Looking Within

Looking Within

Mark 13:1-8

13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what magnificence, what large stones and what large buildings!” The dimensions for the Temple of Jerusalem were staggering:  460 meters to the east, 315 m to the north, 280 m to the south, and the western wall was 485 meters long. The walls above ground rose up some 30 meters (ten stories tall), with foundations as deep as 20 meters in some places in order to reach bedrock. At a time when there were no high-rise structures it’s sheer ‘rising-up’ enormity must have been staggering! And as for those ‘large’ stones? I remember standing alongside one exposed giant foundational stone which is 13.55 metres (44.5 ft) long and 3.3 metres (11 ft) high. They don’t know how deep it is because it’s hidden within the wall but some guess anywhere between 2.5m – 16m (up to 50ft) and with a weight of up to 600 tonnes – that’s over 1.3m lbs! “Look, Teacher, they had said what large stones and what large buildings. Clearly, they were entitled to be impressed.

But Jesus seemed unmoved. Not, I suspect, because he didn’t think of the temple as a marvel of human engineering ingenuity, but because he was identifying this interaction with the disciples as another precious teaching moment! “Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” He was referring to what happened with the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD – as the Roman Caesar Titus Vespasian ordered the destruction of all the city including the temple. What we now know as the ‘Wailing Wall’ is just a part of the eastern foundation base on which that once very grand temple stood. More than just prophesying about the awful event that was to come, Jesus was drawing their attention – and our attention as we read this scripture – to a far greater universal truth – true for people of every faith. I’m not sure the disciples were able properly to get it though, because we’re told that they wanted more information. In verse 3 we read that, later: … Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” They were wanting to know more. Instead of giving them a straight answer Jesus chose to take them – and us all – so very much deeper into the question…

Surely it must begin to emerge if not for them, then for us, he isn’t speaking about the destruction of just one physical building so much as about something so very much more profound: …the ending of one whole way of understanding our existence and the dawning of a whole new way of thinking/ living/ being/ perceiving.

And then Jesus stressed how easy it is to be tempted/ lured into settling for so much less than what God intends. … “Beware that no one leads you astray. He warned. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and they will lead many astray. Our role is both not to led astray and not to be among those leading others astray!

With the raising of Lazarus a few weeks ago, we spoke of the role of all the saints being to help ‘all recently called out stumbling cadavers’ like us to get out of the grave clothes that are still keeping us entombed/ less than ourselves.

Jesus is warning that not everyone does that. He is warning that we must be prepared to face those influences in our lives that while they may seem to be in Jesus’ name and to be about God’s business, are just not helpful, dragging us back, down, and away from all the awesome freedom that God intends. Yes, we are to appreciate our surroundings, but we are to avoid being so captivated, seduced, by whatever is pointing us to just the obvious/ given/ superficial, that we lose all sense of what’s most real! It’s only by our coming to see through the lesser things of what’s most apparent that we can embrace the better things of what’s most real.

We’re talking about the presence of God’s holiness in all things – the ubiquitous grace of God’s being everywhere present in Christ – which is always bigger/ better/ deeper than any of our self-constructions, however impressive those self-constructions may appear to be. This is such a profound point! I feel that I am only just beginning to get my head around it!

It applies to how we may come to see everything: from our health, all our relationships… and it applies to our faith, or lack of it. As we begin to look deeper like that, what we may so often think of as a loss of faith, can be the beginning of our losing faith in ‘all this’ as being all that there is. All of ‘this’ begins may begin to be exposed as being ‘not enough’.

How have you ever experienced that, when what, like that temple – once so impressive, so easy to believe – began to fade as new questions start to emerge? When that starts to happen with our faith, well, that can be us not necessarily losing anything, but beginning to grow – but it may feel as if we are losing something! That could be us moving from (1) the certitude of small believing where we think we know everything, to (2) doubting those small beliefs as we begin to question what we once held dear and were so sure of, only to be (3) given a far deeper and truer knowing which leaves space for all sorts of holy Christ-filled mystery and wonder…

Jesus was contrasting finite seeing with what we can call God’s ‘spiritual seeing’. ‘Look beyond what is most obvious’ Jesus is saying to them. ‘You want to be impressed? Of course these buildings are grand, but please, don’t stop at just the superficial things of your world. Look deeper. Look within! And be impressed by THAT!That’s what the previously blind Bartimaeus got to do as he was given to see! As what the previously doubting Thomas came to confess after his encounter with the risen Christ! Back in Gen.28, it’s what Jacob came to know after his vision of an open heaven and earth with angels moving back and forth…he anointed the very rock on which he had been sleeping – as he realised how all of this is holy, he said BETHEL! It’s all the place of God!!!

All ‘simple seeing’ requires is that we see simplistically: God is in heaven, remote and all-powerful. We are down here where we experience all sorts of obvious physical things judging them to be good, bad, shocking, disappointing, whatever… As a result of our conclusions, we get to be discouraged! Or we get cheered up! Or disgusted! Impressed!

We also get to call on God who, our ‘simple seeing’ tells us is ‘out there’, whenever we need some sense of God’s holiness to ‘show up’ in our lives: perhaps to ask for help, or to express gratitude etc. Jesus Christ is understood simply as something between God-out-there and us-down-here – a go-between!

‘Spiritual seeing’ allows us to look deeper, we get to see ‘incarnationally: We get to see God isn’t somewhere else, ‘up there’ remote, waiting outside our world to be worshipped or summoned into our lives from time to time as we look up, but as always right here, in us, actually in all our relationships, in nature, everywhere. This everywhere, always deeply mysterious, beautiful miracle of Emmanuel! Spiritual seeing is about our ability to know, see, own Christ as with us right here: sometimes looking like a gardener sitting anonymously outside a garden tomb, or, as a sick prisoner waiting to be visited, someone hungry or thirsty, waiting for food and drink,  a stranger to be welcomed, someone naked, needing to be clothed. A beaten-up traveller needing to be card for by us as Good Samaritans. An excessively extravagant prodigal father welcoming entirely delinquent children like us, home!

Its about our being given to see deeply into everyone and everything and come to appreciate it all in its fullnessnot just as something to be used, or abused, or ignored, but truly to be appreciated, even revered. Isn’t that what we find so utterly captivating about being in nature, when we are able to take the time properly to go there…?[i]

And so, NO! Jesus is saying to those disciples. Don’t ever become so captivated by the stones – even the ‘mighty stones’ of whatever we may be allowing ourselves to be consumed by – be prepared to look beyond, to look within, for that’s where the truth is!

The outside of everything is simply the outside of everything however magnificent or even disgusting it may be. Don’t get stuck there. Go inside!

The disciples’ reaction to that very impressive temple structure is presented to us as a model of how we allow our vision of everything – ourselves/ others/ of all creatures/ even creation itself – to be too quickly limited simply to what and how it most superficially appears to us to be! We take our quick looks and decide whether to praise, attack, dismiss or ignore. Jesus’ insistence is that we come to embrace an appreciation of what’s always contained within – to sense the potential – the soul – the truest most real essence of everything – because THAT’S where we will always find the holiest of our incarnate Christ.

Yes, it’s sometimes obvious, but it’s also sometimes seriously hard to see, may perhaps even seem to us to be already dead. Thank God, as they say, ‘the dead Jesus in the tomb is also always potentially the risen Christ!’ And THAT’S the hope of what we want most to resonate with us! But we should make no mistake, the second part of our reading stresses that our going there – making that transition – is not to be without trauma.  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. 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.

We’re not going to spend time unpacking these highly provocative verses other than to notice how our living into a deeper appreciation of Christ’s reality is what is elsewhere described as coming to live into an awareness of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven! That requires our willingness to let go of familiar predictable mindsets that do not look much beyond the superficial.

As we do so, well, it can be pretty much as discombobulating as having the temple walls of our entire worlds come crashing down – shaken in all the graphic ways that Jesus describes! But may they be shaken by fresh awareness, a fresh and growing realisation of all the beauty of what always actually already is!

Dear God, we would not be caught always only ever reacting to what is superficial!

Help us to see and to respond what’s most real – to see beyond!
To see what you see! Because, however it may shake us up,
I think we are starting to realise how THAT’S the only reality
we do want most to notice/ to be defined by/ and to live!

May it be so, in Jesus’ Name
Amen


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[i] I’ve spoken often about Quaker Parker Palmer and his image of the inner essence (or soul) of everything which he describes as a wild animal – it bears repeating…I’m paraphrasing of course… ‘If you want to become aware of the soul of anything – yourself, anyone or anything –  he teaches, we need to be prepared to become quiet, be still, look deeper beyond what is always immediately most obvious…