Jenga and the Stones of the Temple

If you’ve never played the game JENGA before then you don’t know what you’re missing!

It’s a game played with 54 bricks, which come in the form of a solid tower, like this, (demonstrate) and the idea is to carefully remove the bricks one at a time without disturbing the tower structure. The bricks that are removed, by each player, must be placed carefully on the top. As the tower gets higher and higher, so it becomes more precarious, as gaps and holes open up below.

When I read the gospel reading this week, it very much reminded me of this well-known game.

Now if there are two or three people in the congregation who usually enjoy a challenge, and who wouldn’t mind coming out and playing one game while I am talking, I would appreciate it. But could I ask that when the tower falls, I would like you to leave everything as it is, and hand it to me, on the tray. (plan this before the service)

Only you must play the game silently, so as not to disturb the rest who, I hope, will be listening to what I’m saying. Perhaps YOU can be really clever and listen as you play? (young people)

Good.

In our gospel reading today, we find the disciples mesmerized, marvelling at the very size of the stones, which make up the walls of the temple.

Indeed they had every right to be impressed. Many of the capstones weighed approx 20tons.

In fact, one stone has recently been excavated, which was part of the very foundation of the Western retaining wall, and it weighed 415 tons. So you can see the reason behind the disciples’ awestruck comments. The temple, and all the connected buildings, were indeed magnificent.

To a Jew, the temple was everything. It was still under construction in Jesus’ time. The original one, which had been built by Solomon, had been destroyed early in the 6th century B.C., but was rebuilt at the end of that century, and later added to by Herod the Great.

It was one of the architectural wonders of the day. Even today we can look at the remains of the Western wall in Jerusalem, and see for ourselves how it might have been.

The destruction of the temple was unthinkable. It had been built to last. It was where God himself dwelt, and where Jews could meet with him, through the intercessions of the high priests.

So when Jesus prophesied that the temple in Jerusalem would one day be destroyed, those who heard this would have thought this unforgivable, even the disciples were shocked. To speak against the temple was to speak not only against Israel, but against God himself.

The O.T.prophet Jeremiah in his time, spoke against the original temple, and it nearly cost him his life. His prophecy, like Jesus’ prophecy both came true. Both temples were destroyed. Neither were the permanent features, the Jews had hoped and expected they would be.

So after Jesus and his disciples left the temple, and were alone they questioned him about when such things would be accomplished, and he told them of a time still yet to come when there would be great suffering, and distress…a time when great disasters, wars and tragedies would occur, and false prophets would arise…a time when believers would be persecuted and have to give an account of themselves.

These would be but the ‘birth-pangs,’ which would lead up to the coming of the Son of Man.

This period of history right up until the Second coming of Jesus is known to us as the Interim period.

Even at Jesus’ trial, his prophecies against the temple were thrown back at him, to accuse him.

‘He said he would destroy the temple and build it up again in three days,’ his accusers had pointed out.

(Mark 14.58 &15.29)

God was preparing through the ministry of Jesus, a new temple of living stones, not built with human hands, but built on a new and solid foundation of loving and giving, a new covenant whereby God’s laws would be written on people’s hearts and minds, not in stone. After three days, with Jesus’ RESURRECTION, the building of living stones began. It is still not finished in its construction even today.

Jesus is for us the high priest, interceding for us at the right hand of God, and it is with confidence and joy, we are able to enter into the holiness and sanctity of God’s presence.

But where does the Jenga game, fit into all this?

The society we live in, in today’s world, still builds massive temples, huge structures that they marvel at, admire and worship, but they too are transitory, they will pass and will ultimately fall.

Such structures extract a terrible price from the gullible, the poor, the weak, the young, the old and the innocent.

Temples built with the huge stones of power, possessions, status, celebrity, opulence, decadence, scandal, promiscuity, pornography, are to the advantage of those who want to get-rich-quick. These are all much in evidence even more so today, and no-one seems to show any shame.

Like this game of Jenga, we see solid and ancient holy laws pulled apart and flouted. We see the reshaping that takes place being built up, higher and higher, day after day, teetering, swaying precariously in the wind, but held up by greed and self-indulgence.

Like the Jenga tower, we see the sad and very tragic bi products and consequences of worshipping such gods… killing and rape; theft and abuse; neglect and terrorism.

We try to build upon something other than the solidity of foundations of God’s laws, and ultimately these shaky towers will fall.

But the foundations built on Godly principles will stand.

You will note how at the very bottom of this fallen Jenga tower, there is a foundation which has stood firm, throughout; indeed a remnant, which will not fall.

Even in the temple in Jerusalem, the foundation stones still remain.

What must we do to become part of that firm foundation?

The Hebrews reading, which we have just heard shows us the way:-

Those who want to be part of this firm foundation must constantly seek to enter into a new and living way, approaching God with a true heart full of assurance and faith, with hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, with bodies washed with pure water.

We are told to hold fast to our hope without wavering.

We are urged to provoke one another into a genuine love for each other and into doing good deeds, to meet together and ENCOURAGEone another.

The opposite of this, of course, is to take our faith for granted, and live the comfortable life, not taking our own sins seriously, living lives full of fear, without hope, criticising each other behind their backs, putting down those who do make an effort, totally ignoring the poor and needy, and shutting ourselves in our own ivory towers.

But these towers are false too, we’re not individuals, we were never called to merely save our own souls, we should be seeking to save lost and fallen humanity. We ought to be dependant upon each other. We were meant to be living stones being built into a living temple, with Jesus as the main capstone, holding us together. When Jesus returns to earth, will he be impressed?

‘Jesus spoke of these terrible signs and catastrophes as the beginnings of the birth –pangs of a new creation;

One commentator puts it like this.

…’we can act as mid-wives, helping the world through its pain and working towards the joy which it promises, however long the labour happens to be. For in the end the best is yet to come’

I like the term mid-wife; someone who stands alongside someone in trouble, encouraging, being practically helpful, sympathising and celebrating.

When these towers fall we must be there to pick up the pieces, to mend broken lives, to be there for victims who fall by the wayside.

It’s not for us to know the times and dates appointed by God, so rather than trying to calculate the world’s end, like many have tried unsuccessfully in the past to do, and being full of fear and dread in the process; we are instead called to look to Jesus, the hope of our world, and stand firm and confident in the truths he has taught us, resisting what is false, and allowing ourselves to be rebuilt into a new and living way, so that the Lord may add to our numbers, and so build a better world.

How will God add to our numbers?

When our faith gets real, and people begin to notice!