises guide us on how to love one another.
However, I must say that showing love through feeding the poor, speaking the truth, protecting the vulnerable, and proclaiming grace—this work of testifying it does not come without fear, discouragement, uncertainty and anxiety. For many right now, the fear and anxiety is very real for what may come. But Jesus promises us that despite the division and messiness of the world, that we are surrounded by god with this promise “not a hair of your head will perish.” We as Christians have a great responsibility to live into our baptismal promises but also a call to trust that God will be with us in our testifying. God will be with us in doing the work Christ has called us to do.
And we are doing that work here at Good Shepherd. Loaves and Fishes yesterday made hundreds sandwiches to hand out in this cold weather. The micro-loan program is giving hope and chance to people with dreams of doing good work in the world. Our Daily Bread team serves our Baltimore Community by making food once a month and the Paul’s Place team that delivers food from Graul’s. Our partnership with St. Luke’s on Carey Street with Camp Imagination that gives kids a safe and creative place to dream and have fun. To Cherubs music that teaches love through the joy of learning music. There are many more things that we as a church are working on and if I forgot one I apologize. This is the good work, the testifying that Christ calls us to in today’s gospel---feed the poor, speak the truth, protect the vulnerable, and proclaim grace.
Because when we testify, we bring the hope of the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ—who died on the cross and rose again—we have hope in the resurrection and hope in eternal life with Christ. And with all the divides we exist in on this earth may we be comforted that we have good news to share in the love and redemption that we find through the resurrection.
Where there is hatred and misunderstanding we will be the love and light in the world. Let us keep working on living out Christ’s call for hope, love and faith especially amongst the rubble of division. Because as it says in the second letter to the Thessalonians, “Brothers and Sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” Amen.
The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton