Not one stone left on another....earthquakes...famines...plague
That sounds horribly like the pictures we're seen on our screens in the days since typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines
100s of thousands homeless
More than nine million people struggling to survive without food, shelter or clean drinking water.
It's truly grim – surely one of the worst disasters of our time – the kind of event that makes many people – whether with faith or without – cry out “Where is God now?”
And our gospel this morning seems to be very little help. Where's the good news here?
Who, when they have seen their children swept away and their home destroyed, will in any way be comforted by the assurance that “this will give you an opportunity to testify”
(actually, be assured, that's not what Jesus says)
It's hard to believe that such truly cataclysmic events are really part of God's plan...and actually, I'm not sure that they are – or even that this passage suggests this.
But still...Jesus is looking at the splendour of the Temple – and predicting its destruction.
It's as if he had marched in to our wonderful 175 celebrations last year and told a church full of happy people
“The demolition team is on the way”
Shocking, challenging stuff.
But actually – that's not the real point of the reading, is it.
It's all about the people – not the buildings – the people
The people who hang on to their faith against all the odds- in places of real persecution – in Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria...
Those who hang on to God while everything around them is destroyed
Those who even now are working 24 hours a day to bring relief to devestated communities.
“By your endurance, you will gain your souls”
When we celebrated that big birthday last year
we invited each of our birthday visitors to write their name on a “stone” for our “living stones” collage. We looked at it, and rejoiced that we had so many friends who wanted to mark their connection with St Matthew's. We kept the collage where everyone could see it for a few months – but after Christmas it got put away in the corner by the organ and perhaps we put away its reminder then too.
You see, that collage is there to remind us that WE are the church...
If our building was struck by lightning tomorrow – the Church in Cainscross would still be here...because it's not the building that counts. It's the people.
When Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple he was saying something almost unthinkable. Jerusalem, and the Temple at its heart – were absolutely central to the Jewish understanding of their relationship with God – the focal point of their identity as His chosen people.
How would they survive such faith-shattering events?
Where would they look for reassurance if the beauty of God's house was destroyed?
But Jesus predicts destruction – quite calmly – with no hint of panic in his words.
With Jesus the emphasis shifts from the building – for its role has been superseded by his coming into the world.
In HIM God and humanity are reconciled – so we no longer need a Temple in which to offer sacrifices
And when he returns to the Father he leaves the Church – the Church in all its messy reality – to live out that ministry of healing and reconciliation...The church that is made up of PEOPLE...
You – me – all those whose names appear on our collage – and more.
The people through whom God's love is made present in the Philippines and a thousand other troubled places in our world today.
We can't rely on our buildings...or our jobs...or our health...or the constant presence of the people whom we love.
Ultimately, like every other short-term protection, they will fail.
That's the nature of life.
Towers and temples will fall. They have before and they will again.
Worlds will fall apart – whether on the huge scale we see in Tacloban or the small scale of the family up the road who are dealing with the loss of a loved one to cancer.
The good news is not protection against that.
The good news is that towers and temples were not all they were cracked up to be in the first place, and that in their falling is the invitation to find the life and hope that will endure even when all is thrown down.
For it is when everything else has failed, when we find ourselves at rock bottom that we see most clearly that only God’s unshakeable love and towering compassion remain.
Our world may come crashing down – but underneath are the everlasting arms, which will never let us fall.
When nothing else stands, God’s love remains.
Know this – and know that love is for you – and for all those who cry out today.
Trust that God will never abandon even one of his children – trust, stand firm and by your endurance, gain your souls.