a sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 28B/Lectionary 33]
How are you dealing with the end of Daylight Savings Time? Has your body figured out how to cope after a readjustment of just one hour? How about any kids or dogs living in your house? I know that it took me a few days to respond to a new sleep schedule, and when I visited the Jordan family for a pre-baptismal visit on early Monday evening, they were still patiently trying to get little Audrey to go to sleep at the new 7:30, not the old one.
I ran across a funny meme sometime this week that was a guide for putting your clocks back on various devices. It showed a photo of a smartphone in one corner with the words, “Smartphone: Leave it alone. It does its magic.” Then in the next corner was a photo of a sundial. It said, “Sundial: move one house to the left.” In the bottom corner was a photo of a kitchen oven. It said, “Oven: You’ll need a Masters in Electric Engineering or a hammer.” And in the last corner was a dashboard in a car. It said, “Car radio: Not worth it. Wait six months.”
Each year it seems that the calls to do away with this feature of keeping track of time get louder and louder. Wherever you stand on the issue—and apparently it has become a hot-button topic, as if we need another—we have to admit that it signals the end of one little era and the beginning of another. With one flick of a button, or maybe none at all, we’ve entered a more winter mode. Things are darker, at least in the evenings. Night owls are probably pleased. We feel like cozying down for the year’s end. And as hard as we think we have it, just imagine what it used to be like to keep track of time when the whole calendar and month-numbering system often re-started every time a new emperor took control. At least we don’t have to do that!
It does make us think, though: if time can change, and if even we can change it as one whole huge society, then what can’t be changed? What things are not altered or affected by eras and epochs? What can we count on tomorrow, and the day after that? We can tell this morning that the disciples of Jesus certainly thought the temple in Jerusalem was in that category. It was enormous. It was gargantuan.
This was the temple whose reconstruction King Herod the Great had undertaken. By the time of Jesus and his disciples it had grown to become one of the world’s greatest edifices. It took up about 36 acres. Some of the stones used to make it would have measured about 6 ½ feet in length and weighed tens if not hundreds of tons. You can imagine that to a first century small town fisherman or tax collector, which is what most of the disciples were, who was living in a time before dynamite and nuclear bombs, the destruction of such a huge and imposing building was unimaginable. It would seem absolutely impenetrable and immovable, something that could only be added to, not taken apart.
And their reaction is especially important if you realize the disciples were not just admiring the size and grandeur of the temple. They probably wanted to start measuring it for curtains and drapes because they were thinking that once Jesus came into power, they would be the ones exerting power and influence from there. After all, the disciples are still not clued into the nature of Jesus’ mission and kingdom at this point. They have not yet figured out, even though Jesus has gone over and over it multiple times, that his kingdom is not about big buildings or thrones or exerting force over people and impressing everyone with power and control.
What is his kingdom about? A look back on the journey they’ve just had with Jesus to reach this point would give us a great idea. Like the times he showed compassion to people who were sick or possessed by demons, and the time he crossed racial and ethnic boundaries to talk with a foreign woman whose daughter was dying. Or the many times he talked about children and even brought them onto his lap, using their simplicity and trustfulness as an example of faith. And just before this point, on the way up into Jerusalem, he stopped to call over a blind beggar named Bartimaeus who had been silenced by his disciples. Then he gave him sight. These are the signs of Jesus’ kingdom and they will form the foundation of God’s new time. They will be the kinds of things that will last, no matter what kind of tumultuous days occur between now and then. The things done that reflect Jesus’ kingdom of selflessness and mercy and compassion will be the things that go on forever.
I bet if I were to ask you, for example, who the winners of the last five World Series were, or who the winners of the last five Academy Awards for Best Actor were, you would be hard pressed to name them. We might be able to name the wealthiest person on the planet right now, for example, because that’s in the news, but could any of us name the wealthiest person in 1990? Or 1950? But, by contrast, if I were to ask you to name five people who have made a difference in your life, who have taught you something invaluable, who have helped you find your way through a difficult time, you’d be able to rattle them off with ease. These are the building stones of Jesus’ new kingdom. And they aren’t torn down.
And that kingdom is coming. It’s being birthed right now, right as we speak as we gather in his name, right as you drop your Thanksgiving basket donations here in the Commons, right as you set aside a portion of your time to pray and sing when you could be doing something else, right as you offer some of your Tuesday nights for the next year to sit on Council, right as you speak out and act through the political system to bring peace and justice to all, right as you sign up to serve a meal at the Liberation Veterans Services shelter, right as you consider bringing a foster child into your home, right as you pick up the phone to check in on your friend who is grieving, right as you stop to admire the fall colors around you and give thanks to God that even in dying there can be beauty and hope for spring. We are in the birth pangs of a new time, a new era that Jesus is ushering in with the selfless giving of his life. And everything that does not support that new life will be torn down and done away with. Eventually. As it happens, not too long after Jesus speaks these words, the temple in Jerusalem did fall. Unbelievably and traumatically the Roman army managed to burn it and reduce it to rubble, scattering the Jewish people from their home into the world.
Interestingly enough, it was just about two years ago that the new statue by Kehinde Wiley outside the VMFA was unveiled. It is called “Rumors of War,” a title that may seem strange to some but shouldn’t be to us because it comes straight from Jesus’ own mouth in this morning’s gospel lesson about the coming kingdom. He says, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.” Jesus is telling his disciples to be patient and vigilant and calm during tumultuous times as the world makes this transition into his eternal kingdom. Wiley designed his large statue, which features an ordinary black man in dreadlocks and blue jeans sitting atop a horse, as a response to the many equestrian Confederate statues that, at the time, were along Monument Avenue. Calling the statue Rumors of War is a way to say, Things aren’t over. The powers that be won’t have the final say. Nations rise against nation, even within themselves. And that things we regard as permanent and sacred will be brought down.
That was in early December 2019, and as the statue was unveiled I don’t think any of us had any inkling of an idea that within two years all of those Confederate statues would be brought down. They were kind of like Richmond’s version of the Jerusalem temple, immovable architectural objects that people identified with our city. Nowadays, only two statues remain along the Monument Avenue corridor—the one by Wiley and the Arthur Ashe memorial, which depicts him teaching children.
Regardless of where we each stand on the issue of statues, kind of like regardless on where we stand on Daylight Savings time, we have to admit it is powerfully amazing and exhilarating when we see the words of Jesus come to life in quite such vivid fashion. All will be thrown down, and that means some things that we love and things we revere will belong to the old time that is passing away, reduced to rubble. And I assume that means Wiley’s statue and Arthur Ashe’s, too, eventually. It hurts to think about sometimes.
But these are birth pangs. A new world of life and mercy and forgiveness forevermore is coming to term. A new life of true freedom and true joy is emerging. The Irish rock band has a song with a line that says “Freedom has a scent like the top of a newborn baby’s head.” I’ve always been enamored with that line…so much so that when each of our children were born, I asked the attending physician to let me sniff the top of their heads before she took them to be washed and weighed.
But perhaps I didn’t need to do that. That is what our heads smell like—freedom—marked with the cross and washed as they are in the waters of baptism. Moving forward. Not being swayed by the wars or rumors of wars or by those who will try to be a savior for us in Jesus’ place. We wait for the one who has already claimed us, Jesus the true Savior, our internal timepieces and our eyes and our hearts and our faith set by the cross on this exciting new era—World Savings time.
Thanks be to God!
The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.