Today's Lectionary Text
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
“What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” These are exclamations that one might hear on a trip to the Holy Corners District in St. Louis, Missouri. This neighborhood was once home to some of the city’s most prominent churches and temples, and the buildings situated around the main intersection are indeed magnificent. Soaring columns, massive archways, beautiful stained glass—they are nothing short of majestic.
They are also…empty. Three of the five famed Holy Corners churches are no longer used as houses of worship. In fact, the former United Methodist Church building is now an auction house! The churches of Holy Corners are defunct for a number of reasons, but the common thread is this: these congregations failed to adapt, and they failed to meet the changing ministry needs of the surrounding community. As a result, the once-vibrant houses of worship now sit as cold marble monuments to a bygone era.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples that even the grandest and most impressive works of human civilization will not last forever. This pronouncement is understandably unnerving to the disciples, and they demand answers. They want a timeline, and they want to know what the future holds.
But instead of giving them an answer, Jesus gives them a cryptic answer that is pregnant with uncertainty.He urges them not to become alarmed, and tells them that there will continue to be tension in the world.There will be strife; things will change; there will be war and rumors of war.Yet these tensions do not necessarily mark the end—they may be the “birth pains” which are ushering in a new and hopeful future.
When we are faced with things that provoke anxiety—changes in our communities, division in the political realm, changing demographics, uncertainty about the future of our denomination—we have a choice. We can see them as death knells and we can wall ourselves up to stagnate inside our beautiful tombs, or we can embrace them as labor pains. We can lean into the uncertainty, take risks, adapt, try new things, and work together to discern what sort of beautiful new things God might be birthing into our midst.
Rev. Emily Spearman Cannon
Auburn (NE) First UMC
Photo By Paul Sableman - Holy Corner from Washington, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69845332
Prayer for Reflection
God of change and new life, when we gaze anxiously into an unknown future, remind us of your constant presence. Support and strengthen us as we labor through this life, and grant us patience as we await the birth of your promised Kingdom. Amen.
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