Faithful living in changing times

November 17, 2019

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 65:17–25

Psalm 98

Luke 21:5–19

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “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.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 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. 9 “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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 “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. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls. (Luke 21:5-19, NRSV)

Let us pray: O God, in Christ you give us hope for a new heaven and a new earth. Grant us wisdom to interpret the signs of our times, courage to stand in the time of trial, and faith to witness to your truth and love. Amen.

Last week in her sermon Nancy talked about reading church signs, some of them were quite funny.  Then she posed a question about bagpipes in heaven and I have answer for her, yes, there will be bagpipes in heaven because it is one more sign that God is a Presbyterian.  Just kidding, sort of…. we all interpret the signs of the times differently and we all long to know the facts, when, where, and how.

This week the disciples and others were talking about the temple and how beautiful it is and Jesus buts in and says, “As for these things that you see (the temple), the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”  The crowd asks for a sign as to when this will take place.

Jesus seems to be preparing his followers for the end.  The end of the Temple, the end of the faith, the end of his life, the end of life as they know it.  As the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, says, “All this talk about the end-time is intellectually difficult and pastorally problematic. The problem is that end-time talk, which permeates the New Testament, is deeply incongruous with our intellectual world. We find such talk not only embarrassing but unconvincing.”[1]

The world seems much too solid and stable to be so ready for an ending. Besides, none of us wants to sound like a religious crazy.

And yet, for all our intellectual sophistication, our growing affluence and confidence in our technology, there is a deep, and uneasy feeling that things are really falling apart.  There is a sense of doom and fear cuts across the social, political and ideological spectrum. Even though we don’t fully understand apocalyptic literature or prophetic speech, a lot of us have a feeling or a sense that creation is on the brink of some sort of massive ending.[2]

Many of you know that I visited Scotland in mid-October, it was my first trip there and my first trip to Europe.  It was an amazing experience and I am grateful to each of you for the opportunity to go, to learn and to experience the castles, the history, the cathedrals, the highlands and the islands, the people and the weather of this unpretentious nation. One of the things that struck me was the buildings. Especially the many different cathedrals/kirks we visited.  The Glasgow Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Glasgow or St Mungo’s Cathedral, the oldest cathedral on mainland Scotland.  It survived the Protestant Reformation of 1560.  It is also the oldest building in the city Glasgow.

It is a massive limestone structure that has been darkened over time by pollution.  The Cathedral dates to around AD550 when St Mungo, also known as St Kentigern, established a church on the site.  The current structure dates to 1200’s. Walking through this medieval building and connecting it to the history of the church was a true epiphany for me.  More on Reformation history in another sermon.

What was even more fascinating was the fact that many of these ancient cathedrals were still homes to worshipping communities. Yes, some more vibrant than others.  Yet buildings, even church buildings, temples in this story, like everything else has a beginning, a middle and an end.  A birth, a life and a death. It is the cycle of life.  Some things must die so that something else can live. Some programs must cease so that others may start…

Every story has an ending, a final page, a last word trailing off into silence.  Even the Bible, our Holy Scripture stubbornly insists that the story of creation has an end.  Yes, this beautiful world will come to an end.   The sounds and stirrings in space will cease.   Histories will cease.  Colors will fade.  And the lights will go out.  Now, God may begin a new creation after ending this one, a new creation for other people, but the only creation we know is headed for an End.[3] Before you get all discouraged and depressed, remember this, things come to an end every moment. New things arise every moment as well.

I have learned from many of you about the history of Indian Hill Church.  The golden age of Luther Tucker, the glory days of Paul Long and Jim Metzger. The Church was packed back then, we had so much going on, lots of money, social justice ministries, political and intellectual engagement in Adult Forums, lots of young families and of course the pews were full.  You know the gilded age of Christendom.  Many realize that those days are over, others long for them and miss them, and some never knew them and could care less.  My point being Indian Hill Church of the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s is no more, and the Indian Hill Church of today is alive, different yes, but alive.  What will the Indian Hill Church of the future be like…talk about an unanswerable question.

We may not know what will become of our church of tomorrow, but we have a plan to help us get there.  Remember, that some things must die, come to an end so that fresh forms of faith and live can arise from the ruins.  The Indian Hill Church exists to strengthen our relationship to God and to one another by improving the spiritual journey and the quality of the lives of our congregation and our wider community.  Pretty loft goal so how and do we get there?  

You have heard it said and often quoted from the book of Proverbs, “Without a vision the people perish.”[4]We strive to share the transcending Peace of God, so it is experienced by all who participate in our church.   We welcome all people to our journey.  We are an open, tolerant, friendly, growing church offering inspiring worship, music, and education to children, youth, and adults.  We support an active outreach program to the community.  Our congregation is proud of our church and is actively engaged. Again, a lofty goal and a wide vision…how do we achieve it? 

Our roadmap for getting there is to focus on our plan, which is based on five pillars, five important areas of focus.  The Vestry Session and each committee and all of us working together can focus our time, energy, and resources to each of these aspects of our church will help us achieve our vision.  They are:

1.       Worship

2.       Christian Education

3.       Music

4.       Outreach

5.       Membership/Administration

Each pillar has action plans and goals that we wish to achieve over the next five years.  We have a plan, a vision, goals for our congregation moving forward. 

And we will continually pray for God to guide us because it is always God’s plan not just ours.  Yes, the church is not what it was in the day of the disciples, not what it was in the time of the Apostle Paul, not what it was in the time for the Reformation, nor what it was in Scotland, not what it was in the day’s of the formation of the Indian Hill Church.  But we are the church here and now and it is exciting. Not something to be anxious about.

In this passage, Jesus is speaking words of hope and encouragement to us as we face change, the future and the unknown.  Live with courage to leave the ruins of old systems and dying programs behind so that we bear new faith and the persecutions that go with it.  Edwin Robertson, in a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, tells of visiting Hanover after the war and meeting a German pastor. The man’s church building had been bombed and his congregation scattered.  The Pastor confessed:  “At last I am free—free to be a minister of Jesus Christ.  I am no longer trammeled by church building and its programs.”  For the faithful there is freedom on the far side of lost temples.[5]

Recently, I read about Coventry Cathedral also known St Michael’s Cathedral, the medieval parish that was destroyed during the Second World War. On November 14, 1940 it was bombed by the German Luftwaffe.  Today standing right next to the ruins is a new cathedral of modernist design.   Like a phoenix raising from the ruins.  It is now a global witness to peace and to resurrection.  Apparently, there is engraved in the floor near the entrance these words: “To the Glory of God this cathedral burnt.” And just outside, carved on the old burnt-out walls, is engraved a promise based on Haggai 2:9: “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former.”[6]  May it be so in our church as well.

Let us pray

[1] Reverend Dr. Walter Brueggemann

[2] Reverend Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Living by The Word, Christian Century, October21,1992

[3] Reverend Paul Duke, Kirkwood Baptist Church, Kirkwood, MO, The Christian Century, Living by the Word, November 1, 1995. Page 1011.

[4] Proverbs 29:18, NRSV

[5] Reverend Paul Duke, Kirkwood Baptist Church, Kirkwood, MO, The Christian Century, Living by the Word, November 1, 1995. Page 1011.

[6] Reverend Paul Duke, Kirkwood Baptist Church, Kirkwood, MO, The Christian Century, Living by the Word, November 1, 1995. Page 1011.