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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Remembrance Sunday is an occasion when we are called to remember the men and women, who throughout the ages, have acted selflessly for others. Certainly, we are summoned to remember those who acted bravely in war and those who offered the supreme sacrifice for their nation. But it is also an appropriate day to honor and remember those whose valor is recognized through their selfless acts of courage and sacrifice in service to their neighbors. After all, sometimes life’s greatest struggle is not against an enemy in war. Sometimes, the greatest is struggle is remaining hopeful for the sake of others.
Men and women are easily discouraged when they are gazing in the wrong direction. St. Mark’s portrait of Jesus walking with his disciples through Jerusalem’s temple admiring the mighty stones is just as timely and telling today as it was 2,000 years ago. Like Jesus’ own disciples, we all can be awed, impressed and enamored by things that will not last. We place our trust in institutions and structures built by human hands. 14 years, ago we were surprised and shocked, when the massive 35-W bridge spanning the Mississippi River collapsed into the rushing water below, killing 13 people and injuring another 145. Many people that evening pondered how different their lives would have been or for those of their loved ones had the bridge tumbled down at the hour they were passing over it.
Of course, the temple walls are not always shaken by natural disaster or human error. Sometimes the walls tumble down because of human hatred and terror. 20 years ago America was horrified by the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. Life in American suddenly changed. In a world priding itself on public health, the Covid-19 pandemic over the past 19 months turned people’s lives and priorities upside down. For others, it is not the past that concerns them, so much as their fear of the future, and so we have watched the gathering of youth and politicians in Glasgow, Scotland for the COP 26 meeting working to negotiate a framework for addressing climate change.
Personally, as a pastor, I have discovered that the temples where we worship aren’t always buildings. Far more often the temples that fall are those of our own hopes and dreams. And they do fall. For you, the temple walls may have toppled when your supervisor closed the door of your office to explain the necessity of downsizing. For you, the temple walls may have toppled when the doctor informed you that the lump you had discovered while showering was cancerous. The temple walls may have toppled, when the police stopped by your home to inform you that your daughter had been struck in a hit and run accident.
Or perhaps the tumbling stones are far more subtle. You walked past the mirror last night, and you saw your mother or father standing there. You looked again, and you were surprised to discover that you were no longer as young as you thought you were, and you wondered what have you done with your life? Or perhaps you pondered what more you could accomplish? Your temple walls are falling. Your ten-year old son asks you to play catch with a football, and all you can answer is that you are too busy. But as you look out the window and see him alone, you can’t concentrate on anything else. Your temple walls are falling. You pick up your cell phone, and you hear the angry voice of your 7 year-old daughter, “Where are you?” At that moment you realize that you have forgotten her piano recital… again.” Your temple walls are falling.
But let me be honest. Falling temples are not always bad. Some personal temples need to fall. Places of false worship and misdirected praise may need to be toppled. The timing, however, may not be great. A dear colleague of mine in the ministry had been struggling with depression all his life, but he didn’t know it, until the day the temple came tumbling down on him a week before Easter. He was in isolated therapy for three months. But he never considered that “temple falling” to be a break down. He considered the falling stones to be his personal break through. So where are your thoughts being drawn today? Does a temple in your life need to be toppled, or does a temple need to be built up?
My friends, Jesus’ prophecy to his disciples was not simply a warning of what will come to be. Rather he spoke to them as a people with a message of hope. And that is your task as well. For those who have placed their trust in God, you need not fear the future. You have the promise of a kingdom that shall not be moved and you are called to be a witness of hope of that kingdom.
In his teaching, Jesus suggests, that we should take care that we are not led astray. That is a difficult warning. We live in a world, where we are tempted daily to follow other gods which will lead us astray. They may seem benign when compared with the glory of Jesus Christ, but they draw our energy, time and talents away just the same. Our Lord invites us live in the assurance that faith alone will lead us to our Lord’s everlasting kingdom. Not progress, not wealth, not power, not privilege and not political party. Christ alone guides us, so not be led astray.
Jesus teaches us as well that in troubled times you cannot stand by idly. You must give a witness to your faith in the future. It is one of my favorite quotes attributed to Martin Luther. “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Christian witness is more than words. Christian witness is always about what God is capable of doing. When we give up and give in, it is not about giving up on the world. It is about giving up on God, and his ability to bring about a better day. Years ago, a hydroelectric dam was to be built across a valley in the state of Maine. The people in the town were to be relocated, and the town would be submerged. During the interim time between making the final decision and actually evacuating the people, the town, which once had been well-kept, fell into disrepair. The townspeople saw no reason for maintaining their town. One resident said, “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no work in the present.” Christian faith is ultimately built on a hope for the future and we need to remind the world of this truth. Indeed, there is nothing sadder than a pessimistic , negative Christian. Hope is not easy. Indeed, clinging to hope is work, but it makes all the difference in how we live.
On this Remembrance Sunday, as the silent army of the dead marches before us, let us demonstrate a renewed spirit of courageous hope. If we shall remember the honored dead, let us live in a hope working for a better future. If we shall remember them, let us live not for ourselves, but let us live in hope striving for justice and righteousness. If we shall remember them, let us act courageously and selflessly. Yes, in these ways, we will remember them. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.