Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Today we find Jesus with the disciples just outside Jerusalem gazing at the Temple. Jesus predicts that it will be torn to the ground. He then goes on with this “apocalyptic” reflection about what life will be like when the Temple is razed.
What Jesus is doing here is giving the disciples a path through the horror; he is trying to plant their feet firmly upon the foundation of God, as the only way to survive (and maybe even thrive) in the midst of all hell breaking loose.
We get this slang version from Eugene Peterson’s translation done to highlight the Bible’s cohesive narrative in modern prose. If you like the way it reads put The Message on your Christmas list.
Now this firm foundation that Jesus was trying to set his disciples upon was grounded in an identity stronger and deeper than that of the Temple. The fundamental question he was trying to help the disciples come to term with was: “Who are you without the Temple?”
That is what I want to talk about today, identity, because we too are living in a time of radical transition. All hell is breaking loose today just like it was 2000 years ago.
Now when I say all hell is breaking loose that is not to say we are experiencing war, or famine, or starvation, or natural disaster in any greater quantity than times past; because I do not know if that is true. What this does mean, however, is that the foundation, then and again now, of human identity is being radically challenged as it is being fundamentally reformatted.
“Who are the disciples without the Temple?” was more than a question of practical concern. It was a deep, existential question about identity and purpose and relationships. And what the disciples experienced then, we are experiencing now.
I am no prophet, but Joachim of Fiore was, and I believe he had important insight about the patterns of existential identity crisis that humanity moves through on our way to meet the Second Coming of Jesus.
“Who is Joachim of Fiore?” you ask. I’m glad you did. I have been finding out through these EP3 conversations that the congregation is rather unfamiliar with this 12th century Italian monk. I know! I was surprised as well. I even tried pronouncing his name slowly….Joachim of Fiore.
Joachim founded an order of monks inspired by his eschatological prophecy that claimed in the span of human engagement with the Triune God there are three eras: the age of the Father; the age of the Son; and the age of the Holy Spirit. They are divided into 2000-year increments, and after they have been lived through humanity will be ready for the Second Coming of Jesus.
You may or may not be as enamored with Joachim as I am, but here is why his work is important–it explains why we are in a time of existential identity shift, and it also gives structure to the church as we seek our place (indeed our role really) in this new age of the Holy Spirit. So, let me review Joachim’s prophecy and then add my own twist.
The age of the Father began with Abraham, 4000 years ago. The age of the Son with Jesus, 2000 years ago. And the age of the Holy Spirit is unfolding now.
Here is what I found super interesting as I reflected upon these different ages; each was ignited by a stunning technological innovation driven by economic ambition. And the technology developed led to a particular revelation about the Kingdom of God.
So, for example, the age of the Father was marked by the invention of writing developed in response to the economic necessity of accounting for excess crops and keeping track of trade. As trading increased and traders began to move around in great numbers, they came to see that their gods who they once located in mountains, trees, or ponds, moved as well. And this insight that God moved, led to the revelation that there is only One, Universal God. And they wrote this down and passed it on.
Now over time, humanity’s insights about the reality of God became corrupted. We see this with the Temple that Jesus is talking to the disciples about today. The Temple was made to house this one God that moves around; which, of course, is exactly the opposite response to the reality of the God that is everywhere.
And this provokes the second era Joachim predicted-the age of the Son. The technology that ignited this era was the Roman roads. Like with writing, this technology was developed for economic reasons, but the Kingdom of God insight it revealed (over the next 2000 years) is that humanity is one people, one family, right down to our DNA. The mass movement of people along these roads led to this insight.
And so, writing revealed to us one God; the Roman roads gave us one humanity; which leads us to the age of the Holy Spirit, and the new technology of the Internet. And with this innovation will come a new revelation about the Kingdom of God. I’m not sure exactly what that will be, but what I do know, is that as we transition from the era of the Son to the era of the Holy Spirit, it feels like all hell is breaking loose.
And that hell will not be about fire and war and famine, though these things will be prominently highlighted; rather, it will be about identity, and the big existential questions…Who Am I? Who is God? Who is my neighbor? And how are all of these things in relationship with each other?
Which brings us back to today’s reading and the wisdom of Jesus. He reminds us that it is God, and not whatever temple we worship, that is our firm foundation. He reminds us that our identity is attached to the deep, true, unchanging reality of God. And the way we affirm and attach to this truth, when it seems like all hell is breaking loose, is through prayer; it is through prayer; it is through prayer.
Eugene Peterson in The Message captures it this way: “Don’t let the sharp edge of your connection get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise the day will catch you like a thief. You’ll be unprepared. And you mustn’t be. Plant your feet in God through prayer.” (adjusted & paraphrased)
Dullness – that is the temptation to acquiesce to lethargy and simplicity and anti-intellectual sloth in times of existential identity angst…Dullness, as in to dull the senses and dull the mind.
Prayer is the antidote to dullness. Prayer enlivens the mind and quickens the heart. Prayer calls us to alertness toward how things really are in the present moment.
And so, let me put a challenge before you this Advent…Consider spending as much time in prayer as you spend shopping. I’m not even adding drinking and partying here…just shopping. Let your shopping life be tethered to your prayer life and observe. I wonder if you won’t find a new alacrity in your heart.
But here is the other thing I invite you to consider this Advent…look for one coming in the clouds. Let me explain by sharing a story: I’m at the dentist getting a tooth capped the other day. And as I’m lying there I overhear my dental hygienist talking about her walk that morning. She lives near me, so I was familiar with the area she was talking about. Well, anyway, she starts talking about running into James outside Mont’s Market as he was waiting for the doors to open.
She goes on to say that James has been living on that corner for years, having been homeless since he was 14. The people at Mont’s give him breakfast every day.
And I’m like- I know who she is talking about. That is the guy the kids call Peace, because he stands at the intersection by Mont’s giving everyone the peace sign. I have run past him 100 times, maybe more, and I’ve never taken a second to stop and get to know him. And here is my dental hygienist on the same route I take, and she’s taken the time to find out his name and to hear his story.
4000 years ago, as the technology of writing came into being, the age of the Father unfolded, and what we came to see that is there is one God.
2000 years ago, as the technology of the Roman roads became a dominant force, the age of the Son unfolded, and what we learned over time is that humanity is one.
Now we are moving into the age of the Holy Spirit. The technology is the Internet. What it will reveal to us about God and creation and ourselves is as yet unknown.
But what we do know, right now, is that we are in that place in the cycle where it feels like all hell is breaking loose. Dullness is the temptation we face.
Jesus’s advice remains true: Plant your feet on the firm foundation of God through prayer. Stand straight. Be alert. The response to all hell breaking loose is the alacrity of prayer.
But to further unwrap our minds and hearts from the dullness draped over us by simple shallow things like partisan politics, and too many parties, and the pursuit of prestige, and the limpness of video games, pro sports or too much shopping is to hear the story of your neighbor.
Because two paths are merging for us to walk upon, two paths coming together that will guide us thorough the horrors, securely, maybe in a way that we thrive. One is the foundation set upon God, deeper than any foundation that is, that we meet through prayer, and hearing the story of our neighbors.
This is how we thrive, in times of significant, even existential change.