A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost are here.
Isn’t it so very good to be back in this space? Thursday many of you showed up and lovingly cleaned and polished and swept and mopped to enable us to be in here today; it was such a pleasure to work with you in caring for our worship space. It was good and holy work. And in the evening a few of us gathered for quiet prayer in honor of Veterans Day and that time to sit in here filling this space with our prayers, both spoken and played on the guitar, and just being was such a gift. Time in prayer with each other is also good and holy work.
And as we return, we remind ourselves that we must remain flexible and willing to make accommodations for the weather as we wait on the air system to be repaired. I think most of us have gotten fairly good at being flexible over these past two years, don’t you?
Twelve plus years ago, in the days before I departed for seminary, a priest and friend, the wise and compassionate Father Jack Beebe sat down with me and told me what he wished someone had shared with him before his first days of seminary. He spoke of his struggles with having what he thought he knew and believed about God, faith, and the Church being dismantled by what he was learning and how he realized only after the fact that it was both intentional and necessary even though it was quite frightening at the time.
I shared with him that I was no stranger to dismantling and talked about my experience of leaving the denomination I had been raised in because I could not match up how they treated those who veered away from their ideal with what I read of Jesus. Fr. Jack assured me that intentional dismantling within a loving and supportive community was quite different, and with tenderness and concern he told me to hold lightly even what I had already begun to reconstruct, to be ready to let it all go, if necessary, with the confidence that something better would be built as I continued to learn and grow and follow Jesus, not just in seminary but for the rest of my life. He gave me the metaphor of building and maintaining a house: even when the structure is on the proper foundation and the building is good and strong, there is always maintenance and repair work that needs to happen.
This is what Jesus is speaking about with the disciples in our gospel reading this morning. He and the disciples had been spending time in the Temple complex, watching how some folks try to prove themselves not just worthy but exceptional and how some whom their culture deems unworthy reveal true devotion to God. And as they are leaving, one of the disciples points out the awesomeness of the temple building.
And without hesitation, Jesus tells them that buildings don’t last forever, and not that it will just decay but be destroyed. As he has told them before, the things of this world don’t last. And, once again, four of the disciples try to get the upper hand on the others and come to Jesus to find out the details: when? How can they be ready?
Jesus makes it clear, it isn’t ours to know the timeline of God’s plan. Our part in this journey of life with Jesus is to shine the light of God’s love in all that we do, to flavor the world with God’s love because we are God’s beloved children. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we are always ready.
When we get distracted by the wrong things, we can both deceive ourselves and be deceived by others. When we fixate on the end, we miss out on living the blessing of life God provides for us each and every day. God’s plan for God’s people is a plan for peace, not disaster, so that we can journey toward the future with hope. When we fixate on what can go wrong, we will only see what is wrong. When we get distracted by buildings or maintaining the status quo, we miss out on relationships with the people who are the true building blocks of God’s Kingdom.
In the rest of Jesus’ sermon to his disciples about God’s greater plan that we won’t read together (I encourage you to read the rest of the chapter), he speaks of the tribulations of the times, and it sounds like he’s describing the world as we know it today. We look around at the wars and rumors of wars, civil unrest, personal conflicts, and natural disasters and we can’t help but think “it must be time, how can things get any worse.” And it would have sounded exactly the same to the first disciples in first century Palestine.
The world can be a frightening place: there are wars, and famine, we have conflict on a personal, national, and global scale, a pandemic and natural disasters that have made the situation even worse. We have leaders telling us we cannot get along and must hate each other and these same leaders convince us they can save us from it all in messianic fashion. We think somehow we can control the situation if we can just know what’s coming next. And we cannot let ourselves be deceived. We must keep our eyes on Jesus.
We can prepare and be ready for disasters as I know it first hand having been the Disaster Response Coordinator for two dioceses: we have first aid kits, insurance policies, response plans, and budgets and all of these are necessary and good but Jesus warns us against letting them distract us from what really matters: people and relationships. We can have the best prepared disaster plan ever but if in the mean time we neglect caring for our neighbors in the here and now, we’ve taken our eyes off of Jesus.
Jesus told the disciples and tells us that “this generation won’t pass away before all these things happen.” Jesus never sugar coated that the world is, has been, and always will be a frightening place. AND Jesus tells us to hold tightly onto the HOPE he has given us. The hope that leads us into the future, participating with God in making the world less frightening and more hopeful for the people we encounter each and every day.
Are any of y’all fans of Legos? Not the part about stepping on them barefoot in the middle of the night but the endlessly imaginative things you can create with them. Growing up, back in the stone ages when folks considered Legos to be a toy for boys, I loved playing with my brother’s Legos. So, I was very happy when my own son developed an affinity for them so that I could continue to play with them as an adult. As he got to be a teenager and it was no longer cool to play Legos with mom, he would take his new kits into his room and build the new thing according to the instructions and set it on a special shelf reserved for the latest Lego model. It would sit there for a few weeks, being admired, and then he’d take it down, take it completely apart and mix the bricks into his ever growing collection from which he created his own models and inventions. Remaking one thing into another was the purpose of Legos. My son would never have thought that a Lego model was to be made permanent.
This building is a wonderful place in which we can come together in prayer and worship and even work so that we are equipped and enabled to follow Jesus out these doors to flavor the world with God’s love. It isn’t permanent and it isn’t the purpose of who we are.
We are the embodied kingdom, we are the building blocks bound together by the Holy Spirit, a mobile Kingdom securely fastened to the foundation of God’s love yet ever on the journey of following Jesus on The Way. The kingdom isn’t complete with out each and every one of us. The Kingdom is ever growing as we invite and welcome our neighbors to discover the love of God. The Kingdom of God is more like Legos than a building. Amazing things come from combining the skills and talents of God’s people and as we journey forward we need to allow ourselves to be reconfigured and transformed as God continuously creates the Kingdom to include everyone.
We have to hold lightly all that we think we know about how the world should be, remaining ever flexible and ever growing, and hold tightly to the Kingdom Jesus says is at hand, with us, in us, on earth as in heaven, devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers, as beloved children of God who seek and serve Christ in all persons. Amen.