Scripture for this Sunday:
Malachi 4.1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19
It is thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Two months before, a series of protests had begun in the East German city of Leipzig – in a Lutheran church, and this triggered a series of events that culminated in the destruction of the wall. Reading Jesus’ words anticipating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which did occur some 40 years after the crucifixion, one might make a connection. The Berlin wall was a kind of temple – a temple to human blindness; a temple where sacrifices were made, including the sacrifice of human life trying to escape from the east to the west. Eventually, that temple, as tends to be the case with human temples, was torn down.
Although the tearing down of the Berlin Wall signified an important turning point in the history of Germany, it was not the end of the story. After a period of disruption and upheaval, some sort of everyday life had to resume. So it was for the followers of Jesus after the turmoil of crucifixion and resurrection. A new way of life had to begin, and it had to be sustainable. (Incidentally, we might note that Judaism itself had to establish a new ‘normal’ once the temple had been destroyed in 70CE, as Jesus anticipated.) Evidently there were some who were inclined just to sit around and wait for Jesus to return. The Apostle Paul told them bluntly to get back to work!
We are all too inclined to create walls and temples of our own pride and hubris, or of our own entrenched biases or desires. These will fall, or be torn down because human endeavours are inevitably transient and impermanent. There are times when the result of the tearing down is in fact constructive – as with the Berlin wall.
As we come to the end of a journey through Luke’s gospel at the closing of the church year, we can look back upon a journey through scripture that has as its theme the overturning of human pride – beginning with Mary’s Magnificat.
The inevitable consequences of such turbulence include the challenge of establishing a new form of everyday living, a new ‘normal.’ This has been a recurring focus of the Bible’s record of the relationship between God and humankind. We can take comfort that our displacement is not isolated, because time and again God has shown willingness to take care of those who need to rebuild, just as the people of Israel were nurtured and guided upon their return to Jerusalem, and just as the people of the resurrection were nurtured and guided – and told to get to work.
Nervousness or fear can stifle our willingness to take risks in spreading the gospel. Anxiety about cleaning up the mess may temper our enthusiasm for action. Concern about uncertainty may suppress our inclination to be bold in seeking change. But the benefits outweigh the risk: 30 years ago some protests began in a church in Leipzig – and the wall came down. The history of the Church is littered with similar examples. All things are possible for God.