Christ Church Ridley Park
Year CÂ Proper 28
November 14, 2010
Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Bill Nickerson and I were walking around the church on Friday. (Bill is the chair of our Property Committee.) As I looked up and noticed the mortar that was coming loose around the windows at the back of church. A strip had separated from the window frame and hung precariously, announcing its imminent collapse. Walking a little further I looked up again and pointed out to Bill a chunk of stucco that had fallen away from the side of the parish house, no doubt the victim of a gutter that had failed to do its work. And then later that day I was walking down the aisle and made the mistake of looking up again, searching for the little sparrow that had flitted through the healing service, having come to say its prayers. I saw that there was still that pesky hole in the roof where some industrious carpenter bee had bored its way through, also looking for a nice place to come pray.
(Not only do people like to come pray here in this beautiful sanctuary, but the birds and the bees think this is a pretty special place as well. They have good Episcopalian taste!)
â€œAll will the thrown down.â€
Aside from being reminded that looking up in an aging church creates more jobs for the Property Committee, the crumbling mortar also reminded of the transitory nature of buildings, of temples, of kingdoms, and indeed of life itself.
The lections for these last couple of Sundays of the church year depict a gathering storm. We are hurtling toward the last Sunday of the Church year with dire predictions of the close of the age. The stories grow darker and darker, as if in sync with the narrowing light of these autumn days. The end, the close, the grand finale, the big oneâ€¦ It is coming.
The gospel is unflinching in its insistence that we keep looking up â€“ at the crumbling mortar, the sagging cheeks and jowls and breasts, the collapsing culture, the waning kingdoms of this world. It is unremitting on its insistence that we lose our innocence and never forget the direction all things belonging to the temporal order are heading.
On the one hand we might say â€œhow depressingâ€! Who wants to have their nose rubbed in it?
We might imagine that was the sensibility of the priests and nobles of Jerusalem who preferred not to acknowledge the impending crisis foretold by the prophets. Then, as if on cue, there arrived the mighty Babylonians who strode in and torched their temple, carting the naÃ¯ve residents of Jerusalem off to Babylon by whose rivers they wept and wept, lamenting what was no longer theirs. Â Yes, they would rebuild once their exile was ended. There would be a new temple, a gleaming, glorious replacement. But once again, some centuries later in 70 A.D. the Romans who had conquered the known world entered Jerusalem, and, as predicted in our gospel for today, would bring it all down again.
We might say â€œhow depressingâ€, thinking of them sitting by the rivers of Babylon weeping as they remembered Zion.
That is certainly a very human response. No one likes to think about the close of anything, not the age of innocence, nor the teen years, nor the child-bearing years, not the heady days, the carefree times, the healthy years, the irrational exuberance of shop till you drop spending sprees.
But maybe we are just looking such times with far too narrow a point of view, like the blind men touching the parts of the elephant describing an elephant from his own rather limited perspective.
Looked at from Godâ€™s point of view, what appears to be end of the world is, at the same time, a grand opportunity. It is the clearing away of what is no longer viable, what is worn out and no longer of use. Looked at from Godâ€™s point of view it is the dawning of a new age.
Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah:
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
Isaiah would foretell of such a time of lasting peace, one in which there was no longer weeping or the cry of distress. Out of the defeat which resulted in the exile, there would be a new order of things belonging to God. In such a new order the wolf and the lamb would feed together, no more hurt or destruction on Godâ€™s holy mountain.
And in our Gospel for today Jesus would echo Isaiahâ€™s prediction of a new world order, a coming kingdom of Godâ€™s reign, one inaugurated by the Son of Man. There would arrive the close of the present age and the welcoming of the new.
Getting there would be ugly and it would be messy. Wars, insurrections, nations against nations, kingdom againstÂ kingdom, earthquakes, famines, plagues, not to mention dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
Oh, yes, there would also be a time of testing of the faithful. Those who belonged to this coming order would be handed over to those belonging to the old order. They would be thrown in prison, betrayed, even by parents and brothers, by friends and relatives, and some even put to death.
For those who belong to the old order, the old way of doing things, the old ways of thinking or consciousness, who are not imaginative enough to live into Godâ€™s new order do not take kindly to being challenged in any way. They always put up a fight, and do their darndest to make it all go away, even as the mortar is crumbling all around them.
And of course such resistance is not only without. Perhaps even more perniciously it is that resistance that comes from the emperor within, the strong man holding on for dear life, defending a crumbling empire, unable to accept what must be, unable to trust that God might show us another way, a better way, a kingdom of a very different order.
Against such change we make quite a stink and put up quite a fight.
No wonder Jesus would warn the faithful.
But also encourage them, telling them â€œby your endurance you will gain your souls.â€