What Will Last

Preaching, Theology

It may well be that a hundred years from now this church will be no more. Who can say why, or what will have happened by then, a thousand fluctuations in our neighborhood and denomination await the time between then and now. Certainly, a hundred years prior to today the worshipers of St. David’s could not have imagined what we have now. They could not have imagined that we’d occupy a building nearly thirty blocks inland from the river, far from the much more centrally located stone building of the time. They could not have imagined that our halls would be filled with the sounds of strange, twangy stringed instruments each Saturday, or the bustle of little feet each day of the week. They likely looked up at their beautiful strong stones and stained glass and imagined that what they saw would pretty much be around for a while. But it wasn’t. That building was torn down after this one was built, and this one would have nearly been torn down a few years ago if the body gathered here now hadn’t decide to take root and clean up shop and open our doors to the whole wide neighborhood. Who can say what another hundred years will leave behind or throw away. In the end, all may be thrown down, not one stone left upon another, as Jesus says of the big city temple in Jerusalem after his hillbilly disciples come filing out of it with their necks craned up like tourists in Times Square. “Wow! Would you look at that!” one of them says, likely having never even seen anything man made get so tall back in Galilee. “It won’t last,” Jesus grumbles from behind, “none of this will. Not one stone will remain upon the other, all will be thrown down.” Apparently, Jesus wasn’t the kind of guy you’d want to take on a date to the museum. One minute you’re admiring the beauty of a Grecian urn, the next thing you know there’s Jesus saying, “this one crumbles like all the rest.” Jesus often spoke about the end of things. “You know, they’re going to kill me,” he’d say to his closest friends at dinner, and they could only ever really reply the way any of us would, “Jesus! Cut it out with the death stuff!”


 

Of course he was right about all of it. In a matter of days they’d arrest and execute him. And some forty years after that the city would be sacked by the imperial military might of Rome, the altar desecrated, the fine things torched and pillaged, and one religious tradition which was centralized in a building made of stone would give way to expressions of that faith which could be more mobile, more nimble and quick. For mainstream Jews this meant the maturing development of rabbinic Judaism, which focused on texts more than temples. For the outlying sect of Jews who would form the core of the new Jesus movement, it would mean following the Spirit of a man who refused to stay dead, a Spirit which proved to be far more wiley and hard to pin down than the teacher whose presence it made manifest wherever two or three were gathered in his name. “Don’t let yourself get hung up on the stones,” Jesus seems to say, “they won’t last. But something new is being unveiled which will last. There is something eternal which is more impressive beneath the temporary world which has enthralled you.” To which we might reply, “Yes, but what about the new paint color in the parish hall?”

In one blessed sense, the glass is already broken. Ajahn Chah, a 20th century Buddhist teacher from Thailand once motioned to a glass at his side and said. “Do you see this glass? I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.” This story illustrates a particularly Buddhist quality of enjoyment in that which has come to be understood as impermanent, or temporary. For the Buddhist who embodies this quality, the fact that a precious glass can be broken is not a cause for anxiety, not a reason to stop using the glass or store it away for safety, breaking is simply the end most glasses come to, it is part of their nature. I began thinking of this story on Wednesday nights a few months ago when it occurred to be that I’d be leaving soon. Between all the part time jobs and internships I’ve worked over the past four years, the Wednesday night Peace Mass has been the one consistent place of worship I’ve occupied most weeks in all that time. More than that, the kind of people who come to Peace Mass really know how to pray, they infuse the chapel with the heart of compassion itself, something which we do here every Sunday and which carries a special quality in the intimacy of our chapel. It is a thin place for me, holy ground, and I’ll be sad to leave, as I’ll be sad to leave all of you. But as I’ve reflected on that glass already being broken, as it were, on the temporary nature of my time there, I’ve been able to better appreciate the eternal texture which pulses beneath it, imparted by each soul willing to come together for it’s unveiling: a spirit of joy -even when that joy must rise through something sluggish or murky first to see the light of day, shared gestures of loving kindness, words of deep empathy for all the many lives and relationships which are connected to the bodies which the Spirit knits together there in prayer. That’s not going anywhere. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say: that’s what is going somewhere, and it takes a mobile, nimble body to follow it.

For the record, the bricks and beams of this church aren’t going anywhere either, at least not unless the big one hits. But even then, you know what would happen: the mobile, nimble church which gathers here for worship would gather here to reach out to a neighborhood in need, even if that was from amidst the rubble. I may not know what it will look like in a hundred years, but I feel more than confident about what is happening next at St. David’s because of what is happening now at St. David’s. This community is engaged and tuned in, and thanks to a search committee and a vestry who represent the best of that engagement, you have called a new rector whom I know will call you to follow the Spirit of Christ beyond the walls of this building and into the world where he is at work even now. The Spirit of Christ is tending to the tattered threadbare materials of this temporary world, and beneath those materials the eternal one is shining through. In a world which is destroying itself, in a world which is obsessed with its own violent ending, we are not called to stay seated behind our stone walls and marvel at the beauty of what we have made this far. We are called to go out to where the world seems to be falling apart. The world is a glass already broken, and it is deeply precious to our God. As you navigate the changes and chances of the weeks and years ahead, my final invitation to you is this: remember what is temporary, and work with those materials which have a more timeless quality, they are of God; trust your anxieties to God completely, and step out bravely to the breaking world where the Spirit of our God is calling you.

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