Hold Fast!

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, 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?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and they will lead many astray. 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.  (Mark 13:1-8 NRSV)

April 19, 1995.  A day that lives in infamy for Oklahoman’s.

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building wasn’t the biggest or tallest building ever built.  However, it was large and lovely and imposing.  It spoke of permanency.  It felt solid.  No one ever dreamed that this building would some day be a pile of rubble.

We spent weeks watching our televisions.  The rescue attempts were followed by the search for the dead.  The rescue dogs became depressed because they had been trained to find live people and they found too many dead bodies.  The fire fighter who held a tiny child’s body in his arms is a picture we’ll never forget.  The endless interviews with the victims’ families and the ribbons and flowers on the fence surrounding the plaza.

For years we mourned the loss.  We watched the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.  When the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial was opened, we toured it with sadness, reliving that awful day, once again.  There’s an empty chair for each victim of the bombing.  Too many of the chairs represented the children.

The Murrah building wasn’t a patch on the temple in Jerusalem.   The Temple was a splendid structure, one of the greatest achievements of Herod the Great.  Its enormous marble stones were adorned with gold.  It wasn’t a mere building, but a sprawling structure of walkways, porches, balconies and grand stairways.  Herod built it to impress the wealthy and powerful leaders of the day.  He exceeded his own expectations.

There was no way that this building could come down.  Yet, Jesus vowed that it would be utterly flattened.  While the disciples gaze on it and feel its permanence and strength and security, Jesus sees it gone.  And it would come to pass in 70 C.E.

Later, only a few disciples come to him with the big question.  “When?”

Jesus doesn’t really answer that question.  He tells them what to look for:  False Messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, the rise and fall of empires, famines.

Nothing new about that.  I’ve lived through several wars and “police actions.”  I’ve witnessed threats of wars.  I can’t count the number of major weather events including Tsunami’s, hurricanes and super storms.  I’ve rejoiced at the fall of Berlin Wall.

And I know enough about history to understand what the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote when he said, “”A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” (1:4)  There’s nothing new under the sun.

So, thank you, Jesus.  But that wasn’t helpful.  Can’t you give us something clearer so we’ll know what to look for?

His answer is, “No.”

Oh.  What are we to do?

Hold fast.  Keep your eye on me, not on the downed building.  Keep your eye on God’s activity in history.

A few months after the Murrah Building bombing, I read and listened to stories shared.  One story resonates with me today, thanks to a book entitled, “Where Was God at 9:02 AM?” (by Robin Jones, Sandy Dengler [Thomas Nelson Publishers; October 1, 1995])

There was to be a convention of restaurateurs at the nearby convention center.  The exposition had brought in chefs and cooks to display their latest equipment and serve food samples.  After the bombing, these competitors teamed up and used their equipment and food to feed the victims and responders.

Hold fast.  Keep your eye on Jesus.

Even later, I learned that, after the clean-up, the emergency managers met with leaders from across the country to share what went well and what could have gone better.  For example, they discovered that cell phones weren’t a good way to communicate with the rescue teams because the cell towers were so jammed up.  Emergency plans were updated across the country and were in place on September 11, 2001.  Yes, the Murrah Building Bombing helped us respond more effectively on 9/11.

Keep your eyes on me, says Jesus.  View the wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes as the beginning of the birth pangs.  We’re still in the beginning.  We’re still in the yet and not yet of the kingdom of God.

We’re a global community.  That means we hear more news from the around the world than ever in the past.  We can literally watch war taking place on our TV’s.  Every bad thing going on in the world is available thanks to cable news, podcasts, network television and radio.  Instead of turning on the 5:00 news, we listen all day long.  Some reporters try to provide information as factually as possible, while others spice it up with spin and doom and gloom.

I grew up in Southern California.  A Saturday treat was a trip to beach.  One of our favorite games was watching the waves roll in and see how close they would come to our feet without touching them.  We’d step closer to the water and then jump back, giggling and laughing.  The waves were powerful.  Sometimes they were tall and we weren’t allowed to go swimming in them.  These waves would arrive taller than an average adult and pound on the shore as if angry at the shore for some unknown reason.  Yet, we believed that the ocean would only rise so far and would remain within its watery boundaries.  We trusted that the powerful waves could be treacherous but if we left them be no one would be hurt.

Than I learned about tsunamis.  A wall of water that couldn’t be stopped that moved on land like a beast.  People were killed and bodies lost.  Rebuilding takes years.  When we see the ocean today we know that it can leave its bounds and can do great and horrific harm.  And our trust level diminishes.  We’re fearful and wonder, Where is God?

For Oklahoman’s, God was present before, during and after.  I learned that big buildings can be brought down, just like the Temple in 70 C.E.  I learned that what humanity can do is pretty awesome and I also learned that God is even bigger than all this.

Most of all, I’ve come to understand that “God hasn’t called the Church to be spectators of global chaos.  Rather, we’re all called to be agents of love, healing, hope and justice over and against forces of evil and destruction.”

Bad things are happening.  Good people will make a difference.  God will have the final victory.  Until then, I choose to get back to work, trying to make my corner of the world a better place.  Will I succeed?  Not always.  Not everywhere.  I’ll fall short lots of times.  But, God doesn’t call us to be successful.  God calls us to be faithful.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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