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St. Paul’s – Proper 28 – 11/13/22

We may not like it, we may deny it, we may resist it but the reality is things are changing. Our world is changing, the church is changing, our lives are changing. Sometimes changes are welcome. But there are days when change brings loss or the fear of loss. There are days when our life is forever changed, the world is different, and nothing is like it used to be. You and I know those days. We could each tell stories about those days. They are stories about the death of a loved one, the diagnosis, a divorce, the business that failed, the job that was lost. They are stories about the day you realized the life you were living was not the life you wanted, the day someone confronted you with your addiction, the day you became the parent and caretaker to your own parent. They are stories of dreams and hopes that never came true.

Speaking of change…..For me, this is the great challenge of today’s Gospel.  Not simply to bear the apocalypse, but to bear it well.  To bear it with the courage, calm, and faith Jesus calls us to practice in this passage.

For many of us, this has been an emotionally andspiritually exhausting few years.  We need look no further than the daily news to see apocalyptic images scarier than any Hollywood might produce.  Around the world, many of acres of land are burning from massive wildfires -hurricanes and floods are ever present and destructive.  Elsewhere, families are starving, or living on the streets, or struggling in the shadow of relentless war, or suffering racial or sexual violence, or attempting to cross a national border because the horrors they’re leaving behind are worse than the dangers that lie ahead.

In this troubling context, it’s easy to despair.  Or to grow numb.  Or to let exhaustion win.  But it’s precisely now, now when the world around us feels the mostapocalyptic, that we have to respond with resilience, courage, and truthful, unflinching witness.  It’s precisely now, when systemic evil and age old brokenness threaten to bring us to ruin that we have to testify without fear and without shame to the Good News that is the Gospel.  What’s happening is not death, but birth.  Yes, the birth pangs hurt.  They hurt so appallingly much.  But God is our midwife, and what God births will never lead to desolation.  Yes, we are called to bear witness in the ruins, but rest assured: these birth pangs will end in joy.  By our endurance, we will gain our souls.

As I envision myself in the disciples’ place in our gospel passage, listening in bewilderment as Jesus pops my spiritual bubbles, here are some of the questions we might be asking:

  • What lies and illusions do I mistake for truth?
  • In what memories or traditions do I attempt to house God? 
  • On what shiny religious edifice do I pin my hopes, instead of trusting Jesus? (My denomination?  My church?  My spiritual heritage? my political party?)   
  • Why do I cling to permanence when Jesus invites me to evolve?
  • Am I willing to sit with the fact that things fall apart?  (Things I love, things I built, things I cried and prayed and strived for?)   
  • Can I embrace a journey of faith that includes
  • rubble, ruin, and failure? 

These are the days when the temples of our life and world fall. It is not just our individual temples, however. For many people the Episcopal Church is not the church they remember. It is not like it used to be when they were growing up. Things have changed. For them the temple is falling. As a country the temple of our economic system is falling. Globally we read of wars, plagues, famines. Nations have risen against nation, kingdom against kingdom, even religion against religion. Security, peace, anddiplomacy have given way to fear, violence, and terrorism. Temples are falling everywhere.

We all have temples. Some have been given to us, others we have built for ourselves. Sometimes our temples are people, places, values and beliefs, institutions, dreams. Regardless, they are the things that we think structure and order our lives, give meaning and identity, provide security and stability. At least we think they do, until they fall.

In today’s gospel some were speaking about the temple, its beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. It is what structured their community. It gave identity and meaning. It was the center of Jewish life. Jesus looks at it and says, The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down. Jesus is speaking about more than just the physical temple in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem temple includes every temple you and I have.

So what do we do on the day our temple falls?

Change has a way of pushing us into the future. Many people will begin looking for signs about the future. What will happen now? What do I do? How do I get through this? If we are not careful we will soon be living in a future we do not yet have. We will be living in a future created in our heads. That is not Jesus’ response. When Jesus describes things that will happen he is not asking us to speculate about the future. He is offering signs that call us to be faithful in the present.

Sometimes, after our temple falls, we look for a scapegoat, someone to blame or even demonize. So we blame Moslems for violence in the world and gay people for the conflict within the Episcopal Church. Democrats andRepublicans blame each other as do the conservatives and the liberals. We look for someone or a group who does not think, act, or believe like we do. All of this is not Jesus’response.

Some people will simply give up and walk away in despair. They can see nothing left. All is lost and the situation is hopeless. That is not Jesus’ response. Some will become angry, resentful, and fight back. Others will say this is God’s will or maybe even God’s punishment. Many will look for easy answers, quick fixes, something that will prop up the old structures and ways of doing things. Again, these are not Jesus’ response.

Jesus’ response is just the opposite. Be still, be quiet, do not be led astray. Do not allow your life to be controlled or determined by fear. Do not listen to the many voices that would cause you to run and go after them. Endure he says. Be faithful, steadfast, persevere here and now. Jesus is calling us to be present and faithful in whatever circumstances we find our selves. If we cannot find God here, in our present circumstances, even in the midst of our temple ruins, we will find God nowhere.

The place of fallen temples is the place in which God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, declares echoing our psalm for today: I am about to create new heavens and 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. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it or the cry of distress (Isaiah 65:17-19, proper 28C).

Those promises are fulfilled through our endurance. By endurance we gain our lives, our souls. Jesus is calling us to the virtue of stability. We are to remain fully present, faithful, no matter how uncomfortable life may be. In so doing we discover that God has always been with us – in the changes, chances, and chaos of life; in the pain, loss, and disappointment; in the destruction of our temples.

As Robert Farrar Capon has written: Jesus comes to us in the brokenness of our health, in the shipwreck of our family lives, in the loss of all possible peace of mind, even in the very thick of our sins. He saves us in our disasters, not from them.

Because of this, endurance, perseverance, stability are the ways in which we can offer God the fallen stones of our temples. Stone by stone God rebuilds our life. Stone by stone God restores the original beauty of our life and world. Stone by stone a new temple arises from therubble. Stone by stone we become the temple of God. We no longer have temples. We no longer need them. We are the temple. That is the story that needs to be told. That is our opportunity to testify.

We can all tell the story of the day our temple was destroyed. Too often, however, we believe and live as if that is the end of the story. It will be if we run away, scapegoat, respond with anger, or try to put it back together like it used to be. But it does not have to be the end of the story. The greater story is how we discovered God next to us in the temple ruins and how, stone by stone, God rebuilt what we could not. It is the ongoing story of God recreating life out of loss and ruin, a story of God rejoicing and delighting in his people.

This story is the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to you. It is real, sacred, and true. Trust that story, tell it over and over to yourself, proclaim it to all you see, and then go live that story.

May God grant us the courage to walk into and through difficult times with courage because of what we know about who God is and what God is up to. And God grant us, in such times, to say what we know. Amen.