And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Ange and I have had a crap week.
I know that’s not a great way to begin a sermon, and I’m not only saying this as an excuse for saying, ‘sorry, but you’re getting a crap sermon’, but the truth is that we have had a crap week.
It began really with Marrickville Council rejecting our application for a street mall in our local shopping area, and it wasn’t the fact that the application was rejected that was so upsetting, but why and how that rejection came about. Much to our shock, a smear campaign was run to oppose the development and some outrageous lies were told, and it seems that at the heart of the problem were some wealthy landowners in our area who thought that a free mall area for the elderly and economically disadvantaged might be bad for business.
That was a very disillusioning experience.
That experience kicked off the week, and it was followed by a series of painful situations in the parish – of illness and abuse and of that rather unhelpful woman who got on to our online forum and posted a series of smutty and sleazy attacks on Ange as well as myself – spreading poison around our online community.
And then I got the news that ASIO wants to deport my friend, Sheikh Mansour, for reasons that they will not divulge – not to him, not to his legal team, not to anybody – not even to the High Court!
And so I reach the end of the week and I read this passage, that speaks of the coming of the end – the impending violence, the great and terrible battle when ‘not one stone will be left upon another’ – and I think, ‘bring it on, baby!’ Let’s get this stoush into the open!
Now, of course, this is fundamentally a prophecy about the destruction of the temple, and the temple referred to was destroyed by the Romans way back in 67 AD. But as the passage evolves, the war over temple is seen merely as the beginning of a series of clashes, where one battle merges into another, and the temple crisis becomes a sort of prelude to the great and final stoush that will conclude human history as we know it and usher in the world to come
Armageddon is the main event, to which all the other bouts featured are just a part of the under-card. This final bout, which we are all waiting for, has not yet taken place, though you pick up in the passage that there’s a fair bit of anticipation about exactly when this great and final punch-up is going to start!
It reminds me a lot of the speculation that went on for years about the Green-Mundine fight, that finally took place in May of last year – certainly the greatest pugilistic event that I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of.
Even if you weren’t there on the night, I’m sure you remember it. And even if you don’t remember the fight itself, you will surely remember the lead-up to the great event, from the time that Jeff Fenech first challenged Mundine to a winner-take-all knock-em-down stoush, to the time when the match finally came together about three years later!
One of my most vivid memories of my time in Israel in 2004 was standing outside Ashkelon Prison, waiting for the release of my friend, Morde Vanunu. There I was, standing with a small group of peace activists, both Israelis and internationals, surrounded by an enormous mob of angry antagonists, screaming for Morde’s blood (and with ABC’s Foreign Correspondent crew).
And there we stood for hours and hours as heavily armed men swarmed around us and choppers flew overhead, in an atmosphere that you could cut with a knife and during this time, what do you think the two Australian members of the international peace contingent were discussing with our Israeli counterparts – who would win the Green-Mundine fight!
And yet it was another two years after that event that the battle actually took place. And we herded into Aussie Stadium, and we waded through the preliminary bouts, and then we waited forever for the two men to finally be ready, and then we watched as two great processions made their way out of the dressing rooms, across the field, with flags unfurled and title belts held high – the image of the boxing kangaroo, waving in the breeze, fast moving towards both the Aboriginal flag and the flag of the Torres Straight Islands, proudly held aloft.
And finally the two were at centre ring. And then we watch them limber up and we listen to the announcer and we stand for the national anthem and we wait an eternity for that bell to ring … and finally … it was on!
“Jesus said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.”
It is frustrating – waiting, waiting for the final stoush to start, but in a sense, as with the Green-Mundine fight, the battle really started a long time ago, and what we’re looking for is not so much the time when it’s all going to start, but for the time when this long and drawn-out struggle is going to be resolved!
I mentioned our brother, Morde Vanunu. Some of you may not know the latest. Morde was released from prison in April 2004 after spending 18 years in gaol for the crime of blowing the whistle on his government by telling the world about the secret stockpile of nuclear weapons they had hidden under the Negev desert. Morde was released, though under certain conditions, including a prohibition on him leaving the country, which is his heart’s desire.
In July this year Morde was sentenced to a further six months in gaol for breaking another of his‘release conditions’ by talking to the foreign media (so much for freedom of speech) and the appeal against this latest sentence was meant to be heard this week – last Tuesday to be exact – but has been postponed until January.
Morde is one of three friends of mine who I believe have been shafted by the legal system this week. I mentioned Sheikh Mansour earlier, who lost his High Court appeal this week, and what is outrageous in that case, in my view, is that his appeal was not over whether he was an appropriate person to have in the country, but rather over a point of law. It was over whether Mansour had the right to a fair trial! And the answer he received from the Hight Court was that, because he was not an Australian citizen, he did not have the right to a fair trial!
Security concerns apparently override justice concerns in this country now, thanks to new emergency powers given to ASIO – powers that seem surprisingly similar to those exercised by the Gestapo in Nazi Germany, and hardly appropriate for a democracy, one would have thought!
My other friend who has been shafted by the system this week is an Islander buddy who has, admittedly, spent a lot of his life inside, but who has really been trying hard to make a go of it since he was released earlier this year.
What happened was that he was picked up about a month ago – more on suspicion of involvement in a misdemeanour than on any real evidence of wrongdoing, and he’s been waiting for a hearing to clear himself.
In the meantime, of course, while he awaits a hearing, he’s been put back in gaol, and from there he’s trying to organise a legal defence, though he doesn’t really have any money to hire a decent lawyer. So I’ve been trying to work with his partner, who has been trying to get back money that is owed to them, but she’s finding that his friends are more interested in sexually harassing her than repaying her any money, and the lawyer has been adopting a ’no dough, no show’ policy, and so his appeal this week didn’t happen but has been put back till after Christmas, and I don’t think that these people really have any idea of the damage they are causing, but I don’t suspect that they really care anyway.
Now you’ll forgive me, I hope, for being so specific about my frustrations this week, but there’s a point to all this sharing, and it is this: When Jesus speak of the great stoush that is to come, he’s not trying to introduce some foreign concept – some surprise event that’s coming in from left field. He’s talking about the culmination of all our existing conflicts – the final round of that battle that has been raging since the beginning of human history, and that we are already all involved in up to the hilt!
The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem is a part of this. ȁWhen you hear of wars and insurrections” He says, “do not be terrified” for that is all a part of it too (vs. 10). These things will all happen before we reach the final round.
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, … famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents …” etc. and that is all a part of it too. And you guys are going to have a real hard time of it (summarising vs. 12-18), but that’s all a part of this great spiritual battle that has been raging since the beginning of history too.
We take on the forces of darkness in whatever area of the battlefield God has placed us, and maybe we’re confronting legal corruption, or maybe it’s a politicalify> problem, or maybe it’s a relationship breakdown, or maybe you’ve got your hands full today just struggling with the darkness within your own soul, but it’s all related, as one battle flows seamlessly into the next, and all this struggle has to happen, and it’s all a part of the lead-up to the main event.
And how we yearn for that final stoush to start! And I can tell you, in the fight game at least, that waiting period is just as frustrating for the fighter as it is for the spectator, if not more so. My fights weren’t quite of the Green-Mundine magnitude of course, but just being able to switch on the TV during the day and see your opponent talking about what he was going to do to you that night, and the training, the publicity, the build-up, and the year you spend in the dressing room, waiting for them to tell you that it’s your turn to come out. And it’s not until the leather finally hits your face that you know it’s truly on!
We yearn for that day, when the bell goes for the beginning of the final round, and leather meets face, and we know it’s truly on – not because it’s going to be pretty (as Napoleon said, “the field of glory is never a pretty place”), and not because we enjoy violence, but because we yearn for the day when the great battle for the cosmos will be resolved – for the day when men will beat their swords into plough shears and study war no more, for the day when the lion and the lamb will lie down in peace with each other and in peace with all creation, for that day when love will truly reign, when the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
One final funny thing I thought I’d share with you: on the night before one of my own fights I always found it very hard to sleep, but my way of getting myself to sleep was to tell myself, ‘by the time you put your head on the pillow tomorrow night, your fight will be over. You’ll be carrying a few more bruises, for sure, but your fight will be over, and you’ll be able to relax’, and that itself would relax me (and the next night I’d always sleep like a babe)!
We can’t put a simple timeline on the spiritual battle like that. Indeed, Jesus warns us here and elsewhere about getting too specific about when exactly the bell for the final round is going to sound, but I think we’ll hear it loud and clear when the time comes.
In the meantime we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that that day will come when we can lay down our heads in peace, knowing that the battle is over and has been won – knowing that pain and injustice have lost their hold on this world and that love has conquered and the Christ is all in all.
We know that that day will come. That knowledge gives us strength to endure.
First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, November 2007.