Jesus and the disciples were at the temple and some people commented on the beauty of the temple: "how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God," The temple was a large stone building. If you’ve ever seen the National Cathedral with its beautiful stone sculptures and stained-glass windows, you can understand how these people felt. Another example is our Capitol Building. These buildings are made of very heavy stone, as was the temple. I can’t imagine either one not ever being there. Given the technology of Jesus’ day, it’s even easier to understand how the people could not imagine the temple ever being destroyed.
Yet, Jesus said that the temple would be destroyed. An then Jesus continued his observations by speaking of the disasters that will come in the future – “Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues;”
All of these things have happened and are happening now in various places of the world. Yet, here we are – alive and well in Austin, Texas. It’s really hard to comprehend this level of destruction when one has not experienced it.
We can believe that nothing in the world is permanent. But we can understand that life is cyclical – we have all experienced good times and bad times. As we go through difficult times, we reach out to God seeking consolation, strength, and answers. Jesus said, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Buildings are not permanent, but God’s love is. When I was studying Old Testament at the Iona School for Ministry, our instructor advised us to look for God’s “steadfast faith” as we read through the books. That was good advice as we slogged through the wars, the evil kings, leaders and armies doing remarkably horrendous acts in the name of God. However, throughout the readings, there was a clear message that God loved and cared for his people. He bemoaned the times when his people turned their backs on Him and chose to worship other gods and not live according to His Law. He rejoiced when the people returned to Him and chose to live in righteousness and justice according to His Law. He never abandoned his people, even though they may have felt like he had.
Righteousness in biblical terms is about living in right relationships – with God and with each other. Righteousness is about supporting one another. It means helping friends, neighbors, and even strangers, as they go through hard times.
It’s about going to Houston with a boat to help rescue people stranded by the floods caused by hurricanes. It’s about putting on work boots and picking up hammers, nails, saws, and other tools to help people rebuild their homes after the floods.
It’s about sitting with a friend who is mourning the loss of a spouse. It’s about giving respite for someone who is caring for a loved one. It’s about giving a homeless person a bottle of water and a $5 HEB card.
It’s about cheerfully doing chores around the house. It’s about holding back on that cutting remark that would “feel so good” to say. It’s about listening carefully to one another, especially when we disagree, so that we can work at solving problems peacefully. It’s about challenging violence in any form and to stand with others who are treated unfairly.
The Letter to the Thessalonians talks about this. In the excerpt we read today, it’s about doing one’s fair share for the community.
The author of this Letter to the Thessalonians remarks on the “believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” At one level, the author is specifically talking about those who are taking advantage of the community by not working and contributing to the community funds. The Rev. Edward Pillar, in his commentary, suggests that this idleness is about not adhering “to these traditions of righteousness, justice, truth, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.”
He further points out that the key to this passage “is to be found in the very last phrase: ‘Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right’ (2 Thessalonians 3:13).” … There is then a call to work, but to work for righteousness. To work hard so that the traditions passed on by the apostles, based on the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, might become a reality within our communities and society.”
The traditions of righteousness to which we reaffirm our faith are summarized in the Baptismal Covenant. The five vows which we promise to do, with God’s help, would enable us to live in righteousness – as individuals, as a community, and as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
In the words of Bishop Daniel Martins, of the Diocese of Springfield, “The gracious rule of Christ brings together people of every race, nationality, social status, taste in music or food or drink, and a variety of politics without demanding that those personal attributes or proclivities be laid aside. We are one in Christ, even as we cherish our particular customs.”
In Isaiah’s prophecy, we are given a vision of this unity. A vision of community where the members have differences and live together in peace.
" The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord."
Thanks be to God.