November 18, 2001
TheTwenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Rev. Margaret B. Gunness
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.
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
May the words of my mouth & the meditations of our hearts
Be always acceptable to you, O Lord our strength & our redeemer.
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
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
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
But then let's move on from the scripture to consider the NYT....or the
.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
. 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
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
Luke 21: 5-19
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."
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."
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
"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."