Tag Archive: Temple


It’s Opposite Day!

This was the sermon I preached last Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in North Bethesda, MD for the Baptism of Our Lord.

Luke 3:15-17
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Luke 3:21-22 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

I have two brothers and when we were younger, like many children, we would make things up. We were very creative, probably much to my parents’ exhaustion, and we’d invent all kinds of games. One of the games we came up with was “opposite day.” It never lasted very long, but here’s how it usually went: one of us would say something like “I’ll play with you when we get home” and then, when the other person went to go play, the instigator would say something like “Haha! Its opposite day!,” dashing the other persons’ expectations to pieces. Not very nice, I know, but we liked to pick on each other.

Oddly enough, I see a similar thing happening in the Gospel reading for this morning. No, God isn’t playing tricks like my brothers and I did, but God does act contrary to our expectations. John the Baptist, who could have pretended to be the Messiah, instead identifies the Messiah as one who is far more powerful than himself. John goes as far as to say that he is not even fit to do the job of a slave – that of untying this coming one’s sandals. However, completely contrary to what everyone is expecting, Jesus is born into this world to a poor family. In this reading, he encounters John on the banks of the Jordan and he does not declare that he is the Messiah or the Christ, but rather, has John baptize him with water for the repentance of sins.

What?! This doesn’t make any sense at all! Jesus, God made flesh, goes to a man with long hair who eats locusts and honey in the desert to be baptized?! That’s absolutely astonishing. My question, however, is why? Why would the Messiah, the anointed one, need to be baptized? I think in order to understand this a bit better, we need to look at the picture Luke has already presented of Jesus. Jesus is born to a poor girl in a small village – he doesn’t come as a powerful, earthly king in radiant glory as everyone was expecting. It seems that God isn’t into living up to anyone’s expectations or pictures of how redemption will come into the world. Already, Luke has painted a picture of God working in unexpected ways – in ways often totally opposite of what is expected.

In addition, Luke’s Gospel includes many details about Jesus’ humanity and how he followed the Law and Jewish customs to a tee. According to Luke, Jesus was circumcised and named on the eighth day as was the custom, and he was presented at the Temple and dedicated to God according to the laws prescribed in Exodus. As he grew, Luke describes Jesus as becoming “strong and filled with wisdom.” In Jewish tradition, wisdom was something highly sought after. It was through wisdom that one could glimpse God and through wisdom that one could flourish in life. Still later, when Jesus was twelve, Mary, Joseph and Jesus devoutly head to Jerusalem for Passover as they did every year. After the festival, Joseph and Mary begin the trek back to Nazareth when they notice that Jesus is missing. He is found discussing and arguing with the teachers in the Temple – engaging in the study of the Torah and the faith of his ancestors.

Seeing how Jesus had become human and was living the life of a proper Jewish man, it seems a bit more fitting that Luke and the other Gospel writers would also show Jesus being baptized. At this time, ritual washings were seen as necessary to wash away impurities that would defile the Temple and cause separation from God. So, perhaps, baptism is not only something that Jesus would later command his followers to do, but also something that he has done in order to more fully identify with us. In addition to showing us that we are also to be baptized, the baptism of Christ is one more way of letting us know who Jesus is. The presence of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God declaring that Jesus is the beloved Son of God, with whom God is well-pleased, point the way like neon signs. The Holy Spirit and the voice indicate that Jesus is someone who shares a particularly special, intimate bond with God. Jesus already knew where he stood in relationship to God, the Father, but humanity did not. What could direct us more clearly than the heavens parting and a voice declaring who Jesus is? Once again, contrary to what we’d expect, the one who least needs a baptism for the repentance of sins does so anyway for our sake.

What remains shocking to me is how incredibly short this description of Jesus’ baptism is. Luke writes: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” Luke mentions the baptism, but it seems almost like an afterthought. Instead, the author seems to put more emphasis on Jesus’ prayer and what happens after the baptism. It is interesting that Jesus prays after his baptism because none of the other Gospels describe Jesus as doing so. I do wonder what he was praying about, but perhaps it had to do with what comes next – the sky opens and the Holy Spirit descends along with a voice saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It is only after Jesus’ prayer that the Holy Spirit and the voice are revealed.

A voice from the heavens?! That’s epic – straight out of a Hollywood movie! I know I have never heard the voice of God coming from the heavens! I would like to think that if I heard the unmistakable sound of God’s voice from above, I would be inclined to listen up! Sadly, as I begin to think about the voice of God more, I realize that maybe I wouldn’t listen, even if I did hear a voice from above. Maybe I haven’t been listening as well as I should and maybe, that’s an area where we all need to be paying more attention.

In seminary, we talk about our “call stories” – how we feel we’ve been called to various ministries and where we are in our journeys. I love hearing peoples’ stories because it reminds me that God is still speaking. Perhaps it’s not with a voice from above, but God is speaking through Scripture, prayer, the Sacraments, and even through the lives of ordinary, everyday people. After all, God worked through a man in a desert who felt he wasn’t good enough to untie Christ’s sandals in order to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God. Today, in the kind or comforting words of a friend during a difficult time, or even through a piece of music or art, we can hear God speaking to us. When I realize that, I cannot help but feel a rush of amazement and gratitude that God would choose to speak through you and me, however imperfect we are. Once again, God has chosen to work through unexpected mediums – through ways opposite of our expectations.

The other day, I caught the last half of Evan Almighty, the sequel to Bruce Almighty, on television. In this film, the main character, Evan Baxter, is chosen by God to become a modern day Noah. He is tasked with building an ark in our very own Washington, DC. As people mock and ridicule him and his family nearly gives up on him, a reporter asks, “Evan, what makes you so sure that God chose you?” His response floored me: “God chose all of us.” I was floored because there I was watching a comedy and yet, this amazing theological truth came through loud and clear. As we heard this morning in Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” God has called and claimed us. Is there any clearer expression of love?

God chose us when Jesus came into the world to live and teach among us. God chose us when Christ died on the cross for our sake and God chose us when in the Resurrection, Jesus defeated sin and death, leading the way for us to have eternal life with God. In baptism, God claims us, marks us with the cross of Christ and seals us with the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus’ baptism marked the beginning of his ministry, our baptisms mark the beginning of ours. We are called and claimed by God in order to do the work of “bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.” But how do we do that? That is where the voice of God comes in.

One of my favorite verses throughout my discernment process has been Isaiah 30:21: “And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” God is right here, right now, with us, guiding us along the way if we will only take the time to stop and listen. We have been given the gifts of the Scriptures, of prayer and conversation with others in the body of Christ in order to help us hear that voice, that word, guiding our way, showing us how we can take part in bringing about God’s kingdom on earth.

We can give thanks that God is still speaking to us and through us and we can look forward to discovering what God may be calling us to do. While we are daily remembering our baptisms and how God has lovingly claimed and filled us with the Holy Spirit, we can be carefully discerning how God is communicating with us. We just need to be open to the unexpected, surprising and often contrary ways God has of creatively reaching us.

You may think that God is only found in glory and not among the poor. You may think that you are not good enough to talk to or be of service to God. You may think that God has ceased talking to or through lowly sinners like you and me, but guess what? Its opposite day! AMEN.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Baptism of Jesus from the LA Cathedral (Also in My Home Congregation!)

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See ID

Mark 13:1-8
As he [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 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.

Has your identity ever been stolen? I haven’t had mine stolen, but I know of people who have had the distinct pleasure of having someone assume their identity. When that happens, it’s as if someone has run off with the essence of who we are. If someone steals our credit card and makes purchases in our name there is the chance that our credit score, finances, or even our very reputation will be ruined. While we create profiles for ourselves on websites like Facebook and MySpace, and share bits and pieces of ourselves with the world, if our name is pilfered, that’s another story.

In the text for today, Jesus also speaks about the importance of “what’s in a name.” He tells his disciples that many will come in his name and that they will lead people astray. Jesus is telling them that many will claim to be the Messiah, the one come to redeem the world. The first few centuries of the Common Era, when Mark’s contemporaries were hearing these words, were a confusing period filled with strife, struggle and hardship. Not only was the seemingly indestructible Temple dismantled, stone by stone by the Romans in 70 CE, but there were many other trials.

Playing off of peoples’ beliefs that Christ would be coming back very soon, there were many “pseudo-messiahs” and false teachers eager to step in to take Jesus’ place. In addition, the early church was plagued by internal conflicts over doctrine and right teaching, as well as by the external conflicts of persecution and even martyrdom. Life was confusing and not easy. Who could people believe or trust?

And what are we in the 21st century to do? In the midst of a recession, dealing with high unemployment rates, with wars and violence around the world, and plenty of people speaking false words of hope, Jesus’ words are incredibly timeless. Jesus does not want us to be taken in by all those things that might lead us astray: people telling us if we believe hard enough, we’ll make more money, or others saying if we send them money, we will be healed of our sicknesses and pains. He does not want us to put our trust in things like money or material objects, which, like the Temple, will crumble and pass away. Instead he urges us to put our hope and faith in him – the authentic and living Christ.

Picture it this way. Jesus is at the check-out in a store and as the cashier tells him the cost, he hands over his credit card. The back of the card says “See ID.” The cashier checks to make sure that he is indeed who he says he is and the transaction continues. Each of us is like the cashier seeking to check the ID of those people or things that would have us believe they are our saviors. We can use the tools of Scripture, prayer, discernment, and conversation with others in order to check the identification to see if those things are truly of God.

Although all the splendid things we have – cars, houses, money, electronics – will fade away like the Temple, in Christ, the living, indestructible temple, we have something solid to which to cling. I find it very telling that whereas a false teacher might seek to gain glory and to make a name on this earth, the one we are to follow is the one who submitted to death on a cross for our sake. In the crucified and resurrected Christ, we can look forward expectantly to the coming kingdom and reign of God, even in the midst of all our trials and pains. Perhaps if we looked at Christ’s ID, we would see the cross and the empty tomb.

Christ never said following him would be easy or free of struggle or strife. This text indicates quite the contrary, but Jesus does not leave us without hope. When we find ourselves being led astray, we can recall the comforting words of Jesus to the disciples: “do not be alarmed.” We have been given the gifts of Scripture, prayer and discernment in order to verify that we are on the right track. More importantly, we have been given the gift of Jesus Christ himself to illumine our way. Therefore, may we remember the word of hope that God gives to us each and every day in the authentic, living word, Jesus Christ. Amen.

© 2009. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Mark 13:1-8
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 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.

“Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down. 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.” Whoa! That’s some text, isn’t it? I picture the disciples walking through Jerusalem as the city is hustling and bustling in preparation for Passover. I imagine it almost as if they’re on vacation, taking in the sights and atmosphere of the great city. Then they spy the Temple, and, even though they had just been in it, it still takes their breath away. The Temple was known as one of the most beautiful buildings in the Roman Empire and for good reason, too. It was constructed with walls of imposing masonry which enclosed a huge area. Topping these walls was an expansive platform, supported by massive piers, some as large as forty feet long, by twelve feet high, and eighteen feet wide.

The Royal Porch of the Temple had a row of Corinthian pillars each standing thirty-seven and a half feet high and made out of one solid block of marble a piece. From a distance, the Temple was said to look like snow since it was stark white in some places and gilt in glittering gold in others. It must have been a truly amazing sight to see.

So, with all this in mind, we hear of one of the disciples in naïve excitement pointing out this architectural wonder to Jesus, admiring the magnificent structure. However, Jesus’ response is not the one they were expecting. He’s not taken in by the imposing and impressive sight. Instead, Jesus tells them the great, towering Temple will be utterly destroyed. At this point, I can just see the disciples turning to stare at Jesus with mouths hanging wide open, complete shock enveloping their faces. How on earth could such a thing ever happen?

After the disciples have heard Jesus’ powerful words, they ask him to explain when all these things will happen and what the sign will be that all of this is taking place. Doesn’t that sound familiar? How often do we, like those first disciples, ask for signs or wish know that we’re making the right decision, or what will happen if we do certain things? I know this is especially true when I make major decisions in my life or when I’m standing at a crossroad and I imagine it’s the same for you as well. We want to know how things will turn out and what exactly is around the bend.

And what of the apocalyptic warnings in today’s reading? In the first centuries, early Christians believed that they were living in the last days. Examining the history, it’s not difficult to see why they believed this. The first few centuries of the Common Era were a period filled with strife, struggle and hardship. As Jesus had declared and Mark’s contemporaries experienced, there were wars between the Jews and Romans, and in 70 CE, the Romans burned the incredible Temple and then dismantled a great portion of it, stone by stone.

Playing off of peoples’ beliefs that Christ would be coming back very soon, there were many “pseudo-messiahs” and false teachers eager to step in to take Jesus’ place. In addition, the early church was plagued by internal conflicts over doctrine and right teaching, as well as by the external conflicts of persecution and even martyrdom. Life was not easy.

Things certainly looked bleak and that must have been exactly what the disciples were thinking, because Jesus tells them, “do not be alarmed.” Actually, this phrase in the original Greek can also mean “do not be frightened,” or “do not be troubled” or, even, “do not be disturbed.” In fact, the form of the verb used in the Greek implies “do not continue being frightened.” I hear in Jesus’ words incredible reassurance and hope. Moving from these words, however the next phrase is troubling again; Jesus says “but the end is still to come.” So, there is going to be an end, but the wars, false prophets, and the destruction of the Temple are not it. Jesus continues to explain that the earthquakes and famines aren’t the end either. No, Jesus states, all of these things – natural disasters, famines, wars, false teachers – are only the beginnings of the birth pangs.

I hear the last words in this passage and I recall The Wizard of Oz, my favorite movie as a child. The Scarecrow, while walking with his companions in the woods, utters one line that pops into my head when I hear Christ’s words to the disciples. The Scarecrow says, “of course, I don’t know, but I think it’ll get darker before it gets lighter.” In other words, things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better.

Just as birth pangs are a part of birth and necessary before a beautiful child enters the world, Jesus explains that trials and hardships will mark the disciples’ way before things become better. Patience, endurance, persistence and faith must mark their lives; they should not be troubled or distressed, or be thrown into panic when all the world seems a frightful mess.

So is this passage just about Jesus telling his disciples to hang in there when things are difficult in the beginning centuries of the church? I don’t think so. I think it is appropriate that we hear this text as the days grow shorter and colder, when the landscape is beginning to look bleak and barren. Simultaneously, however, this is also the time leading up to Advent when we will await the coming light of Christ shining in the darkness to illumine our way. Therefore, I hear Christ’s words as encouragement for our lives today. In the midst of a recession, dealing with high unemployment rates, with wars and violence around the world, and other struggles, Jesus’ words are incredibly timeless. Like the first disciples, we are to be persistent and full of faith, not fearing anything the world might throw at us, but trusting that God is in control, no matter how out of control the world seems to spin. God is far bigger than all that might threaten us. It is in these times of trial that our faith is tried and sometimes shaken, but it is also through these difficult times that we have some of the most amazing opportunities for spiritual growth.

In these times, when our faith is shaken and we can’t seem to see the next step, we stand at the foot of the cross and call on God. For me, some of the most difficult, frustrating and painful things I have encountered in my life have driven me to God’s arms and strengthened my faith in ways times of comfort could not have. In the most strenuous times, it’s as if all pretense is stripped away and I am able to be most honest with God, which draws me nearer to Him.

Although all the splendid things we have – cars, houses, money, electronics – will fade away or crumble like the Temple, in Christ, the living, indestructible temple, we have something solid to which to cling. In the crucified and resurrected Christ, we can look forward expectantly to the coming kingdom and reign of God, even in the midst of all our trials and pains.

This promise is made especially clear to us in baptism in which we die with and are raised again to new life in Jesus Christ. Through baptism, we who are fallen, sinful and broken, much like the Temple, have been redeemed and made whole. In baptism, we receive God’s amazing promise that the Holy Spirit will sustain us and we are marked with the cross of Christ, sealing us as God’s children forever. Through baptism into the body of Christ, we become the new Temple, the place in which God dwells. In this new baptismal identity, we are encouraged and strengthened to take up our cross and follow Christ.

It is with the promises of God made to us in baptism, recalled daily, and nourished through Holy Communion that we face the trials of this world. As we encounter these difficulties head on, we look forward with anticipation to the day when the kingdom of God will break onto the scene, ushering in a new age of mercy, peace and justice. Whereas today we may only catch fleeting glimpses of this kingdom in the kindness of friends and strangers, in joyful communion with those around us, or in incredible stories of generosity and love, the day is coming when these glimpses will be the norm.

So when we find ourselves in difficult situations or when we are faced with obstacles that seem insurmountable, we can recall the promises God has made to us in baptism and the comforting words of Jesus to the disciples: “do not be troubled.” Yes, there will be troubles, pain and suffering – there always have been. However, it is important to remember that before pain and death were, God was. One day, the kingdom of God will be realized, bringing with it magnificent joy and a splendor far greater than any man-made Temple could offer. Looking forward to that day, then, may we remember the word of life and the word of hope that God gives to us each and every day. Amen.

© 2009. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Hymn: “Lead On, O King Eternal”:

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