Luke 21:5-19 Before I Die, I Would Like To….
(For St. Aidan’s 140th Anniversary Service)
Let’s be honest, this morning’s Gospel lesson is just not what you want to hear on our church’s anniversary Sunday. Anniversaries are times when we like to think about the faithful witness of those in the past here in this place. As we flash through the photos on the screen this morning, perhaps some of you can even put names to those faces. I would love to have a conversation with some of those people. What was it like in 1873 to start a new church in a farming community? What hopes and dreams did those pioneers of faith and land have? What was it like in the early part of the last century to be casting a vote whether to remain Presbyterian as your ancestors had been, with everything decent and in order, especially in worship, or to leap out in faith and vote to join with those raucous Methodists who believed in the primacy of the Spirit. Then to be one of only four congregations across the nation to vote to join the United Church while your minister remained Presbyterian. I would also like to sit down and have a conversation with Nellie McClung, our first woman elder at St. Aidan’s, first woman elder in the United Church of Canada. Brilliant author, feminist who is credited with getting the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council to rule that women were “persons” entitled to all the rights men had, when the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that the law did not recognize women as such. There are others I would like to have had conversation with. What was it like to send your sons off to war? What did the church do in the depression? What was said from this pulpit when the Japanese farmers in this community were rounded up and sent off to the interior in February 1942? St. Aidan’s has a history, has a witness in this place.
The disciples are walking with Jesus one day and they pass by the temple. Built by Herod, it was huge. It was an imposing, permanent feature in Jerusalem. You could imagine the thing lasting forever but Jesus comments, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another.” The rest of the passage goes on to remind us that there is nothing in this world that is permanent. All is ephemeral, a word from Greek, meaning lasting only one day or as the psalmist put it, all grass withers.
If we read through the New Testament, we see that there is a fair bit of this talk about the end of things. It seems so incongruous with the way we want to structure our world. We build taller and taller buildings which look as if they will withstand the test of time. We structure our finances to give us some sense of permanent support throughout our lives. Yet, despite all of this desire for things going on forever the way they have, there is some sort of collective sense in society that we have come or are coming to some sort of massive ending.
Our best institutions, for the first time in hundreds of years, seem oddly dysfunctional. Churches worry about their survival. We wonder whether our courts always meet out justice. Medical institutions don’t always provide the care when we want it. Schools are challenged as they seek to educate. It seems as if all of the institutions upon which our society has been founded are not only in financial crisis but also face a crisis of purpose.
Things are no better in the political realm. Aren’t you glad you don’t live in Toronto, the butt of all kinds of political jokes on American late night TV? Now the police chief of that city is in hot water for a fishing trip. Just to mention the Senate brings up images of corruption amongst some of its members.
The night, half of our span of time, seems so dark and fearful as unimaginable things happen on the streets of our city, in dark alleys and behind closed doors. Goodness only knows what we are doing to the fine mantle crust of our planet as we ravage water, land and sky for the profit of the few.
The theologian Walter Bruggemann tells us to look around ourselves and says, our generation is being given the greatest invitation ever to do something…to do something to show that we are living out our faith in a Creator through the way shown to us by Jesus. Jesus closes of this passage of all kinds of terrible things happening by saying, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
In the Old Testament, in Babylon, when it looks like the Jews will be severely oppressed, the Queen Esther, who has concealed the fact that she is a Jew, is faced with the challenge to speak up on behalf of her people. Her uncle Mordecai councils her, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for a time such as this?” For a time such as this. Who knows whether in the spinning and swirling of galaxies and stardust since the beginning of time whether we have been placed here at this intersection of time and place for a specific reason? Esther is called to speak out. What are we are we called to do in our time? Do we hear the invitation? 140 years ago, an invitation to form a congregation, invitations to succeeding generations to speak out for justice for women, to open a soup kitchen in the thirties, to speak when one race is imprisoned. The invitation is invitation is issued to each generation.
We can talk about these things in our society, in our global world, but aren’t there moments in our own lives when it seems as if the very stones of our fabric, of our being, are being torn down. One day it is all there and then the next day it seems as if one or more of those things Jesus was talking about is upon you. A spot on a medical test, a phone call with news of loss, any one of many things.
Our faith speaks to this. We dare speak about the moments of danger and loss. There are, I believe three things we do. First, Jesus calls us to be truth tellers. In society, the Church must name things as they are calling injustices to light…and I think the United Church over the years has come under some fire for doing this. We must also be willing to be open to being truth tellers in our own lives, of seeing things in our own lives as they really are. This can be scary to speak about the unspeakable in our own lives.
Second, we know that the Holy One is with us. There are times in our lives when to see ourselves through the dark night of the soul we have to repeat as a mantra the words of our creed, “We are not alone. In life, in death, in life beyond death we are not alone.” We do not do well when we are in the dark place between yesterday and the promise of new life of tomorrow. Sometimes all you can do is know that God is with you.
Third, more than just having a sense of God with us, we have the unflinching witness of the Scriptures; stories of men and women such as us who have been there and remind us in lyrical, daring, jarring words that we can speak about, we can name, the ungluing of our lives, when we would rather run and hide. We can hear these words, such as Marion read today, as an invitation to live now by faith and hope using our trial and tribulation to sharpen our deep appreciation for the present that God has created.
I don’t know where you stand this morning on the great issues facing our world. Like me you probably know there is a great deal of pain in Creation. I don’t know what personal challenges you might be facing in your own life. However, I know that each one of us has challenges which are very real. So this morning in some sort of spiritual way, maybe as you listen to the choir, or as we sing, or as we pray, just mentally place those challenges on the communion table and know that the God who was with Jesus and his disciples as they looked at the temple, the God who was here with those founding members 140 years ago, that very same God is with us today.
One final challenge, as a way of moving you, of moving us to thanksgiving to the Holy One, and as a way of dedicating the next piece of your journey to God, answer the question “Before I die, I would like to…” I think your answer is what Jesus was seeking when he walked past the temple that day and said things weren’t permanent. Before I die, I would like to…