St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Don’t You See It?”
Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, 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."
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Way back at the end of the last millennium, really, that far ago, I was working at the Seminary I had graduated from. I served as their recruiter. It was my job to help arrange campus visits to the Seminary, and to go out and speak to college groups and conventions mostly about feeling a call into the ministry. Half of my job was on the road, and half of my job was working with folks over the phone and through the mail. I was good at it, and recruitment was going well. The President of the school asked to meet with me near the end of my first year. I was hoping that my part-time job might be becoming full-time. Whatever day it was, I remember it was in the mid-morning. I was greeted and immediately was told that the funding for my job had been cut, and that at the end of my first year contract I would not be kept on. Normally I would call Steph once or twice during the day to check in, but I was in shock. I just could not tell her over the phone. It was hard news, bad news, and it would cost us dearly.
Unlike her, Steph came home late and sat down. Before I could tell her the bad news, she said, “I have something to tell you.” You see, her boss had called her into their office, mid-morning, and let her know that at the end of the yearly academic contract hers would not be renewed. The same day, at approximately the same time, we were both let go as of July 1. After I told her my news, I said, “Well, it will be interesting to see what God has in store for us.”
Friends, I am here to tell you, Bad Things Happen. Even when you are doing things right. Even with no fault, Bad Things Happen. They do. If anyone tells you something other, they are out to con you. We both were in good jobs, where we were doing well and being encouraged, when, through no fault of our own, we were both fired. Well, laid off, but it amounted to the same.
We had built big plans in our heads. We had hopes we had constructed into some Castles, but they were in the sky. Nothing was real, and we had a price to pay for stacking these dreams on top of each other. These dreams did not last that fateful day, and I have to tell you, there is very little that really will last.
Last weekend I had the gracious honor to speak at the 160th Anniversary of our sister parish St. David’s over in Aylett. I reminded them how rare it is for any human institution to survive the lifetime of its founders. Most of our endeavors fall apart. Glad God seems to be in on ours!
In today’s reading Jesus is making a comment on how even something so grand as Solomon’s Temple, something so seemingly permanent will one day be thrown down. I hear Jesus making a generality about the stones being pulled down from one another, and it was heard as an imminent prediction. The disciples were wanting the 411, the Where, the When. But I hear Jesus just saying “Count on it… sometime, maybe even soon, or far away. But you can count on it.”
As Robert Frost penned: Nothing gold can stay. Now this was talking about the color of the leaves, but even then it is fleeting.
If Nature cannot hold on to its gold, why do we think that we can? As grand a space and place as this is, as beautiful and magnificent the monuments are in Washington, DC, as utterly perfect the Basilica of St. Peter is in Rome, one day they will no longer be. Entropy is. Things fall apart. Such is existence.
But notice, even with these dire predictions of Jesus, for the Temple and then even worse ones for his followers, he says to keep plugging along. Bad things WILL HAPPEN. Do the things anyway, for that is the gist of Life.
If nothing lasts, if there is nothing of permanence, then what do we do? Where do we put our energies?
Thankfully, as discouraging as the Gospel may be, we are also given Isaiah’s prophecy and promise. Where do we put our energies? From today’s Isaiah reading:
For I am about to create new heavensand a new earth;the former things shall not be rememberedor come to mind.But be glad and rejoice foreverin 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.If God’s new thing is God’s people, if God’s new creation is us, what might that show us? How might that encourage us? Where do we put our energies?
Each other! And in so doing, we are building up the Kingdom of God.
SO, if Bad Things Happen, if Entropy Is, WHAT DO WE DO???
Keith M. Kent made a few Paradoxical Commandments saying as much. (This has also been attributed to Mother Teresa, but Dr. Kent owns the copyright.)
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;It was never between you and them anyway.
It is easy to be discouraged when we swim in discouraging waters. But Jesus teaches us that the things that may seem so permanent and stolid and fixed, are not. Nothing on this side of heaven is permanent. But that does not stop us. What you see yourself building makes a difference.
You may have heard this story before. But it resonates so well. Once a person was walking along and spied a mason hard at work. The person asked, “What are you doing?” Nonchalantly, the mason responded, “Building a wall.” And then kept on with the work.
The person kept going and asked another mason he happened onto quite soon, “What are you doing?” Again, with little enthusiasm, the 2nd Mason said, “Making some church.” And kept on slapping the mud and stacking the bricks.
The person kept walking, and happened upon a third mason. “What are you doing?” he inquired again. The Third Mason stood up, spreading his arms, and with a sense of wonder, “Don’t you see it? We are building a Cathedral! It will be grand.”
Friends, we always have to keep in mind what it is we are building, and who we are building it for. If you are just making a wall, it will only last so long. If you are building some church, it could come or go. But friends, grander than any Cathedral, we are building the Kingdom of God! Don’t you see it?
That is why we can suffer, and strive, be hated, and even killed. And why would we do it? Because we are part of a work that is bigger, grander, longer-lived than ourselves. We are more than a piece to a puzzle. But without our specks on our piece of the puzzle. “Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.” [I Corinthians 12:27]
There will be times when we be spellbound by the splendor, good! Stop and be in awe. The mason who could step back in wonder and say, “I am building a Cathedral! Don’t you see it.” may not do more work, but it will be better because it was done in love and to the glory of God.Whatever we will build up, someone someday will tear down. Could be soon, could be well beyond our lifetimes.
Think now on how we can make Ashland and Hanover County a little bit more like heaven. If all of us, in our own ways did what we could, when we could think on what it could be like. “Don’t you see it?”
When we set about the long hard work that we do, strive, sweat, struggle, but do it all in love. Or as St. Paul put it: “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” [I Corinthians 14:13-14]
This week we will be trying something new. Something hard. Something audacious. Whatever it is we do, do it in love. The Stew Fest is now only days away. Many of us will be spending most of our week preparing, and saying some prayers while we do so. If you are stirring the pots, do it in love and do it for God. If you are picking the chicken, selling tickets, or directing traffic, do it in love, do it for for God. Whatever you do, do it in love, and do it for God. Some people may get frustrated and get on your nerves. Love them through it. Some people may be welcomed at a church for the very first time. How you sell them their stew may be the first time they connect loving faithful service as part of the Kingdom of God. And we will pay the price. We will be stiff and sore. We will be too cold and at times too hot. “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” And why do we do this? For the Glory of God, and to further the Kingdom. As God promised in Isaiah:
For I am about to create new heavensand a new earth;the former things shall not be rememberedor come to mind.But be glad and rejoice foreverin what I am creating!Don’t you see it?!?!?! AMEN!