Mark wrote a fiery Gospel and included a conflict story (13:1-8) told by Jesus that the subsequent Gospel writers did not pick up. This is about what were then great buildings, and about one brick not being left on another. Some of the “bricks” in the Jerusalem Temple weighed over 500 tonnes and the Temple was nearly half a kilometre long. No-wonder the disciples showed signs of disbelief. Jesus’ statement was of course vindicated but I think the point is that, however permanent we feel, change will happen. All civilisations change and die; ours has been going for perhaps 1000 years and many grand buildings have lasted less than 100.
It is always tempting to think that civilisation will continue much the same as it is now. A moment’s reflection will reveal that the big problems that appear to confront us now: Brexit, political behaviour in the USA, our building program; are actually rather trivial. The bigger problems seem to be too big for people like us to comprehend. The number of wild animals has halved in the last 40 years, according to WWF. All experts (excluding those funded by the oil and gas industry) tell us that human activity will increase global temperatures unsustainably by the time my children’s children are drawing their pensions. We are coming to the stage where “one brick will not be left on another”.
It is too big to comprehend; the end of human civilization as we know it. As Albert Einstein said: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” How do we, as Christians, respond?
We do need to lift our heads from the everyday problems of keeping our families alive and keeping the church running without offending too many people, to look long distance. There are other organisations which can help us with this. They are run by volunteers too, who are perhaps not also trying to keep buildings open and balance the competing needs of building users. That means that they have the capacity to gather data and look ahead. We have to decide whom to believe and whom to follow, but be sure that this is far more the work of God than our everyday concerns in the church, because we are dealing with our stewardship of the planet.
Be warned! Remember the disciples’ disbelief when Jesus told them the truth about their civilisation. Can our church learn from the mistakes of the past, or are we condemned to just look backwards and complain that it isn’t like it used to be? What is God telling us to do? You tell me! We all have the right to insights into the future. It is part of our belief in the priesthood of all believers. That also means that we all bear responsibility for what happens and for hearing the complaints of our descendants about our selfish inactivity.