Sermon

Pentecost 25 - Year C

2010-11-14
St. James's Episcopal Church
The Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
The Beginning and the End
I read recently that in 1943 Thomas Watson, then chairman of IBM said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Boy, was that a bad prediction. Lee De Forest, the great American inventor, who is considered one of the fathers of radio, was quoted in 1926 as saying, “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.” And in 1962 the Decca Recording Company turned down a recording act and made the following prediction, “guitar music is on the way out” and “we don’t like their sound.” The company was referring to four young men from Liverpool who were calling their band the Beatles.
Making predictions is a tricky business. It’s hard to tell what the future will bring and trying to guess how events will unfold is usually no more than fanciful speculation. I wonder if that’s what some of the disciples thought when they heard Jesus talking about the great Temple in Jerusalem – “the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” There the disciples were, standing in the Temple courtyard, looking around at one of the most impressive man made structures in the world and Jesus was predicting it’s destruction. Of course, now, the only thing left of that Temple is a single wall; sacred to Jews everywhere, often called the Wailing Wall. But then, the smallest stones in the building each weighed 2 or 3 tons. The largest exceeded 50 tons. In places the walls of the Temple were over 400 feet high. Inside the walls there was 45 acres of space and it is believed that 250,000 people could fit comfortably within that structure. How could Jesus begin to think that this massive building would one day be destroyed?
But Jesus was right, he was right about it all. In the year 70 CE, some ten years or so before the Gospel of Luke was written, the Romans destroyed the Temple as retribution for a failed Jewish uprising. And we all know that Jesus was right about many of those who followed him - they were arrested, persecuted, tortured and killed. Paul was imprisoned for years before he was put to death. Peter was crucified upside down. James, our patron Saint, was stoned to death. Jesus called it. He predicted chaos, destruction, and persecution. But at the same time he also told his followers, “But not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Yes, Jesus told them, bad things will happen. The future will be more difficult than you can now imagine, things that seem permanent will fall apart, you may even be killed for your faith - but God will not let you go.
Predictions about destruction, chaos, Armageddon, the end of the world, have been around for a long time. The Bible is full of such apocalyptic writing and Jesus warned of difficult days to come. Christians do in fact believe that the world has a beginning and it will have an ending. Unlike other religions that believe this world is eternal, the Judeo-Christian tradition is clear – one day our world will end. But we are promised that God was there at the world’s beginning and God will be there at the end, therefore we have nothing to fear. God is Alpha and Omega.
In essence, what Jesus was telling his disciples is, yes, the Temple will be destroyed and they will be persecuted for being his followers. But don’t panic. Don’t panic in the face of human destruction. Don’t panic about wars and rumors of wars. Don’t panic when the sky itself shows troublesome omens. It may be tempting to panic, but we are not to be ruled by fear. God is still with us, and in spite of whatever happens we are to bear witness to his power and his love.
I am reminded of the TV preacher who went on the air and talked for an hour about his new book that supposedly explained everything anyone need to know about the coming of Jesus and the end of the world. “You must have this book,” he said over and over again, a phone number constantly flashing at the bottom of the screen. It appeared that he was the only one who could predict future world events and for a mere $14.95 anyone could have the benefit of his wisdom. A frustrated minister called the number on the screen and suggested to the poor operator standing by to take orders that if this preacher really thought the end was near and that his book was so vital to the survival of the planet, then he ought to be giving the book away. After all, if the world is coming to an end who needs money? He may sell half a million books but he won’t have anywhere to spend his profits. The woman on the other end of the line was not amused. “Sorry sir,” she said, “but I don’t know much about theology,” to which the minister replied, “and neither does the preacher who’s selling this book.”
When St. James’s was located down on 5th and Marshall Streets I wonder how people felt sitting in church in April of 1865 just before Union troops occupied the city? I wonder how they felt some weeks later when fire had destroyed much of Richmond? I know there are many here who still remember how they felt the Sunday after Pearl Harbor, or after the assassination of President Kennedy. I remember how worried and anxious I felt the Sunday after 9-11 when we knew our world had changed forever.
The fact is there are lots of terrible events that happen to us as individuals and as a society but we are not to be afraid. Christ’s Kingdom will come, in fact it has come already - the tomb is empty and Christ has risen form the dead. One day, when all is said and done, Christ’s Kingdom will be fulfilled. In the meantime, we are to love and care for one another in the knowledge that when we do so we continue Christ’s work in the world.
Norman Vincent Peale once told a story about encountering a hurricane while on a cruise in the Atlantic. After the captain managed to sail the ship safely through the storm, he and Dr. Peale were visiting one another. The captain said he always lived by one simple philosophy namely that if the sea is smooth, it will get rough; and if it is rough, it will get smooth again. He added something worth remembering: “But with a good ship,” he said, “you can always ride it out.” Our ship is our faith in Christ. And with a good ship we can ride out anything. Life is unpredictable but God is with us. Remember, we have been promised that not a hair on our head will perish. Amen.