Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Closing Time"

Preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009.

Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Are you secure? Do you have security? If you do what makes you feel secure? If you do not, how could you feel more secure? Being wrapped in your mother’s or father’s arms? Having a sizable bank account, or a comfortable home? Living in America with laws and rules and regulations that make life quite predictable? Being able to worship in this majestic church?

This stuff around us, religious trappings, homes, friends, won’t always be here. It might remain through most of our lives. But it might not. We think we are secure but it is oh so fragile. In Mark’s gospel passage today Jesus is with the disciples in Jerusalem. They marvel at the temple, that place built as a home for God to reside in, a very important concept in the Jewish tradition at that point, and Jesus says ‘Get over it!’ That won’t last and is not important. Can you imagine how incredulous the disciples must have been? ‘What is he saying?’ they might have queried. ‘This is the temple built to house God. Look at its size and grandeur, it is secure and stable,’ they may have continued. But Jesus says to them, ‘Get over it!’ Then they ask him when does this happen, when is the end time?

The thirteenth chapter of Mark is called the Little Apocalypse. It opens with this story then goes on to tell of the end times, the last days. There are some pretty sobering accounts and warnings: the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat; pray that it may not be in winter; the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light; false prophets.

There is a movie recently out called 2012. In it a planet is headed for the earth with certain destruction of the earth. The trailer shows destruction of the major buildings and monuments around the world that we know: the Vatican, the White House, the Washington monument. Mountains are flooded, ocean liners turned over. A Tibetan monastery on a high peak is washed away. The trailer looks pretty scary. It is based on the premise that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world December 31, 2012. There is a website 2012 that has had over a million hits. It is big news. People are worried so it seems. NASA has posted a notice on its website that there is no planet headed for earth. But it looks like an exciting movie!

When I was in the third grade there was a prediction of the end of the earth. I remember we kids were scared. The teacher, Mrs. Ellis, pulled the Bible out and read to us where Jesus tells us that no one will know the hour or the day. In this thirteenth chapter of Mark, verse 32, ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’ Do not be afraid. A teacher couldn’t do that in most schools today… I remember in the 1960’s a woman named Jean Dixon predicted nuclear war in 1989 I think. And not too many years ago here in St. Louis Iben Browning predicted an earthquake based on a certain alignment of the sun, moon, and earth. Many were very worried including some of my office staff who prepared their homes and took December 9th off work.

We don’t know what is coming. But we do know that things change. Things that we are comfortable with, secure about, have been tremendously upset in our lives. 9/11 and the Madrid train bombings come quickly to mind; the fall of the World Trade Centers in New York. I had dinner at the top of the World Trade Center. Amazing that it is gone. Institutions that were stable icons of our existence are gone – IBM, Ma Bell, McDonnell Douglas, Enron. People invested in Enron and Bank of America thinking they were very secure, and lost huge life savings, retirements. Then we have ideologies that are gone. Who would have thought, those of us that lived much of our lives in the middle of the 20th century, that communism would fall. This week there were celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The Economist magazine wrote, “Even to those who had been confident of the eventual triumph of the West, the fall of the Berlin Wall was surprisingly accidental…Of all places it was in divided Berlin in divided Germany in divided Europe that the cold war erupted into an east-west street party” [20 years ago]. This week’s article goes on to say, “The destruction of the Iron Curtain on November 9, 1989 is still the most remarkable political event of most people’s lifetimes: it set free millions of individuals and it brought to an end a global conflict that threatened nuclear annihilation. For liberals in the West, it still stands as a reminder both of what has been won since and what is still worth fighting for.”

The world changes in ways that we cannot imagine. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the Soviet Union are staggering events. Nothing is permanent. Not stones on stones, not buildings, not ideologies, not Christ Church Cathedral, not us. No wonder management gurus tell us that dealing with Generation X’ers and Millenials is a whole different personnel management process. These young adults have seen ‘stable’ institutions and ideas crumble before them and have a very different idea of permanence. Don’t ask them to work for 30 years for ‘the corporation’ and get the gold watch! A different idea of permanence.

So what does this mean for us? For we who espouse Christianity and strive to live a life of faith? What is permanence? What is security? How are we to live?

Two Stories

The Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, tells a parable of a theater where a variety show is proceeding. Each show is more fantastic than the last, and is applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager comes forward. He apologizes for the interruption, but the theater is on fire, and he begs his patrons to leave in an orderly fashion. The audience think this is the most amazing turn of the evening, and cheer thunderously. The manager again implores them to leave the burning building, and he is again applauded vigorously. At last he can do no more. The fire raced through the whole building and the fun-loving audience with it. “And so,” concluded Kierkegaard, “will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators.”

At the end of the 19th century two French writers went to visit the well-known French scientist, Pierre Berthelot. Berthelot was a kind of scientific prophet. He forecast some of the weapons of mass destruction which would appear in the next century. He said to the writers, “We have only begun to list the alphabet of destruction.” Silence fell over the meeting. Then the elder of the two writers said quietly, “I think that before that time comes, God will come like a great gatekeeper with his keys dangling at his waist and say, ‘Gentlemen, it’s closing time.’”

Brothers and sisters, it is closing time every day. Jesus asked the disciples, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” But he went on to say, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray…you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed…’ Do not be alarmed. That reassurance of Jesus is couched in the middle of this sobering gospel passage but it is key. And Jesus repeats that message to us over and over. Do not be concerned. For we do not understand the ways of the world, the things to come, the tragedies, apocalypse, Armageddon. But we don’t need to understand them. For our lives are to be lived differently than worry about all that. Holy Scripture reminds us over and over of the birds of the air, the lilies of the valley and the loving care of our heavenly father – caring for all. Do not be concerned. Store up not treasures here on earth where moth and rust and thieves break in but store up treasures in heaven.

R.A.Charles Brown, an English priest of the last century said, ‘Christ did not come down to earth to unmake but to remake. So we are gathered up as fragments into the unity of humans and angels into Him who is our beginning and our end. There in the scrap of bread is dimly seen the triumph of life over death.’ The triumph of life over death is seen in the scrap of bread you will receive in a few minutes.

Life is a matter of building. Each of us has an opportunity to build something – a business, an edifice, a reputation, a family, a career, a relationship to God. But so many things are not permanent and can disappear in an instant. Daniel Webster offered this excellent advice. “If we work on marble it will perish. If we work on brass, time will efface it. If we rear temples, they will crumble to dust. But if we work on humans’s immortal minds, if we imbue them with high principles, with just fear of God and love of fellow beings, we engrave on those tablets something which time cannot efface, and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.”

Bothers and sisters, we are to work on our relationship with God and with fellow human beings. And then we do not have to be afraid.


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