Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28[b]) November 14, 2021
1 As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
In the Name of Jesus.
Will you remain? Endure? Be remembered? There is no worse fate than to be a mist in the wind, unremembered.
Down at UNM hospital, you walk in under a huge façade made of stone and steel and concrete pillars. It reads, “Barbara and Bill Richardson Pavilion.” Names made permanent. Meanwhile, down at Smith’s grocery, a mother works the evening shift to pay bills, and her name is memorialized nowhere.
You enter the Federal Courthouse in downtown Albuquerque under an immense stone sign reading “Pete Domenici United States Courthouse.” His name made permanent. Elsewhere, on a construction site, a young man unloads a truck of lumber and bricks, but we don’t remember his name.
Will your name remain? What is left of you when nothing is left?
Longfellow tried to help us make our lives meaningful: remember the lives of great men as our pattern, he told us. Longfellow wrote [“Psalm of Life”]:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
Make your life sublime by following the great ones, says Longfellow. So, follow those whose names are memorialized in stone and steel. But even then, admits Longfellow, we depart, leaving behind nothing but “Footprints on the sands of time.”
And we notice Longfellow didn’t tell us to watch the mother down the street changing the dirty diapers and follow what she is doing to make our lives sublime; or to watch the young man struggling with Algebra homework, and let him remind us how to make our lives sublime.
No, the ones with their names standing on concrete pillars at the hospital, or mounted on stone at the Federal Courthouse, Lives of great men, says Longfellow, remind us that we can make our lives sublime.
But then it’s just all footprints in the sand.
The structures of concrete and steel and stone, the permanently memorialized names people have to walk under, what of it?
As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
The concrete pillars, the stone and the steel, it’s all, at the end of the day, nothing but footprints in shifting sand.
Where do we find, then, permanency? How to preserve our names so that we are not just lost footprints?
It’s not just a Richardson or a Domenici who want to think of making their names permanent—is it not every person? But we know that anything we construct to preserve our memory, it does not endure—it falls like the statue of Joseph Stalin torn down by the ropes of the following generation.
Not one stone left on top of another, says Jesus.
But we don’t want that. We rightly abhor the idea that we won’t endure. The Psalmist gives us the words to pray:
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
Preserve me. Keep me, O God, guard me. The Hebrew word for preserve is the word used for the guard shielding the king, for the night-watchman posted to defend the city, for a man protecting his family.
Preserve me, O God, watch over me, guard my life, don’t let my name be nothing more than Longfellow’s footprints in the sands of time.
You will be hated by all for the sake of my name,
but the one who endures to the end will be saved.
There is that which endures. Which stands on the last day and into eternity.
When all the concrete and steel fragments are in the dirt, when all the names carved into stone, mounted on bronze are found no more, there is that which stands.
It is that which stood before the creation of the world.
The holy Name: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The holy Name: Jesus—the Son through whom you know the Father (for no one comes to the Father but through him), and from whom you are given the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, being sent to bring to you the words of Jesus and the proclamation of his Name.
The Holy Name stands. It endures. It is not torn down.
You bear that Name. From the water and Word of Baptism, from Baptism’s promise that in the holy Name, Jesus is with you, even until the end of the ages [Matthew 28], from the preaching of that Name to you as the Lord gathers you to his Service, from his Body and Blood he gives you, joining with you body and soul for the forgiveness of your sin—from all the gifts Jesus gives you in his Gospel, you bear the Name.
Bearing that Name does you no good in the eyes of the world. For Jesus financed no great buildings, he commissioned no court houses to bear his Name, nothing the world can see and be impressed by; but he put that Name on you.
It does you no good in the eyes of the world. In the counting of this world, better to be a Stalin, controlling half of Asia. Better to be a senator, allotting tax dollars for roads and courthouses, a governor, arranging money to build wings down at the university.
But it does no good in the eyes of the world to be a Lord who comes in the flesh to be humiliated, to be spit upon, to be killed, a criminal on the cross.
But you bear that Name, and you will be, says Jesus, hated for the sake of my Name.
But his Name forgives sins.
His Name cleanses your conscience.
His Name creates the heart of faith.
His Name bestows life. When he walked out of the grave, he defeated death; and when he baptized you into his Name, he united you with his resurrection.
His Name stands. Endures. Never to be torn down.
You bear his Name. With his Name, you endure, you are saved. [Mark 13:13]
What does not endure?
Your guilt. It is daily put to death in repentance as you are daily raised up in your life of faith.
Your sinful flesh does not endure. Your flesh goes the way of the statue torn down by the ropes of the next generation, of the great buildings falling, with not one stone left on top of another. Your sinful flesh will not endure.
Your works of righteousness, your attempts to build yourself up by your own worthiness, your doubts, your fear of death, your clinging to the passing things of this world, it all does not endure.
For it belongs to the old world of sin and death, it belongs to the sinful flesh, and it is not even footprints on the shifting sands of time.
You bear the Name of Jesus. The Name which is yours purely by gift. Yours not by works, but grace. The Name to which you and your family are gathered each week to receive his gifts. The Name taking sinners, cleansing them of all sin, creating them anew with hearts of faith, and binding them together in one holy communion—you belong to that Name.
And according to that Name, the Psalm is your confession of faith. Psalm 16:11:
8 I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken …
11 [O Lord,] you make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
In the Name of Jesus.