|Image credit: NASA|
Sermon preached on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost (November 18, 2018) at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, Indianapolis.
Readings: 1 Sam. 1:4-20; Ps. 16; Heb. 10:11-25; Mk. 13:1-8
Then Jesus asked, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another. All will be thrown down.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Mother of us all. Amen.
Well good morning, St. Timothy’s! Some of you I know, but many of you I do not. My name is Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, and I serve on Bishop Jennifer’s staff as Canon to the Ordinary for Administration and Evangelism. I’m very thankful to have been invited by your pledge campaign committee to preach here on this, your first Consecration Sunday.
I have to tell you - there’s an unexpected bonus for me being here today. When I received the worship bulletin, I was thrilled to notice that you’re using Eucharistic Prayer C. You guys, this is my favorite, favorite Eucharistic prayer, like favorite enough that I insisted on it at my wedding, and I haven’t gotten around to filing my funeral plans yet but trust me, it’ll be in there too. And as much as I love my home church of All Saints, if I’ve got one gripe about it, it’s that we use this prayer on exactly one Sunday per year - the Sunday after the Ascension. So the fact that I’ll get to pray this prayer with you today is a special treat.
Now, I could give you all manner of complex theological reasons that I love this prayer - and they would all be true - but let’s get straight to the real reason - the phrase, “The vast expanse of interstellar space.” That phrase is why people who don’t like this prayer - and believe me, there are many - call it “the Star Wars prayer.” But for me, this prayer takes me right back to being a kid. After I went through my dinosaur phase and then through my train phase, I entered my astronomy phase, and that night sky loving geek who still lives inside of me perks up a little bit every time I hear these words.
Let me be clear about exactly what kind of astronomer I was. To earn the astronomy merit badge in Boy Scouts, you had to get up in the middle of the night and point a telescope at particular coordinates so you could see the rings of Saturn or whatever. And are you kidding me? That’s too much work.
No, my kind of astronomy was found in my elementary school library, in the National Geographic Atlas of Space, and in those years before the launch of the Hubble telescope, where images from observatories on earth left off, hand-drawn art picked up. In one segment of that book, there were dramatic images of the various kinds of stars, and among these was the red giant. True to its name, a huge, red starr filled the page, and the caption described it as a luminous, but relatively cool star, and about the way in about 5 billion years our own sun will explode into a red giant, causing it to expand into the earth’s orbit and this whole earth and everything about it we know and love will be burned into a lifeless ashen sphere.
That’s heavy stuff for a ten year old.
That’s heavy stuff for us.
I mean, I know that 5 billion years is a long time off, but still, not matter what we do, if the fate of our world is to be swallowed up in the last gasps of a dying star, what is it all for?
The whole thing was distressing news to a ten year old bookworm astronomer. But it wasn’t news to Jesus. “Do you see these great buildings?” he asks his disciples, about the temple, the very center of their faith. Don’t be too impressed. “Not one stone will be left on another; all will be cast down.”
So what’s it all for, we might ask in the face of far off astronomical eventualities.
So what’s it all for, the disciples might ask about the destruction of the Temple, where for centuries the people of Israel had encountered their God.
And what does our Lord say? “Do not be alarmed.”
And what does our Lord say? “Beware that no one leads you astray.”
“What are the only man-made things in heaven?” Goes a Christian riddle. It’s a question about what difference our efforts here on earth mean ultimately mean to God. And the answer is, “The scars on Jesus’s hands.”
Ok, sure, let’s own that. That’s on us. But in a few minutes we’re going to take a moment to confess all of the ways over the last week our failures have wounded God and each other.
Bet let no one lead you astray friends - that’s not the main reason we’re here - wallowing in sin is not what we’re about today. We will receive forgiveness and do yet greater things.
Let no one lead you astray friends: amid all that is passing away, the nails of the cross are not the only fruit we bear.
There’s a passage of scripture whose reading has become so closely associated with weddings that it’s hard for us to hear it any other way. But let’s pause for a moment in vulnerable uncertainty, to hear of the other heavenly fruit of our hearts.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never dies. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. (1 Cor. 13:1-8)
Love never dies.
“Do you see these great buildings,” Jesus asks, looking at the Temple from the Mount of Olives. “Not one stone will be left here upon another. All will be cast down”
He was right friends. The Temple is long gone, but we are still here.
But it’s not the Temple that is gone, indeed, one day all things will go. But “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has troubles enough. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” And for those troubles we have the immortal gift of the love of God to bring us through.
You, St. Timothy’s, are well trained in the ways of love.
Last week you celebrated the veterans among you, those who know that the day of passing away is coming, and yet were willing to speed for themselves for the sake of the love of their country, their loved ones, for millions they will never meet.
Yesterday, at Diocesan Convention, I heard your own Donna Adams speak about St. Timothy’s responds to new people desiring a relationship with Jesus, not by a tight-fisted holding on to the way things have always been, but by being a place willing to change so that St. Timothy’s can belong as much to newcomers as to people who have been here a long time, so that you can all discover Jesus together.
In a moment you’ll have another opportunity to act on that love, by renewing your commitment to God and each other through your financial gifts. Now money is not the same thing as love, exactly, but if you look at your bank statements, your credit card receipts, do you not see something about the affections of your hearts?
The commitment you make today is up to you and to God, but the church gives us some tools to think about it.
St. Augustine, the great early church father, writing on the shores of North Africa, describes the concept of rightly ordered love - that is, the idea that you can love more than one thing, but that there is a proper order to love of God, love of family, love of neighbor, and that all genuine love is the result of the primacy of divine love.
And there is the concept of proportional giving - which we know in the 10% tithe that scripture repeatedly identifies as the standard. And if you hear that number today and you’re like whoa, that’s a lot - focus on the concept….it’s not the amount, but the percentage of what has been given to you that you identify as what it means to place God first in your financial life.
The letting go to be generous isn’t easy, but how great its rewards are! A conscious, deliberate letting go of control of our resources, our money, our control, makes room in our hearts for the eternal thing, the thing that will not pass away, to come in and transform us.
Belove, amid so much that is uncertain we are so blessed. In the dust of the fallen temple, in the dust to which we shall return, there is a “new and living way that Christ opens to us, through the curtain” (Heb. 11:20) of the word made flesh, and that is the path of life, the way of love, that hopes all, things, believes all things, the great love, divine, and human, that belongs to all of us, the love that never dies and at the last will bring us to the “fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11).