Saturday, November 17, 2012

B, Post-Pentecost 25 Proper 28 – Mark 13:1-8 “Having a Heavenly Heart”

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The disciples marvel at the temple and the surrounding buildings of Jerusalem.  And Jesus promises that every stone will be thrown down and an age of tribulation will be experienced that has never occurred before.  And that is saying something since there have been plenty of disastrous natural events and manmade atrocities in the last two thousand years.
But Jesus’ focus on the temple and its destruction stands as a dire warning for all people both, inside and outside the church; for both parishioners and pastors alike. 
To the Jews the temple in Jerusalem was their “heaven on earth”, a copy of Eden; a place to reflect the glory of God to all who came near.  This temple had been sacked once before, after David and Solomon had raised the kingdom of Israel to commanding power, there in Jerusalem they built the temple.  It was built with the best of everything, the cedars of Lebanon, gold covered walls embossed with date palms, the fruit of the desert, an oasis where the people of God could rest with God after having their sins atoned for by the blood the priest poured out on the altar.
But it wasn’t the glory of the temple they were called to worship.  It was God who dwelt there.  He had a footstool on earth where he could once again meet with man and share his holy presence as Adam and Eve once did in the garden of Eden.
But that didn’t last; the Assyrians and then the Babylonians came from the north and the east and destroyed Israel and Judah.   The temple was finally destroyed after prophet after prophet came with the word of the Lord and called for obedience, contrition, and repentant hearts rather than ritual sacrifices as a smoke screen to the self serving lack of care and welfare which was really going on.
God called Jeremiah to warn… Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’  “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another,  if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm,  then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. 
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known,  and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 7:4–11 ESV)
And so the temple was left in ruins, the glory of God lifted from the temple and went to the exiles in the east while Jerusalem was left desolate. 
During the following four hundred years, the temple was rebuilt by returned exiles, but then during the time of Herod he seeks to restore it to its former glory.  This is the temple structures the disciples marvel over to Jesus.  And it’s the structure of which Jesus said, “Not one stone will be left not thrown down.” It’s destruction occurring liturgically and spiritually at Jesus’ death on Good Friday and physically some forty years later when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 73 A.D. 
History stands as a warning to us, both believers and unbelievers alike!  If God’s earthly temple of heaven or reflection of paradise’s Garden of Eden can be destroyed, and even more so, if God can chuck humanity out of his presence from the original Garden of Eden, it can and will happen again if our hallowing focus falls from God.  
When we as his church fall away from the care and welfare with which we’re called to bear in the community calling unbelievers to faith; what might happen to us if we pass off Jesus’ care and welfare towards us at the cross as “whatever” or “nothing” in favour of heartfelt emotions centred on the human heart which refuses to hear and heed the word of God?   
We are told very clearly by the author of the letter to the Hebrews… For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,  but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26–31 ESV)
 So “all the more as you see the day approaching” all of humanity is called to heed the word of God.  We are called to have heavenly hearts, but what that is many are being deceived into thinking is some sort of self-willed goodness by which God will accept us.  Whereas the only heart God accepts is the heart of Christ, and so the question goes begging, “Do you bear the heart of Christ?”
We hear in Proverbs 27:19, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.”  And Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21–23 ESV)
Just like the Jews, out of the hearts of believers and non believers in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation come all sorts of things that continue to defile us.  So how do I know I bear the heart of Christ, how do I receive the heart of Christ?
We who are believers must continually examine ourselves, not with human eyes or hearts, or understanding, but with the word of God.  Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21 ESV)
So we might examine and discern, “what just is my treasured kingdom?”  Recognize to where the glory is going?  God alone, or me, my family, or someone or something else?
If God can destroy the very place of his presence on earth, he can destroy the buildings and organisations we hide behind “in his name” avoiding and refusing to listen to his Word, the Word which calls us to contrition and repentance for constructing our own kingdoms. 
We are called to repentance and return to the church built on and in Christ.  To place faith in him and not the Lutheran name, our standing in the community, the family inheritance, the continuation of the culture in which the western world so easily sins.  We are called to the one faith of the church built not with human hands or with heartfelt human emotions.  Rather we must constantly let these kingdoms die, in favour of the true kingdom of God, called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit in the death and resurrection of Christ in the one true faith.
We need to daily die, heart and all, and let the heart of Christ reign within us.  We need to trust ourselves less and let God be God more and more in our day to day lives.  In the little things, not just in the things we think are only big enough to be bothering God about. 
Jesus warns us “not to be led astray” (Mark 13:5).  This firstly means not to let our hearts desires lead us astray but to soberly see ourselves through the word of God for whom we are.  The greatest deception is not from without but rather within.  The devil and the world, take a distant second most of the time to our sinful selves and our hearts full of the defiling things we know to dwell in each of us.
As the Psalmist says… “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.”  I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.  I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.  For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.  You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:1-2, 7–11 ESV)
In God’s presence there is fullness of joy — eternal preservation.  Let your heart be led by the Lord, let your heart hear his holy word so you will be led by him, forevermore!  Amen.