The week we get an apopcalyptic Gospel lesson that sounds just horrible to our 21st Century ears is the same week that I had NO time to lock in and really prepare. We had diocesan convention in Savannah, and wouldn't you know, I had to drive through Tropical Storm Nicole for 4-1/2 hours to get there.
For as much as I'm grumbling about it, I was glad I went. I always enjoy convention as the opportunity to catch up with people I never get to see otherwise. I was finally able to meet the members of the Racial Justice GA team. I got to hear about other LGBTQ+ people in the diocese.
And even more importantly: I got to listen to other sermons, which ultimately helped me write my own!
Text: Luke 21:5-19
This past Friday… we marked Veteran’s Day. I always remember and pay my deepest gratitude to all who have served. I give thanks… often with feelings of remorse… for those men and women who have followed a calling of military service and ended up in some foreign place witnessing the worst of our humanity in the form of war.
All while I get to go about my life without worry.
My dad was in the Navy and served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during World War II. Growing up… he would share only select stories of his time engaged in the battles with the Japanese. He enjoyed telling the funny ones about training Marines how to fly planes and watching them turn green as he did certain maneuvers.
But he said very little about what he experienced as a flight deck officer.
He would only reminisce in short quips… such as telling me and my brothers about “The Battle of Naha” in Okinawa.
He told us how they “Bombed the hell out of Naha. We didn’t leave one stone on top of another stone.”
Little did I know that my Calvinist father was using biblical imagery to describe warfare.
And if the Navy did do that much damage to Naha… it certainly was of epic proportions.
The stones the disciples so admire in the temple were pretty darned impressive. They were huge…about the size of say a Ford 250 pick up truck.
They were beautiful, too. Smooth Jerusalem rock with pinkish and muted orange coloring.
Herod might have been a fox, but he sure could construct an impressive and beautiful temple!
So it’s easy to see how the disciples could step into this center of grandeur and beauty and just be in awe of what they’re seeing.
It was the best example of “bright shiny object.”
And then Jesus verbally chucks cold water in their faces as a wake up.
“You all like this building? Well guess what? It’s going to be reduced to rubble. Not one stone left on top of another stone!”
There is some history to back that up. The temple WAS destroyed by the Romans in the First Century. And destroying the temple was a way for Rome to crush the spirits of the Jewish Community… especially the Sadducees since temple worship was central to their identity. All of that took place after Jesus’ crucifixion… and was very recent history for the writer of Luke’s Gospel sometime about 85 CE.
But Jesus’ caution to the disciples… and to us… is not just historical; it’s also metaphorically accurate.
Don’t let the bright shiny objects… bold and beautiful stones… or tales of horrible events and experiences of ground shaking uncertainty… get you down. Expect difficulties and challenges. In all of it, remember that we will survive…because God is never far from us…especially in those moments when we are the least sure of God’s presence.
Boy, Jesus: that’s some whacky weirdness there!
And yet…so amazingly and wonderfully true.
Today’s Gospel fits well with what we heard this weekend from Bishop Logue and the canons of the diocese at our convention.
There’s no hiding the fact that every church in the diocese…and across the Episcopal Church…and even across other Christian denominations… has hit wall in large part due to the COVID pandemic.
The world of 2019 is not the world of today.
All the churches across the diocese saw drops in attendance. Churches had already been seeing attendance numbers go down…and COVID seem to push them underwater.
Probably the group that felt it most keenly is our beloved church camp Honey Creek.
With the forced cancellation of so many youth group activities such as Happening and other diocesan programs all moving online…the camp saw its revenues plummet.
Now… I didn’t grow up in the diocese of Georgia… and there was no such thing as Happening when I was a teenager in the church.
But I could sense in the room the sadness at the thought of how many kids had missed out on the experience of going to that quiet thin spot tucked in among the live oaks on Georgia’s coast in Waverly.
And it’s starting to come back to life again…just not at the level it was in 2019.
Now… we could all sit around bemoaning the fact that our camp isn’t burgeoning with activity.
We could mourn that youth who had been going to activities at Honey Creek just aren’t any more.
We could fret that there are 19 of the 68 parishes in our diocese currently without even a part-time priest.
We COULD spend all our energy wanting to not only set our clocks back one hour…but move them back to about August of 2019… the time before any news of a strange and deadly virus in China.
Or we can hear what Jesus is saying to us and really take it to heart:
“But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
We can’t go back to the world of 2019…or even 2018.
(Selfishly, I don’t want to go back that far because I’d be back at the beginning of seminary and one time through was enough, thank you!)
But Jesus is reminding us that if we stick close to the Source of our strength… and draw on that… we will make it through.
Make it through difficulties in the church.
When a crisis occurs…it is an opportunity to step back… reassess… and make way for a new thing to happen.
Something that Bishop Logue repeated throughout his sermon at the diocesan Eucharist on Friday night was that the reality of God is that God is always meeting us in the moment…whatever that moment is.
God’s purpose is getting worked out in ways that may not always be readily apparent to us but will lead us in a direction of light and love… because that is who God is and intends for us to be.
God’s desire for us is to lay down our almost pathological need for certainty and allow God to do the work of transforming our anxious selves into opportunities for us to thrive.
Sometimes topsy-turvy transformation that breaks us open and places a new heart in us.
A heart of flesh instead of stone.
Stone hearts kill the body because they are no longer beating.
Hearts of flesh take blood into the chambers…clean it up and send it back out to keep the body alive.
We can’t live in the past, and we can’t predict the future. But we can live in the present moment… and take it as a chance to envision a future.
Here at St. Barnabas…we have a vision statement…crafted by your vestry… that we want a church… and a Lowndes County…that is a place of health, healing and hope with unconditional love.
We have a God whose spirit ready to meet us in that vision and make it the new real reality.
In the name of God…F/S/HS.