St. Mary's Cathedral
Memphis, Tennessee
November 18, 2001
TheTwenty-fourth Sunday After PentecostPhoto of Peggy Gunness

Crumbling Temples
The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness

Gospel:Luke 21:5-19

Most gracious God, Take our minds and think with them,
Take our lips and speak with them, Take our hearts and set them on fire.

So … this is my first time to speak to you from this pulpit as a person who now belongs here, and I can't tell you
what a joy it is.

Actually, standing here in this pulpit this morning makes me remember some of the other pulpits I've been in over time, particularly places where I was there as a visiting preacher. I found that they often had a prayer or a statement of some sort
taped to the surface of the pulpit, presumably for the preacher to say aloud, or perhaps just to inwardly digest. One, for example, had the familiar opening prayer:
May the words of my mouth & the meditations of our hearts
Be always acceptable to you, O Lord our strength & our redeemer.

Another had:
Not unto me, O Lord, not unto me, but to your Name give glory.

But then there was another which said:
"In exactly twelve minutes the organist will begin to play the next hymn."

Jane, if you suddenly start to play, I'll know I've gone on for too long!

But now, on with the sermon… I usually like to preach from the Gospel, which with the Eucharist is at the heart and center of Sunday worship. I like to delve into the words and the meaning of the Gospel and then use them as both a foundation and a point of departure, and through them, I hope, to speak directly to you who have come to this parish church this morning, yearning to hear God's word.

My very first mentor, years ago, used to say that a good preacher should always have the Gospel in one hand and the New York Times in the other, thus bringing the Gospel and the substance of our lives together as one inter-active, indivisible
whole. And it seems to me to be especially important to try to do so now, with this particular Gospel reading and in these particular times, when the stories dominating the news are also dominating our hearts and minds, even our daily lives themselves.

So, first of all, let's look at the Gospel. It's surely an apocalyptic passage, a biblical text that foreshadows nothing less than the end of the world order as we have known it. In reading it, we can almost hear for ourselves the voice of Jesus as he
speaks to the people gathered round him. So listen again to what he is saying: This temple, he says, pointing to the magnificent edifice before them, this temple, this place of worship which you have grown to love and honor, which has come to symbolize both the heart and the purpose of your society … this very building whose strength and grandeur cannot be found anywhere else in the world, this your temple will not endure forever. For I tell you, soon it will be destroyed. Now surely, the people there felt puzzled by his words and helpless, frightened and insecure. Like us, they probably wished that they could just back away from it all and shut their eyes and ears, for they knew that, if what Jesus was saying was true, it meant that their very lives would be radically changed forever.

But then let's move on from the scripture to consider the NYT....or the Commercial Appeal….or even MSNBC. What do the many urgent stories in the news today look like to you, relative to today's scripture? It's ironic, isn't it, how many similarities between the two seem to appear. For example, the twin towers of the World Trade Center have long been known as a place to be revered. Some have even gone so far as to call them a temple of modern America - built to honor human ingenuity, progress and industry, a place where one could go to worship the gods of commerce, industry and wealth.

Or to take another example, our progress in aviation. We seem to have begun to feel that in this industry we had become the creators of a new and boundless source of size and speed, of strength and dexterity. But then, that too was challenged, unleashing massive powers of destruction and terror, and now many people are turning away from that worship and removing their support from the industry, because they are afraid. Another idol has been broken.

Finally, even the health of our bodies, it seems, has been challenged, and such daily things as the mail we receive, the places we work, the bridges we cross, all of these, rather than being standards of national accomplishment and pride, have
become instead bearers of potential illness, destruction and the possibility of death.

So …. I think we could call all of these "temples" of a sort, places which many people of this land had come to depend on and where they went to worship, in a way, and to find meaning for their lives. And if that is so, then those words of Jesus, spoken so long ago, come back to echo in our ears with a new sense of reality and of urgency. Hear them again: "As for these things you see," he said, "the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."

So what, then, are we to do? How can we hear and heed Christ's warning to our own times? And how can we live in today's world and remain faithful to the One who alone is God?

The first answer that came to my own mind was this: that if we don't want these modern temples - of commerce, aviation, health, and human freedom - if we don't want these vital parts of our lives to crumble and wreak havoc and destruction upon human lives, we must not make temples of them; we must not make them gods; we must worship them no longer. For you see, I believe that the remarkable progress of human society - the progress of the human mind and spirit - is not of our doing, but is nothing less than a wondrous manifestation of the extraordinary power and blessing of God working in and through us. It's not our power, it's God's power. And thus it is God and God alone that we must worship, and not the work of our own hearts or minds or hands. With each new discovery, with each new accomplishment, we would do well to get down on our knees and say the prayer
that was taped on the face of that pulpit long ago, "Not unto us, Lord God, not unto us, but to your Name give glory.

So I close now with a final quotation from words written long ago by a nun known as Mother Mary Clare of Oxford, England. They seem to speak to us still:
We must try to understand the meaning of the age
in which we are called to bear witness.
We must accept the fact that (it) is an age
in which the cloth is being unwoven
It is therefore no good trying to patch.
We must, rather, set up the loom on which
coming generations may weave new cloth, (but always)
according to the pattern (which) God alone provides.

May it be so. May it be so. Amen

Copyright 2001 St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral

Gospel: Luke 21: 5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful
stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,
"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."

They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" 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.

"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."
Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

"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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls." NRSV

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