The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
Mark 13:1-8

May my words be your word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

This morning’s gospel story has the disciples admiring the temple building that represented their faith rather than practicing their faith. The disciples were suffering from a disease my father used to call “The Edifice Complex.” It was, in fact, the working title of a book that was unfortunately never published under that title.

In addition to teaching, my father was a practicing architect and industrial designer. He often raged about architects who designed massive, imposing buildings that could never be comfortably worked or lived in. He denounced industrial designers who, instead of designing things to fulfill real needs, and make people’s lives better, would first design an artificial need, and then design and market something to fulfill the made-up need.

My father thought most architects and industrial designers were more interested in leaving behind an edifice for everyone to remember them by than they were in building or designing things that would be useful, beautiful, and livable; things that would make people’s lives better.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus calls the disciples to task for admiring the edifice, the building, rather than the faith it represents. He reminds them that no matter how large or beautiful a building is, it will not last forever. And because Jesus reminds the disciples of the impermanence of all things, it’s only natural that the disciples ask him, “So how long will it last?”
For centuries people have been asking and attempting to answer that question. Most recently, there were people who claimed 2012 would be the year the world ends. Do you remember the predictions about the year 2000? Before that it was 1900.

Wouldn’t we all like to know just how much time we have left? Or, maybe we wouldn’t want to know. Perhaps we are better off not knowing. And that is essentially what Jesus tells us. No one knows when the end of the world will come. We will hear things that make us think the end is near, but we are to beware of those who lead us astray. So forget all the “Left Behind” books and all the stories about the rapture, because they are just that: stories. Yes, there will be an end. No, we have no idea when.

Instead, Jesus calls us, in our time here, however long it turns out to be, to live in love, creativity, truth and beauty, and the hope that is in Jesus. To creatively tell out the Good News of the triumph of life over death, the beauty of God’s created world, the hope in the midst of doubt, and to cast out fear with love.

Here is what we can do since we live in the uncertainty of knowing the end could be today, tomorrow, or thousands of years from now. We can live our lives as though we may die tomorrow. And we can also live as though we will be here forever. I don’t know what that means for you, but here is what it means for me.

I remind myself daily what St Benedict said, “All are to be welcomed as Christ.” Because, as the Hebrew Testament reminds us, we never know who it is we entertain. We may be entertaining angels and not know them as such.

I tell my sister I love her. I tell my friends that too. I practice those things that have nothing to do with temples and everything to do with blessings from God. Things like love, creativity, truth, beauty and the hope I have in Jesus. I cuddle the cat. I talk to children and stray dogs. I take walks and admire God’s creation. I smile at people I don’t know. When someone helps me above and beyond what they’re paid to do, I write a letter of commendation to their boss. I cook and eat meals with people I care about. I pray. I joyfully give my tithe to the church. I give money away to people who need it more than I do. I feed the hungry and clothe the naked. I read good books and plant perennials. I buy young wine and let it age. And I live lightly on the earth so my small corner of it will be worth passing on to the next person who lives where I have lived.

So what about the end? “When will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” None of us knows. But here is what we can do every day for however long we have: we can live in love, creativity, truth and beauty. We can welcome all as Christ. We can tell the Good News of the triumph of life over death, the beauty of God’s created world, the hope in the midst of doubt, and the love that casts out fear.

We can live as though we are living for all eternity, because, indeed, we are. AMEN.

The Very Rev Nicolette Papanek
1. Mark 13:4 (NRSV)