Monday, December 12, 2016

Nov 13, 2016 Sermon: "Building a Kingdom"

Stephen Baldwin
OT: Isaiah 65.17-25
NT: Luke 21.5-19
Building a Kingdom

            The day before I took Kerry to the hospital, someone very seriously asked me, “Are you ready for the baby?” 
            And I very sincerely said, “Why, heavens no!” 
            They were almost offended and said, “You mean you haven’t setup a nursery or anything?”
            “We have a nursery and we have all the gadgets and trinkets.  But how can you be ready for something you don’t really know anything about?”  We were prepared, but I did not feel ready. 
            What I did not know was that I wasn’t prepared on a more basic level.  And I’ve got a bone to pick with the men in the church.  Listen up, fellas.  You told me being a father would change my life.  You told me I may not be ready but I would be fine.  You told me holding the baby for the first time would be indescribably joyous.  You were right about all those things. 
But you didn’t tell me what it would be like to witness the birthing.  They show you a video in the birthing class, and it’s all a lie.  That woman on the video gives birth likes she’s taking a loaf of bread out of the oven.  You didn’t tell me it’s not that simple!  You didn’t tell me I should wear protective eyewear and bib overalls and industrial gloves and commercial grade ear muffs!  
I was neither prepared nor ready for that.  But the world didn’t wait on me to be ready.  The world turns, and we must keep up.  That’s what Jesus is saying in Luke 21, right?  Or is he?  Let’s take a look.
The story begins while Jesus and his disciples are standing outside the temple gazing at its beauty.  Sort of like the way you stare at the beauty of the stained glass window behind me…but also completely different.  You see, the temple would dwarf a church like this.  How many people do you think we could fit inside here?  How many more on the lawn outside? 
Biblical historians surmise that the temple court in Jerusalem could hold 400,000 people.  It was a grandiose, great, gigantic place people went to honor God.  The temple was not only the center of religious life in Jesus’ day; it was the center of their universe.  Everything else revolved around it.  And what does Jesus have to say about this massive fortress which is home to God?  It’s going to fall.  Soon.  It would be like Jesus telling us today that the sun was going to set and never rise again. 
The people understandably want answers.  Sure, they’ve been following Jesus and hearing him talk about the end, but they’re not ready for it.  They’re not ready to be persecuted and see their holy place destroyed.  They want to know when this will happen.  They want to meet with an architect and a contractor.  They want to meet with the Building Committee and the Historical Preservation Society and the County Commission.  They want to write grants and start saving pennies. 
So they ask Jesus, “Can you give us some advanced warning about when this will happen?  I mean, we need to be prepared.  We need to get scaffolding and building materials from Lowe’s and we should’ve started that capital campaign ten years ago for a project this big!”
Here’s what I’m saying: The disciples and those following Jesus are concerned about the building.  The building.  Is Jesus concerned about the building?  No.  What is Jesus concerned about?   Building a  kingdom.   
Jesus is talking to them about a time when the rug will be pulled out from under them.  He’s trying to prepare them.  Will they be ready for it?  No, probably not.  But he wants to prepare them for it.  So that when the rug is pulled out from under them and the fabric of their very lives is shaken to the core, they will know a deeper truth than their admiration for a building. 
That deeper truth is that we belong to a kingdom not of this world.  When the stones fall on one another, we need not fret.  When everything seems to be working against us, we need not worry.  When we feel like hope is lost, we need not give up.  When that which we hold dearest is taken from us, we need not give in.  We belong to a kingdom not of this world!  And even when the stones come crashing down, not a hair on your head will perish.  Not a single hair.  Will perish. 
Some people think this story is about being ready.  To an extent it is, and we ought to do our best to be ready.  The Bible says, “God helps those who help themselves” right?  Wrong!  We think the Bible says that but it does not.  The Bible says, “Not a single hair on your head will perish.”  That means when we go about the work of building a kingdom--not just admiring a building, but building a kingdom--then we are doing the Lord’s work.
So make up your minds now not to prepare your defense in advance.  In other words, don’t worry about how people judge you today for the work of building a kingdom.  Don’t pay attention when they are admiring buildings and you’re trying to build relationships.  Even when everything around you falls down, God will stand with you. 
This is a hopeful story.  Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples that their temple will fall to upset them; he tells them so they’ll be prepared when it does…and so they’ll know that it’s not the end.  Just because something they hold dear crumbled down did not mean the world was imploding on itself.  Life would go on.  And Jesus wanted their ministry to go on.  They had a kingdom to build.  We have a kingdom to build. 
Who of us are ever ready when the rug is pulled out from under us?  But if we’re prepared enough to know that it will happen, we can remember when it does that we need not fear.  Not a single hair on your head will perish.  For God loves you, and your souls are forever in God’s care.  Amen. 

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