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Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's the end of the world!

The end is near – and it is just beginning. (Mark 13:1-8)
Pentecost XXV – Proper 28B – November 18, 2012
All Saint's Episcopal Church - Rehoboth Beach
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

I don’t know if you’ve yet heard the news. If you haven’t, I’ll give you the Bad News straight up. Here’s the stone cold, unvarnished truth: Hostess has filed for bankruptcy.

Yes, yes, children. It’s sad but it’s true. Unless someone saves the company – now owned by two Hedge Funds who would rather declare bankruptcy and walk away with a profit than negotiate for fair wages with its 18,500 employees – there will soon be no more Twinkies or Hostess Golden Cupcakes or HoHos or Devil Dogs or Ring Ding lining the shelves of grocery stores. 

You won’t be able to grab a secret guilty pleasure off the shelves of a WaWa or a Seven Eleven to go with your cup of coffee while traveling in a different city where no one can witness your indulgence of that which has absolutely no redeemable nutritional value whatsoever.

I know. It’s unbelievable, right?  I mean, Twinkies have been around – believe it or not – since 1930 – and they are filled with so many chemicals and preservatives that they are rumored to be able to be found after the Rapture.

Sometimes called “the cream puff of the proletariat,” they were created by James A. Dewar, a Illinois baker, for what was then the Continental Baking Co. The firm produced a cream-filled strawberry shortcake and, when strawberry season was over, Dewar saw no reason the machines needed to sit idle. He formulated a banana cream cake which, amid World War II rationing, became and remained vanilla cream.

The golden confection developed into a finger-shaped sugar sponge that was injected with a gooey filling so sweet it is capable of turning small children into google-eyed rocket boosters. My mother used to put them in our lunch boxes as a special treat, no doubt to take the sting from the daily monotony of a bologna and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich - made, of course, with Wonder Bread ("Helps build strong bodies 12 ways") and the ubiquitous piece of fruit.

It was also a sign and symbol of our emerging affluence after my mother returned to work when my youngest sister started kindergarten. We were saving up to buy a home of our own, but, along the way, we could afford "store bought" desserts, and wasn't that just a symbol that the American Dream was real? If you work hard enough, and "pick yourself up by your own bootstraps," you, too, could afford to have store bought treats in your lunch box.

That’s all gone now. The American Dream is in peril. We’re doomed, I tell you. Doomed! Take away the Twinkies and who knows what’s next? Apple Pie! Chevrolet!  It’s the end of the world as we now know it! Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone run for cover!

Some of you have stopped chuckling and are beginning to shake your heads and ask whatever this has got to do with the Gospel appointed for today. Let me remind you of it.

Not long before his arrest, Jesus was with the disciples in the temple. As they came out, one of the disciples exclaimed his awe of the structure. "Look, Teacher, what large stones and large buildings!" he said. Indeed, ancient historians wrote that the temple in Jerusalem was magnificent. If its massive size was not impressive enough, much of it was covered in gold.

Jesus' response must have caught the disciples off guard: "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

The disciples too must have been in a mood to discuss the end times because next, when Jesus was sitting opposite the temple on the Mount of Olives, some of them asked for further explanation. "When?" they wondered aloud, "What will be the sign?" Jesus responds in his trademark roundabout way.

Jesus warns of those that would lead them astray. He tells them not to be alarmed by "wars and rumors of wars.” A more troubling time would be coming, Jesus explains. It will include war, earthquakes and famines. But they are not to be afraid since, "This is but the beginning of the birth pangs"

Since the beginning of time, human beings have always looked around for “signs”. We often attribute “acts of nature” and “weather events” to God’s judgment or wrath. Depending on the source of your information, Hurricane Sandy was either a Godsend to the presidential reelection or evidence of God's wrath on liberal New York and New Jersey. 

Others fault 9/11 on "the homosexual agenda," whatever that is. Many argue July's shooting in Aurora, CO, would have been prevented were it not for liberals – or conservatives. Or, maybe it was gun control. Or, maybe not.

To all of this, Jesus' response is reminiscent of the first century equivalent of the famous propaganda poster produced by the British government during World War II that boldly proclaimed, "Keep Calm and Carry On." 

What we sometimes think of as ending is just the beginning of something new. Something God has had in mind all along. Or, perhaps, God had it in mind from the beginning. Or, maybe God is just making it up as S/he goes along.

Now, I hasten to say that I’m not a big subscriber to the “God has a plan for me” school of theology. I just can’t get my head wrapped around the thought that there’s a big file cabinet in the sky and my life’s work is to locate the file, thumb through the gazillions of folders, find the one with my name on it, read it, ‘learn, mark and inwardly digest it,” and I will live happily ever after.

And yet, I know that I am where I am today because of where I've been, and I'm really not sure how that all came together, exactly. 

I’m not even sure I know what people mean when they say “everything happens for a reason”. Some things just don’t make sense – and, I don’t think they are supposed to.

Like, why good people die young and evil people live to a ripe old age. Like, why one home is spared the destruction of an earthquake or fire, and another stands intact. Like, why it was that Hurricane Sandy moved just 75 miles from the Eastern Shore and hit the Jersey Shore and the cities along New York, displacing millions of people, destroying their homes, and killing over 100 people.

Is it even reasonable to think that a force of Nature, a random collection of winds and tides and phases of the moon and tilts of the earth’s axis actually, consciously planned to spare us by deliberately choosing a path 75 miles from us? 

I don’t think so.

And yet, what are we to make of this? Is God in control or not? Did God do this for some unknown reason? Or, is everything in life simply random? Who is in control around here, anyway?

I am intrigued by something written by author Mark Helprin. I stumbled upon it as I was reading what has become one of my favorite books, “A Winter’s Tale”. I recommend it highly. This amazing piece is actually the preface to the last section of the book. Helprin writes:
Nothing is random, nor will anything ever be, whether a long string of perfectly blue days that begin and end in gold dimness, the most seemingly chaotic political acts, the rise of a great city, the crystalline structure of a gem that has never seen the light, the distributions of fortune, what time the milkman gets up, the position of the electron, or the occurrence of one astonishingly frigid winter after another.

Even electrons, supposedly the paragons of unpredictability, are tame and obsequious little creatures that rush around at the speed of light, going precisely where they are supposed to go. They make faint whistling sounds that when apprehended in varying combinations are as pleasant as the wind flying through a forest, and they do exactly as they are told. Of this, one can be certain.

And yet there is a wonderful anarchy, in that the milkman chooses when to arise, the rat picks the tunnel into which he will dive when the subway comes rushing down the track from Borough Hall, and the snowflake will fall as it will. How can this be? If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer to that is simple: Nothing is predetermined; it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined.

No matter, it all happened at once, in less than an instant, and time was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given – so we track it, in linear fashion, piece by piece. Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is – and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful.

In the end, or rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.
I would like to say that I will miss my beloved Twinkies, but I really can’t say that. Truth is, I haven’t had a Twinkie – or a Ring Ding or Devil Dog or HoHo – in so long, I can’t remember the last time I actually ate one. I will miss the idea of them. The thought of them. The delightful memories associated with them. 

Life will go on. It always does. What seems to be passing is simply that which is becoming new again. You can begin to understand that if you stop looking for signs about what is to come, or lament about what once was, and enjoy what is, here and now. This day. This moment. 

It is here and then it is gone and we are poorer for not taking the gift of the present for what it is – a gift. A present. And, then the next moment comes and we understand that that death of the last moment was only the birth pang of the next. And so on into all the days of our lives.

It is, in the great intelligent design of our Loving, Generous, Abundant God, finished and becoming and all quite astonishingly beautiful.  All that we can do, as faithful followers of Christ, is give thanks and praise to God, who created and is creating, still, and will continue to create all creatures and creation. 

And, calls us all home, in due time, to live Life Eternal. 


1 comment:

MarkBrunson said...

Promises, promises.