It was near the end of Jesus’ ministry. He and his followers were visiting the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was watching. He saw a poor woman’s overwhelming generosity, which had to be named, noted and remembered. “She put in all that she had!” he marvels. The disciples, instead, were noticing the beauty of the Temple – the rocks, the precious gems and all the offerings hung on the Temple walls for all to see. They were distracted by the overall impact of the great walls, echoing with every whisper, like walking through the city streets of a high-towered downtown, or a hard path through a cool rock canyon.
But Jesus said, (v. 6) “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” Hyperbole for, “None of this matters one bit! It will all be changed.”
At Bryce Canyon, I heard that I was seeing “the most rapidly changing landscape in the world” as sand, pebbles, sometimes boulders break off and crash down its face daily. Rain does its work by rotting the rock from the inside, wind does its work by wearing down the surface, exposing the weakened rock which easily falls away when it is exposed. Like the disciples, I was in awe of these beautiful stones! The ranger, like Jesus, reminded me that even these things are vulnerable and changing. Our earth is changing. Once Utah was part of an inland sea, with beautiful sandy shores, waters host to amazing sea creatures. Once Utah was part of expansive sand dunes, blowing and shifting as they were shaped by the wind. Once the Colorado River made its way gently following the lay of the land. But something happened – and earthquake? A sudden uplift of deep rock? What? No one knows. But something happened and the river made a right turn carving a canyon across the Colorado plateau which we have come to call Grand Canyon. Whatever disaster occurred then, we call the canyon it eventually created one of the wonders of the world!
“Get some perspective,” Jesus is saying. This Temple is here today and gone tomorrow. Pay attention to what really matters. Like the love expressed by this one poor woman.
But they miss Jesus’ point again, and seize on the moment to ask about when the Kingdom of God will come, and the signs that will help them recognize it. They want to be ready! They are hoping to be ushered into power right alongside Jesus.
We humans are so curious about the end of the world! The earth, we are guessing, is 4.5 billion years old, and only in the last couple hundred thousand years have there been humans. We tend to think it is all about us! But there were 4 billion years of earth’s story totally without human beings! The Navajo creation story says that there were three “worlds” before this one, creations where it never proved safe for humans. Instead humans, who were created before the worlds, were safely stored in earth’s core. The fourth world finally proved habitable for humans and they emerged, built their first hogans and began life. It is an interesting take on the role of humans on earth. It isn’t all about us, which is a theme which appears consistently in the Native American culture. So much happened before us, and will happen after us. We are part of the present and the next things are not our concern. We are only part of the story of what God is creating, and a late part at that! Who knows what might be next?
When will it happen? What will be the signs? So often, there are no signs of the thing that changes everything. Jesus list disasters that people think of as the end of the world – earthquakes, wars, famine, plague, persecution. And in every case, he says this is not the end. This is not the end.
I went on my travels remembering the words of my Mom. She used to travel on long road trips. People would protest: what if something happens. Mom’s reply was matter of fact. “It is not if something happens, but when something happens. And when something happens, I’ll deal with it.” I had no warnings about a broken camera! Nothing but a hiss to tell me about problems with a tire in the middle of nowhere. There was no foresight about my knee injury. But I kept her words close: when something happens, I’ll deal with it. And I did.
Those words are not unlike Jesus’ words to his disciples. You will get into some terrible scrapes. The world as you know it will crumble before your eyes. And when this happens, you will be able to deal with it. I will give you words. You have no idea what to prepare now. You may have no warning at all. No signs. But when it happens, know that I will be with you, and you will be able to deal with it. I won’t desert you. You may even die, but you will know about resurrection by then. You will not ever be cut off from the life of God.
Then, what shall we do now? …Learn to see with the eyes of your heart, so that you too will be see the great love of the poor woman, as Jesus did. Tune your ears to the whisper of the Spirit, so that when the time comes, you will know where your resources are to “deal with it.”
Leonard Cohen, songwriter poet, died this week. I heard clips of an old interview with him. In his last years, he dealt with multiple physical challenges – and a LOT of pain. Cancer and back issues. And he turned out to be allergic to most of the pain medications which might give him relief. The interviewer observed that his lifetime in the practice of meditation gave him skills to be able to get through. He was equipped to be able to go deep below the pain and live there, at least for moments. He knew what to do – to accept the suffering and go on anyway. He had spent a lifetime learning how to live moment by moment, so in his time of suffering, it was his lifeline.
It felt odd to me that the first text when I return is on the face of it, about the end times. It felt odd to me to read this after a week in our nation’s life when people have felt so traumatized. For so many, this has felt like the end of the world, and for others like the beginning. But Jesus consistently said, “the end is not yet.” Don’t be fooled. Don’t run away, give up, hide in a cave. Don’t celebrate and get out your coronation robes. Continue to be disciples. The words of Jesus have a particular opportunity in a time like this. Not for escape, but for the good of souls. Jesus called followers to take up our crosses – accept our suffering – and follow anyway. The wisdom of Jesus was that his way will not alleviate our pain. In fact, it will lead us into the center of pain. His is not a way out, but a way through. Follow anyway, for not one hair of your head will perish.
This Sunday, the world is still broken. And it is still full of God’s grace and love. Following the Way of Jesus hasn’t changed much in the last 2000 years. “Testifying” about Jesus is still about pointing to Jesus’ continued activity in the world.
Paul Schroeder, director of Village Support Network, has a book coming out, Practice Makes Purpose: Six spiritual practices which will change your life and transform your community. He is the one who introduced me to the phrase, “compassionate seeing.” Briefly, we naturally live our lives within our own minds, assuming that our opinions and judgments about the world and the people in our lives is the way it is. But, compassionate seeing asks us to start with seeing what the world might possibly look like through the eyes of the other before rushing to judgment. It is a life-long task to learn to live this way. But I think this is exactly what Jesus was suggesting for the disciples. They did not see the greatest gift given by the poor woman who gave all she had, but saw only the beauty of the expensive, showy gifts given by those who made no sacrifice. They did not see with the eyes of compassion, the eyes of the heart.
And when it came to the kingdom of God, they were focused on power over, rather than the power within, which was already on display in the small acts of love, in the subtle moving and shaping of the Spirit. Jesus said, big things will happen, and that is not the end. I will give you words when you need them; don’t worry about that now. Notice the kingdom already here.
Where and on what we fix our gaze is critical in these days. What do we see? Our own lens of opinion and judgment, or the truly loved ones of God’s creation? Do we see others through the true love and grace we experience with Jesus? Fear or love, which motivates our actions and perceptions of others? It is time for us to look inside if we are going to heal the life of our nation.
At first, I found my self grieving over the decay of Bryce canyon. How could it be prevented? What a loss! But as I walked among its glorious fins and spires, it turned to wonder, awe. In that moment the rocks gave me life. They will continue to give gifts to those who have eyes to see, whatever shape they may take in the future. I wonder what it will look like when what we see now is gone? What new beauty awaits? What will those living stones become?
We are in hard times. Our country, our world, our congregation faces challenges we have no idea how to fix. Can we go back to our core, remember to trust that the Spirit is among us, and will give us words, a way. It may not be the way we want, but it will always lead to life. Even if it requires resurrection. Jesus has not left us alone – never has, never will. Like this disciples looking at the Temple, though, Jesus may be asking us to look at things a little bit differently, with a little bit more divine perspective – always love, always life. No matter what.