We love to build our temples out of beautiful stones. Brick by brick we build them. We try to make them as large and as grand as possible. Oh, I am not necessarily talking about physical temples–no, not in the least. Not many of us physically construct such a thing in our lives, but metaphorically. Yes, we build our temples as best as we can trying to make them as beautiful as we possibly can.
• Here is a brick for getting a good education.
• Here is a brick for graduating in the top 10% of the class.
• Here is a brick for getting scholarships to the university.
• Here is a brick for getting a good paying job.
• Here is a brick for finding a good spouse.
• Here is a brick for having children.
• Here is a brick for having well behaved children.
• Here is a brick for getting involved in the community.
• Here is a brick for helping out at the local food pantry.
• Here is a brick for volunteering at the YMCA.
• Here is a brick for going to church.
• Here is a brick for putting something in the offering plate.
• Here is a brick for having a nice house.
And we keep adding bricks. We keep building and building, and sometimes, just sometimes we step back and say to ourselves, “What a beautiful building I have built.” Of course, sometimes the building doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes the stones aren’t as beautiful as we would like. Sometimes they don’t fit as well as we would like them too, but with just enough effort–just enough maneuvering around, we alter the construction to hide those flaws. After all, it would be a terrible thing if someone were to see that the facade of that temple wasn’t necessarily perfect.
So often, our lives revolve around building such temples. So often our lives are consumed with having such places of beauty and pristine, and before we realize it, our lives find their meaning only and solely in that temple we have constructed and are constructing. It is then that something dangerous begins to happen to us. When we find meaning in life from constructing such temples and maintaining their beauty, that meaning and purpose can be shaken to the core if the stones start falling apart or if they are discovered to be flawed. What do I mean by that?
When I was in college, one Christmas, I asked my parents for one gift and one gift alone: a gold cross necklace. I didn’t want anything else. That was it. I wanted to wear my faith around my neck–so to speak. I didn’t get the cross for Christmas, much to my chagrin. But, my parents had a trick up their sleeve. Since my birthday is just a couple of weeks after Christmas, they decided to surprise me by giving me that necklace then. When I opened the box, I was on cloud nine. I loved the gift. I loved that little gold cross necklace. I put it on and steadfastly resolved to never, ever take it off.
And I didn’t. I wore it every waking and sleeping moment. I was proud of that necklace and what it represented. I could argue that the necklace literally was a part of me.
One day, I played an intra-mural football game at school. It was a hard-fought game, and we were pretty physical even though we had no padding on. After the game, I noticed my necklace was gone! I was not happy. I searched and searched the field on which we played. I went out after dark with a flashlight hoping to catch a glimpse of the gold in the ground. Nothing. I despaired. I literally was crushed. I felt like a part of me was gone.
Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
That’s not a comforting thought. It’s not a comforting thought at all. When we’ve spent so much time constructing these things; when we’ve spent so much time with building blocks and necklaces that mean so much; when we’ve made our purpose in life to construct more and better and beautiful temples, these are not the words we want to hear. Now, Jesus may have been speaking about the upcoming destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. Some scholars believe this, but what if there indeed is a deeper thought here. What if Jesus is forcing us to go deeper.
For the thought of the destruction of the Temple was a horrible one. The Jews had endured this once in their history. The Temple represented God’s presence on earth. It represented where God lived. It represented the place where people could go and be guaranteed to be near the presence of God. If it were destroyed? What then? If the Temple were gone? How would God’s presence be felt?
“Do not be terrified,” Jesus says. “Lots of things are going to happen. But don’t fear. I’ve got a plan.”
After searching futilely for my necklace, I picked up the phone. It was not a phone call I wanted to make. I called my mom and dad. I broke down in tears as I told them that my beloved necklace that they had purchased for me was gone. I sobbed as I told them of my search and how nothing turned up. I apologized for losing what they had given me.
“Kevin, it’s just a necklace,” they said. A word of grace. Whether my parents meant it or not, the message to me became loud and clear–you are not that necklace. Your identity is not wrapped up in that necklace. You did not lose a piece of you when that necklace somehow was ripped from your neck. It is a just a stone–a beautiful stone, but a stone none-the-less. Stop worrying about the stone. There are more important things.
It’s hard to stop worrying about those bricks we use to build up our lives. It’s hard to stop worrying about even building those temples. Somehow, we have come to think that we should be judged by those temples. Somehow we have come to think our self worth depends upon those temples. Somehow we have come to think that how others should or should not view us depends upon those temples.
It’s not just necklaces which drive us to despair. Sometimes, if a person loses his or her job, that person feels like the purpose of life is gone. If a house is broken into and goods are stolen, sometimes people feel violated. If a project does not go as planned, sometimes a person agonizes and spends countless hours worrying about what went wrong. If children do not live up to expectations, parents seek out professional help to “fix” their kids. Hey, even we pastors are not immune from such things. When worship attendance is up, we are on cloud nine. When it is down, we get depressed. We all build temples, and most of the time, our emotional state is completely dependent upon how that temple looks.
And the scariest part is that the temple will indeed be torn down. Not one stone will be left upon another. It will all disappear in a heart beat; in the blink of an eye. Or, rather in the ceasing of the heart to beat when mine eyelids close in death. And what will become of that which we have slaved over for all of our years?
Hear now a word of grace: you are not that temple. Your worth is not wrapped up in that which you strive to build. Your worth comes from something completely different. Your worth; your purpose; your value comes from God.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him.
Each and every day, my brothers and sisters, opportunity knocks. Opportunity breaks into this world as Christ comes to us to remind us that He has a plan and a purpose for us. Our temples may be knocked down. Our lives may fall apart. We may lose our jobs, our families, our friends, but we can never lose God’s love. Never. Ever. We have an assurance that not one hair on our head will perish. Is it any wonder then that Jesus says such things are opportunities to testify? When our identity rests in Him, we have nothing to fear. And that is what it means to Live God’s Word Daily. Amen.