Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, November 14, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 25

Pentecost 25, 2021
Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-25
Mark 13:1-8

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite bumper stickers is the one that reads, “Entropy Rules!”  Entropy is the science-y word that means, everything naturally falls apart.  Like, you cut down a tree, come back in 20 years, and it will have slowly decayed into the ground.  Or, to quote from The Breakfast Club: "Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.”  This is why we have to get our cars serviced, and launch capital campaigns to fix our buildings.  Because the natural order of things is to fall apart.  Entropy Rules!

And that’s kind of how Jesus responds to the disciples as they leave the Temple in this morning’s gospel reading, and it’s kind of depressing.  As we heard, one of the disciples says to Jesus, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” And Jesus asks him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  What Jesus could have said was, “Yes, it’s all very impressive.  But remember: Entropy Rules.  Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.”

I have a friend who used to be a pretty hardcore Evangelical, and he was really hooked on the idea that when Jesus returns he’s going to wipe everything out and start over.  When anyone got too attached to something, my friend would say, “It’s all gonna burn.”  Like you’d say to him, “I’m really hoping my wife and I can finally get our upstairs bathroom finished.”  And my friend would say, “Don’t get too excited, because it’s all gonna burn!”  Like when Jesus comes back he’s going to be carrying the Mother of All Flamethrowers.  

Some people take that view, like my friend, because they think that everything is broken and twisted and must be replaced.  Irredeemably flawed.  I personally disagree with that view, because from what I see in the scriptures, it seems more the way of Jesus to perfect things rather than replace them.  When Jesus sees a blind man, he doesn’t replace him with someone who can see; Jesus gives that man his sight.  Jesus restores things, rather than upgrading to a newer version.  At the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus brings him back to life, instead of rolling out Lazarus 2.0.  In Jesus, things become what they were meant to be, rather than what they are, and as opposed to what people say they should be.

But there’s a tricky balance at work here.  If my friend is correct and everything is gonna burn, then why take care of anything?  Why eat my vegetables since I might get hit by a bus tomorrow?  Why start singing a song since I know it’s going to end after the last chorus?  Is there any point in pursuing beauty through preservation and care if it’s all going to be destroyed?  And that’s where there is a difference between entropy and It’s All Gonna Burn.  Entropy makes us engage to make things better; thinking It’s All Gonna Burn makes us give up.  Entropy rules . . . but not if we can help it, right?  There’s a great quote that applies here, sometimes attributed to Martin Luther:  “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would still plant an apple tree today.”

There’s a running theme in Mark’s gospel that has come up several times in the past few months.  And that is, the disciples’ obsession with greatness.  Remember that time they were arguing about which of them was the greatest?  And Jesus shows the disciples what greatness is by placing a child in the midst of them.  So when they talk about the greatness of this building with large stones, he reminds them that buildings do not last forever.  Because entropy rules.  Things fall apart.

We like to judge the disciples for their obsession with greatness, but that’s only because we don’t recognize it in ourselves.  We are obsessed with growth, and bigness, and strength.  In our country, in our churches, and in ourselves.  We want to be the biggest and the best at . . . well, at everything.  We are not so far off from the disciples in this way.

One of the thrills of being the Rector at St. Timothy’s is that throughout the year I get to bring groups of people into this space and hear them ooh and aww at the beauty that has been handed down to us.  And they say to each other, “Look, what large stones and what fine Tiffany windows!”  And then, naturally, I turn to them and say, “Do you see these great windows in this amazing building? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.  Hope you can join us for worship on Sunday!”

This section of Mark’s gospel is sometimes called The Little Apocalypse, because Jesus says to the disciples: When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.  Scary stuff, right?  Apocalyptic.

But that response from Jesus is an answer to a question from the disciples.  They say to Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”  And here we’re really back to entropy.  Because it’s all falling apart, all the time.  We are living in a slow-motion apocalypse from the day we are born.  Just look around.  Have you seen nations rising against nations?  Earthquakes?  Famines?  When will it happen?  It’s happening right now.  You’re soaking in it.

We have no control over these things.  We’re living in a slow-motion apocalypse all our lives, and entropy rules.  And any time we start arguing with one another over who is the greatest, or marvel at seemingly indestructible buildings, we would do well to remember this teaching.  “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

And that’s much different from, It’s All Gonna Burn, right?  It is the natural order of things to be born or built, have their existence, and then pass away.  See that young strapping football quarterback?  Well, not one muscle will be left upon another.  All will be thrown down.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  In the words of the band Kansas, “nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.”  It’s just the way things are.  When will things fall apart, Jesus?  Things are falling apart right now, comes the reply.

Hearing that something is going to happen naturally makes us want to know when it’s going to happen.  And when the disciples hear Jesus suggest that all these buildings will be rubble at some point, they want to know when.  Tell us the day, Jesus.  Give us the signs that we are to look for.  Is it today?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  They almost seem to panic, don’t they?  What do you mean St. Timothy’s won’t be here forever?  What will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?  Whatever will we do?

And you know why they panic?  Why we panic?  Because we put our faith in structures, and buildings, and nations.  This democracy we have created will last forever.  This building will always be here to shelter our worship.  And when we start putting our faith in buildings and nations, well, maybe it’s helpful to have someone say to us, remember: Entropy Rules.

Jesus says, “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes; there will be famines.”  103 years ago this month the War to End All Wars came to an end, and simply paved the road to an even more devastating war.  If we put our trust in kingdoms, nations, and buildings, we will be sorely disappointed, because they're not going to be here forever.

But, as we’ve all been starkly reminded these past two years, the Church is not a building; the Church is us.  Sure, we happen to have inherited the most beautiful structure in the state of Ohio, but this building is not the Church.  We are the Church, along with all the others who have ever lived and ever will live.  We don’t put our hope in the current things of this world, where Entropy Rules.  But you know where we do put our hope?  

In the birthpangs, that’s where.  Yes, everything comes to an end.  But for those who put their hope in Jesus, the end is the beginning.  The rebirth is always around the corner.  As we heard in the letter to the Hebrews this morning:  

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.”  We put our hope in the promises of Jesus Christ.  And we can trust that hope, believe that hope, live that hope, because Jesus who has promised is faithful.  And among the promises of Jesus, we know he has promised to be among us.

I still believe the best bumper sticker ever is that one that says, Entropy Rules, though I’m tempted to add, “So Far.”  And that’s because, though things do fall apart, God restores them to fulness.  Remember the birthpangs.  And though we all do go down to the grave, God promises to raise us up to new life.  May God give us the grace to trust in the hope of these promises, and to live together in unity and peace, until the day that Jesus returns, and makes all things new.


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