Last week someone introduced me to the phenomenon of what they called `De-Caff Christianity`. It`s like de-caff Coffee. It tastes like the real thing- but it doesn`t keep you awake at night.
I want to suggest this morning that one sign of `authenticity` in faith- is this sense in which it keeps you awake. It`s when you sense that you are hearing and engaging with things which keep you slightly on edge.
I`m speaking figuratively, of course. I`m not referring to anxiety or worry.
I think it`s what lies behind those occasions when Christ exhorts us to `watch“ to `stay awake`- all of which are strong themes in the Gospel of Mark.
I`m referring to that tendency of Christ to say things which initially seem inexplicable. To say the sharp thing.
The thing that makes you sit up.
The thing that can sound so unworldly, or impractical that you feel you must have miss-heard. And so you pretend I was a bad translation from the ancient Greek which the scholars will sort out- or you put it into that category labelled- `for the enthusiasts` or the `seriously religious`.
And Christ has a tendency to do this-
Often we forget that whilst for instance-WE may derive huge comfort from his words `I am the bread of life`. On the day he first uttered them- hundreds of his disciples walked off in disgust.
And so this morning we hear of Jesus leaving the Temple with his disciples. What begins as an innocent remark from these wide-eyed boys from Galilee – “Look teacher, what large stones and what huge buildings”
brings the response from Jesus: ‘Do you see these great buildings?
Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’
No wonder a delegation comes to Jesus to try and find out what he was getting at. And of course he wasn`t referring to a secret plan to replace it all with a multi-story car-park.
Of course, Jesus is cautioning the disciples about the headlong journey to destruction of the people of Israel. This came about in AD70 when the Romans raised the Temple to the ground.
A profoundly shocking act which is felt even today.
But the simple demolition of the Temple is in one sense beside the point.
Jesus, it seems to me, is going to the heart of our feelings about the permanence of things. `You see these buildings`: he says
And we think- `Something that large;
Something that breathtakingly beautiful surely represents a sense of achievement; something lasting; something that will endure.
But then maybe you`ve had the experience of returning somewhere you visited in your youth- perhaps your old your home town or whatever. And you discover for instance, that your old school or a familiar landmark has been turned into a shopping centre or whatever.
So many things that seemed so permanent, reveal themselves in the end to be transitory after all. This is depressing for some. Frightening for others.
For the list goes on. The redundancy. The bereavement. We have all manner of experiences which shake us to the foundations. And they do so I one sense because we have been formed in a way that means this is where we get our bearings. Seeking permanence in that person, thing or institution is, so often, how we get our bearings in the world. We`ve been taught to tear down our barns and build greater ones. To accumulate the insurance policies, trust funds, pension plans and social circles that will create security, permanence and endurance. And people`s lives are lauded in endless funeral eulogies for having been able to do this. To create things and institutions that will be in some sense permanent.
And in those times when things do come crashing down- we accordingly blame the almighty for failing to prevent it- or for not giving us a hand in the first place
AS IF this was his job.
AS IF it`s his place to join us in this `creating of permanence`.
But evidently not.
The man who tore down his barns to build greater was called a fool.
And maybe with good reason.
What should keep us awake at night is to hear Christ saying:
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8.35)
What should keep us on edge is noting the way Christ talks not of creating monuments- but bearing fruit- “FRUIT- that will last”.
What should give us pause for thought is the way all our dabbling in the housing market is given a different perspective by the Son of man who has “nowhere to lay his head”.
And the scriptures which call us “aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2.11)
and tell us that here we have “no lasting city”. (Hebrews 13.14)
No, in our Gospel today Christ gives us a picture of faith lived out in the midst of huge change. Where he acknowledges the inclination to worry; to be led astray by many siren voices.
But I think we`re getting the point- we`re engaging with him when we marvel at his clear sighted realism about what will really endure. And even more so when he describes these things WE regard as tumultuous as `birth-pangs`.
As signs of God doing a new thing.
This is SO much easier said than done.
This is SO much harder to grasp when the changes involve our community,
our church, our family or all manner of things that we value;
that we rely on or provide us with a sense of security.
But this is where we come to learn the meaning of `faith`.
And there`s no getting away from it We lie awake at night worrying about stuff- What`s the good of this whole notion of faith- if it isn`t engaging with that. With those moments where we are most ourselves mulling over what we have come to REALLY rely on. Where our treasure is…..
This is where the Scriptures can be such encouragement to us. This is where to turn when we`ve been lying awake at night concerned that this Christianity business isn`t providing the comfort blanket or `easier` life that was promised in the shop.
And this is where this season of All Saints invites us to find our source of inspiration.
You see, their testimony is to the abiding faithfulness of God.
The speak of his provision- for example- in the wilderness times.
His liberation- from captivity and so on.
And we hear accounts of the people of faith who have gone before us- and their warts and all struggles to keep the faith amidst what the prayer calls “the changes and chances of this fleeting world”.
And what they show us are lives caught up in God`s purposes. They are often perplexed and struggling to understand what he`s doing- just like those young disciples outside the Temple.
But when this is our experience, I`m suggesting that this is a sign that we`re engaging with the real thing- not the De-Caff variety of faith.
And in God`s good time we shall be content with planting seeds and bearing fruit rather than creating monuments.