Rev. Danielle K Bartz November 14, 2021
Mark 13:1-8 “Pull Back the Veil”
Every few years, a similar human interest story makes the rounds on the news. A construction site somewhere in the world comes across a long forgotten ruin or artifact. I remember how interested I was a few years ago when a huge construction project in St. Paul came across a series of underground tunnels and caves used during the Prohibition era for smuggling. My cousin, a geological engineer, loved talking about the challenges that discovery created.
In Asia and Europe, these discoveries are often ancient homes and artwork. Several years ago, Israeli construction crews came across a glorious ancient Roman mosaic remarkably well persevered. The mosaic traveled the world for everyone to enjoy, and while the Israelis were constructing a new museum to give it a permanent home, they came across another gloriously persevered ancient mosaic. Just about everyone loves these stories, they take away from the difficulty the news often provides and gives us a chance to marvel at the art and history of this planet and the people who have inhabited it. Whenever these stories come to my attention, I also like to imagine, what other glories await us if we are willing to pull back the veil on what obscures them.
There is also something inherently violent about the acts that reveal what we had lost and need to find. As I said, it seems most of these lost beauties were discovered on construction sites. And construction, in my experience, always involves some destruction. In order to build up, first you have to tear down something in the way. Whether it is an old structure that needs to be destroyed to create a new one, or natural creation that is razed, construction first requires destruction, and destruction always feels violent. And it is this violent destruction that Jesus was teaching about in his lesson to the disciples that we read today.
Jesus and his disciples have finally arrived in Jerusalem. Jesus has entered the city gates on the back of a donkey, he has gone into the Temple and overturned the tables of the money changers. He has provoked the fury of the religious leaders and will soon be arrested, tried, and crucified. But, for now, Jesus and his disciples are wandering the streets of Jerusalem, and I think it is fair to assume that for many of his disciples, this was their first experience of the city and the Temple. The Temple was a grand, over-powering structure. Huge in size, the equivalent of a few city blocks today. It is believed the western wall of the Temple was covered in gold leaf, so when the sun was shining on it, it was actually dangerous to look at for more than a moment lest you risk eye damage. The Temple was the center of religious life for the ancient Jews and was considered the house of God. The disciples were, rightfully, impressed. “What large building and large stones,” they exclaimed. But Jesus, in a prophetic lesson, looked at that grand Temple and said that very soon, all of it will be destroyed.
The immediate reaction of the disciples is not recorded in the Gospel of Mark. But it is not hard to imagine their shock at Jesus’ statement, and likely their doubt, and definitely their fear. If, even for the briefest of moments, they fully believed Jesus (and he was right of course, not too long after that statement the Temple was indeed destroyed), they would inevitably ask themselves, ‘if God’s house was destroyed, and the very structure of their religion fell apart, where then would they find God?’
You see, Jesus and the disciples were looking at the Temple and seeing two different things. The disciples saw God’s majesty in the splendor of a seemingly solid object. They saw in that building evidence of the unshakable power of God. That grand building could never be brought down, they likely thought, so therefore God could never be brought low. But, Jesus looked at the Temple and saw something entirely different. He looked at that same grand structure and saw fragility. He saw evidence of human fear working hard to deny the possibility of the chaotic act of creation. Jesus understood that God was not unmovable, but God was the act of movement itself. God’s power was not an unchanging façade, but rather a force that was always sweeping over the earth, breaking down what was standing in its way, and breathing new life into everything it touched. Jesus looked at that Temple and understood that any concept of God that denied the possibility of God’s new creation would have to be destroyed. And so using powerful language, he began to teach the disciples, and us, that difficult lesson.
So, that brings me back to the question of where do we find God in the midst of chaotic creation, destruction of the old, and uncertainty about the new. And how are we, as believers in the God of creation, to act in the midst of all of it? ‘Do not be led astray,’ Jesus commands. We will not lose God and God will not lose us, but we must hold fast to what we know is good, right, and true. As creation rages around us, we must continue to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and love our neighbors as ourselves. As the force of God creates space for something new and grand, we can hold tight to the lessons that Jesus taught throughout his life and ministry. To always care for the marginalized, to shout words of justice at the opposing whirlwind of hate and fear. To ground ourselves in the knowledge that we, all of humanity, are the Beloved Community of God. And, if we are able to anchor ourselves with the knowledge of God’s love in the midst of creation, even if that creation feels like destruction, then we can begin to glimpse the long sought after, if forgotten, beauty that God is preparing to reveal to us by pulling back the veil of what stands in its way.
Too often the world feels like nothing but destruction. It feels like everything is simply falling apart and nothing solid is taking its place. Institutions that we thought were unshakable are collapsing and we wonder with fear, ‘what do we do now?’ It is chaotic and often overwhelming. Jesus rightly describes it as ‘birth pangs’ – a force that feels like we have little control over. But a force that is an act of creation. So, we can then remember that not all chaos is bad. The Black Lives Matter movement felt chaotic and frightening last summer, but it has also created a determined focus that is pulling back the veil on systemic racism and allowing humanity to repent and renew our shared existence. As the climate changes dangerously around us, we can sense a stirring of a collective will to right the wrongs and do what we must to save this creation we are to be stewards of. Wars reign around us, but small though powerful movements of peace refuse to let go of God’s commandments, and the arc of history continues to move towards justice.
My Beloved Community, just as long forgotten beauty can be found in the destructive acts of new construction, the chaos of the world today can allow us to glimpse the Kingdom of God. It is there, waiting for us to fully pull back that veil, to remove whatever is standing in its way, and revel in what was always there all along. And in the midst of all of this, we must not be led astray by the forces of fear, hatred, and doubt who will attempt to turn our attention elsewhere. We will pull back the veil and hold tight to one another. And while the world reels around us, we will continue to make peace. While the world reels around us, we will continue to choose hope. While the world reels around us, we will continue to cultivate patience. While the world reels around us, we will continue to incarnate love. Amen.
O God, We are glad and rejoice forever in you. With joy we draw deeply from your well of grace and pray you may fulfill our story— the story of your love. Though the world has been gripped by trouble since early days, and life has often been short and tormented, you have given us a vision of a day beyond the terrors:
a day when the heavens and earth will be new again,
a day when the sound of weeping will give way to delight,
a time when all creation will live in peace
and people will long enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Help us to hold to that vision when the temples about us are falling, and our world is shaken. Strengthen us for the telling of your truth and for keeping to your path, that we might not weary in doing what is right, but through endurance may gain our souls, even as you desire for us to do.
As we pray for a new heaven and a new earth this day, we especially are aware of those among us and those beyond these doors who are in deep need of your peace, of your healing touch, of your just and bounteous kingdom.
We pray those who dwell in places of strife, need, and want….
We pray for those who have been bereaved in the past week….
We pray for those who are unemployed and those fear layoff or termination and all those struggling with a burden in the workplace and the marketplace….
Let us give thanks to the one to whom we pray, the one who brings both the snow and the sun;
the one who heals this troubled world and the sick; the one who grants new life not only to us,
but to the creation itself.
Gracious God, we pray to you in the name of the one who came to show us the way, he who is our Lord and our Redeemer, our brother and our friend. We pray to you as one family, even as he taught us, saying…Our Father….