When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [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.Luke 21:5-6
The 21st chapter in Luke’s gospel begins with the well-known story of the widow’s mite; or in our new translation, the widow’s two copper coins. And I wanted to include this piece of the story today, on Stewardship Sunday here at First Lutheran, because it is a moving reminder to us that no gift is too small to God.
The truth is that the temple didn’t need the widow’s two small copper coins. It is a tiny amount of money, given to a very well-financed institution. The temple, after all, was one of the most magnificent buildings on the planet. It was enormous, and beautiful, and funded by some very heavy taxes levied by Herod the Great. Two copper coins is not going to do very much for the temple.
Just to give you some idea of how impressive this temple was, the stones used in building it were about forty-six feet long, ten feet wide, ten feet high, and weighed over 400 tons. According to the famous historian, Josephus, Herod had 1,000 priests trained as stone masons and carpenters just to do the work on the most holy portions of the temple, since only priests could do that.
(It reminds me of when I participated in a clergy work day with Habitat for Humanity. I’m pretty sure that a very wise and patient supervisor was involved then, just as there was for me and my fellow pastors!)
But all this is to say that the widow’s two copper coins were a pittance to the world, and would hardly have mattered to the building of this temple.
But the widow’s gift mattered to Jesus. He noticed her gift, and praised it. And by doing so, Jesus reminds us that God notices our every gift, our every offering, our every good deed.
I like to think of these attempts of ours to make the world a better place, these good works of ours, as being kind of like the drawings that toddlers make for their parents. The rest of us might not think of these drawings as great works of art, but the parents sure do. They proudly display them on their refrigerators. And even after their children have grown, they still keep these works of art in a special place. I think that our heavenly Father looks at all of our offerings, of time, talent or treasure, in the same way. God loves every one of them, no matter how big or how small. Just as Jesus loved and admired this widow’s humble gift to the magnificent Temple.
Okay. So I wanted to say that today, on Stewardship Sunday, because I think it is important for us to remember. But let’s now get back to the heart of this gospel reading, which is Jesus teaching his disciples that this beautiful, magnificent temple will one day be destroyed. As Jesus said, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:6)
400-ton stones, all thrown down, and this magnificent temple completely destroyed. It’s hard to imagine! But by the time Luke wrote this gospel, Jesus’ prediction had already happened. The temple was destroyed by Rome in the year 70. And all that is left of this incredible building is the famous Western Wall.
When I try to think of how shocking this would have been, my mind goes to the Twin Towers, the World Trade Center, which was destroyed on that fateful day in 2001. I could not have imagined those incredible buildings collapsing. Even after the planes crashed into those buildings, I still couldn’t imagine it. Until it happened.
In fact, I remember preaching on this very gospel reading back in 2001, only a couple of months after those twin towers collapsed. And this whole reading seemed to take on new meaning. I could now imagine how shocked those disciples might have been, when Jesus told them that the temple would be destroyed. I could imagine how overwhelmed those early Christians would have been when it actually happened. And I could begin to see what Jesus was getting at in this teaching.
I could see in a new way what Jesus was trying to teach us. Because Jesus was teaching us that our faith cannot be in a building. Our faith is not in our might, our strength, or our success. Our faith is not in anything that we can create. And if it is, then not one stone of that faith will be left. Our faith will be a house built on sand. Our faith will be a tower of babel – an attempt to build our way to heaven, to make a name for ourselves, that will also wind up as nothing more than a pile of crumbled debris. No matter how great the house, how impressive the building, not one stone will be left of anything but God. God alone is our fortress and our strength. Everything else withers and fades.
I thought about this when I came across an article this week about a new football stadium being built in Los Angeles. This stadium was originally estimated to cost $2.6 billion, but now is at close to $5 billion. To put that in perspective, $5 billion dollars would be enough to give every single family in Stanly County a check for over $200,000. I have no doubt that this stadium will be incredible. Just like the temple was in Jesus’ time. But how long will this stadium last, before it is time to build another? If Jesus were to walk by this temple with his disciples, would he not say that in the days to come, not one stone will be left upon another? It doesn’t matter how magnificent the building is.The days will come when it will be debris. What then?
Raising the Temple in Three Days
The answer is found in another conversation that Jesus had, this one recorded in John’s Gospel. Jesus was asked what miraculous sign he could provide to prove his authority. And he answered: Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. They were stunned. How is this possible? This temple which took forty-six years to build? This temple made of 400-ton rocks? This temple which took 1,000 priests just to construct the most holy portions?! What did Jesus mean – destroy the temple and he would raise it again in three days?
What Jesus meant was that he was the temple. He himself. And he would be destroyed – on the cross – but after three days would rise again. And when we place our faith in that, in our crucified and risen Lord, then our faith is built on a solid foundation. Then the building really can reach to heaven. Then we have a temple that will never be destroyed again, a temple where God himself can always be found.
There is no greater temple, in other words, than Jesus himself. He is the very presence of God in our midst. And when we place our faith in Jesus, we are trusting in the one thing that can stand the test of time. The one thing that will never be thrown down.
The world, as you well know, is a very uncertain place. Jesus warns us in this reading that we will hear of wars and insurrections. Nation will rise against nation. There will be earthquakes, famines, and plagues.
The world is a very uncertain place. And so is life. Most of us know this to be true from our own personal experiences. This is not just about what we see on the news. It is about what we experience in our lives. And we all fight battles. We all have experienced, or will experience, great sadness and loss. And Jesus is reminding us today that as long as our hope is in the created things of this world, we will eventually despair.
But when we place our hope in Jesus, who died for us, and who rose again, and who promises to be with us always, then we will always have reason to rejoice, because we are rejoicing in the temple that will never be destroyed.
An Opportunity to Testify
And this is a great promise. But it is also a great responsibility. Because our mission as followers of Jesus is to be ready to share our hope. Be ready to testify, Jesus says. When the buildings that our world puts its faith in are destroyed, we have a chance to share the hope that is in us, the faith that is built on Jesus.
I remember so well a young lady from my last congregation who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Legally blind from birth, she had endured a lot in her life. And now, before the age of forty, she had cancer. But on the day of her diagnosis, she shared with me that she saw this as her opportunity to testify. To share her hope and her faith. To bring glory to God, without knowing where her journey would take her. And that is exactly what she did, and I imagine is still doing today.
Today’s gospel reading is in the end a call to mission. Jesus is calling the church, calling you and I, to go the Ground Zeros of our world, to the places where faith is reeling and where hope is fading, to share the precious gift of hope that is within us, the gift of the gospel.
Through our words, our actions, and our lives, each and every day is an opportunity for us as followers of Jesus to share the hope that is within us. To share our faith in the one who will never be destroyed.
Your faith may not feel very grand today. Your hope may feel a little unsteady.But it is enough to make a difference to someone. Two small copper coins is enough.
With God, whatever we have is enough. Our every gift, our every act, our every kind gesture, our every offer to pray for another, our every invitation to join us here in church, our every story of what Jesus is doing in our lives; they are all gifts noticed by God. No gift is too small. No act of love goes unnoticed. They all matter to God. And so, they all matter. Period.
So, let us place our faith in the only temple that matters: our crucified and risen Lord. And then let us share our faith and our hope and our love, making these the beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. And then let us see what God can build.With our faith and our hope and our love. I am sure it will be magnificent. Amen