Not One Stone Upon Another

As we approach Advent, thoughts turn to endings and beginnings.  We are on the cusp of coming out of COVID-19.  Yet, it is still with us.  We see folks dining outside, playing in the park.  Kids are in school.  At the same time, the mood of the public is on the sour side. 

A cloud of fear and suspicion hangs over thoughts of hesitant Christmas shopping.  With death threats whispered, our politics are in the toilet. Sports teams are playing again.  By the way, kudos to the Atlanta Braves.

Speaking of sports, something of a stench hovers over the gridiron in Wisconsin.  “You lied to everyone,” Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw scolded.  Aaron Rodgers cared about only one person – himself.  His selfishness exposed his teammates to the corona virus. 

Now, Rodgers has tested positive for the disease.  On Fox Sunday Sports, while featuring a tribute to the Naval Academy, Bradshaw let loose. 

“I’ll give Aaron Rodgers some advice. It would have been nice if he had just come to the Naval Academy and learned how to be honest [and] learned not to lie,” said Bradshaw of the Packers quarterback. “Because that’s what you did, Aaron. You lied to everyone.”[1] 

Gone is the day when America once looked up to its sports heroes and establishment without reservation.  These days, for too many professional athletes, it’s all about entitlement and the big bucks.  

Aaron, that your team in your absence lost their game this last Sunday is a small, insignificant price to pay for what you have done to your reputation and to the respect of your teammates and the fans.  Aaron, maybe you might consider those midshipmen at Annapolis for a few moments this coming week.  Contrition is still good for the soul.

I’ve become pretty disillusioned by professional sports over the years.  Cities spend fortunes on state-of-the-art stadiums, and on a whim their team up and moves for a better offer.  What is it now – the Advil Raiders and the Microsoft Chargers???  Playing in God-knows-where!

The edifice has crumbled.  The trophies are tarnished by cheating and steroids.  Tarnished, has much of America. Not a whole lot left but the money.  AND, to wring more of your cold, hard cash out of you, gambling is now allowed at many sports venues.  Next, the players themselves will be placing the bets.

We live in unsettled times, as was Jerusalem in 66-70 of our Common Era (CE). 

In Mark’s depiction, as Jesus’ disciples enter the holy city of Jerusalem, they are agog as they stare up to the splendor of the Temple.  One of the disciples, tugging on the sleeve of his garment, exclaims, “’Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’  Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’”

The lesson here is impermanence.  And rebuilding.  For Jews, out of the calamity of 69 CE, the destruction of the temple and the fall of the fortress of Masada, came the end of temple worship centered around the sacrifice of burnt offerings. 

Born was rabbinic Judaism centered around the synagogue and came the Diaspora, the scattering of Jews to all corners of the earth. 

The early followers of Jesus, those who had survived the destruction, being Jews, likewise were also scattered like chaff blown by the wind.

Into this social upheaval came all sorts of charlatans promoting all sorts of nonsense.  Just like today.  Ivermectin, bleach and other quack nostrums are nothing new under the sun.  The bruhaha over vaccinations is but a symptom of a society in stress.  When it comes to the halls of reason and scientific method, not one stone is left upon another.

Unfettered craziness!

Senator Ted Cruz has now taken on our beloved Big Bird.  Did you hear, the other day Big Bird stood in a line for his vaccination.  I guess, so he wouldn’t get birdie pox.  Ted Cruz had a conniption.  Said that Big Bird was a shill for government vaccine propaganda.  Brainwashed, his little birdy brain was.  Instead of reason, we get outrage porn.  Not one stone left upon another in the precincts of logic.  Not one!

And it gets worse.  Did you know that all this harangue about masks and vaccinations is evil?  Emerald Robinson’s employment at Newsmax was terminated for claiming that COVID-19 vaccinations gave one the mark of the devil.  She’s presently off the air while her employer reviews her tweets claiming that the shot gives recipients Satan’s seal of ownership.

Ms. Robinson tweeted: “Dear Christians: the vaccines contain a bioluminescent marker called LUCIFERASE so that you can be tracked. Read the last book of the New Testament to see how this ends.”  Not one stone left upon another in the temple of sound religion. 

In spite of such absurdity, Simon and Garfunkel cross my mind: “And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson/Jesus loves you more than you will know, wo wo wo…”

I think I’m beginning to miss Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker and the PTL crowd.  At least, with that grift, no one died to purchase gold faucets for their humble abode.

Mark was written either shortly before, or most likely, after, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the year 69.  That year the city was pillaged and razed to the ground.  Much of the population was killed or taken captive in a slaughter perhaps comparable to the Srebrenica massacre, to that of Rwanda, or President Jackson’s genocidal policy of Indian removal from the eastern United States.  Let us not forget the “Trail of Tears.” Only the Holocaust, in recent history, would have been among tragedies surpassing that of Jerusalem.

For Mark and the early Christian community, the events of the Roman-Jewish war were a complete disaster.  But more than that, those events were full of portents of what was to come for those who had survived.

In times of profound sense of loss, let us keep the faith in one another and listen.  In such commitment is the substance of Christian Hope.  Faith that God is still working wondrous purposes out.

First, is the necessity to grieve.   These tears are healing rivulets flowing down cheeks.  Sometimes stuff happens, very bad stuff.  In disaster, hope is a scarce commodity.  Time is necessary for shock to dissipate.  Time is necessary to gain orientation to present-day realities.  To discern new beginnings, Spirit openings.  The craziness of this time – it will subside like a bad head cold.  We will get through this together.  Faith will suffice for the days ahead.

Second, is to organize, plan, think and write.

The huge production of books and articles on our current difficulties is one source of comfort and hope.

Books on the opioid epidemic have proliferated over the past ten or so years.  They attest to the necessity and blessing of community.  We are not alone in facing this.  There is help.  Just the shared experience of another who has walked this path is comfort.  Hearing the stories is an essential spiritual discipline.  Do not turn away.

Sam Quinones, in his second book on the addiction crisis, brings the living testimony of families, of communities, some, for the first time ever, working in concert to confront this scourge.

He tells, early on, of the hunger he found for presentations after his first book had been published.  In communities, large and small, in Appalachia and all throughout the middle of America.

He tells of one of the moments in the small town of Portsmouth, Ohio, that was the seed for his second book on our drug crisis, The Least of These.[2]  He writes:

“After my speech, an older couple—thin, short, and pale—came up to a table where I was signing books.  We were alone.  Quietly, so only I could hear, the man said that their daughter was in prison for many years for a crime related to her opioid addiction.  He said they were raising her young daughter and didn’t know what to do.  They were exhausted.  They were concerned they wouldn’t live long enough to see the girl through to adulthood.  He was a man of few words and no tears.  He looked shellshocked.”

“’It’s so hard,’ he said.”

“I was new at this and didn’t know how to respond.  We each held the others hand, frozen in mid-handshake, this man and I, and stared into each other’s eyes as his wife stood by in silence.  I squeezed his hand finally, and I think I said something about them not being alone.  That I was sorry.  They moved on, and I can still see the man looking back at me and nodding.”

“This book grew from that moment and others like it.”

Such are the moments of healing, the beginning of hope.  It’s in the simple act of sharing with another that you can’t go on any farther.  Admitting exhaustion.  Such is the beginning of hope. 

Drawing from ancient testimony of the psalmist, Jesus followers remembered a saving truth: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”[3]

When asked where he sees hope, “What places have you seen that are doing the right thing?” Sam responds, “Right here.”  The cornerstone! That has become his answer. 

Addiction is not a Republican or Democratic, not a Green or Independent problem.  People who would never have agreed on much of anything are joining their efforts, are now learning each other’s names, making plans, going out for pizza together.  When not one stone is left upon another, they are the chief cornerstone.  They are the ones restoring hope.  You very fine citizens; you are the ones leading others with new eyes to see beginnings that God is about.

Ordinary neighbors, those with the courage to unite in towns big and small, these are stones rejected – rejected by the purveyors of these drugs, rejected by indifferent bureaucrats, entitled politicians.

It’s going to be just average folks who have a care.  It is out of this cornerstone that the entire dwelling of sobriety be constructed.  Such is the seed of Hope.

Not one stone left upon another, but in the rubble lies the cornerstone.  This is the gospel testimony we of the Jesus Movement claim.  It’s through folks like that older couple who dared to share their desperation, it’s through writers like Sam Quinones who can document these stories with a generous spirit, and with hope – that we rediscover the Hope of things eternal.  Through such hope, we uncover a chief cornerstone to build anew.

And to you, Mrs. Robinson, to us all: “Jesus loves you more than you will know, wo wo wo.   Amen

[1] Fatma Khaled, “Terry Bradshaw Rips Aaron Rodgers Over COVID Fiasco: ‘You Lied to Everyone,’” Newsweek, 11-7-2021.

[2] Sam Quinones, The Least of These: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021).

[3] Psalm 118:22, Mark 12:10, Matthew 21:42, Luke 4:11, Acts 4:11.

                                St. Francis Episcopal Mission Outreach

                                              Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

        Pentecost 25, Proper 28
        November 14, 2021

    “Not One Stone Upon Another”

Daniel12:1-3; Psalm 16;
                                 Hebrews 10:11-14,19-36; Mark 13:1-8

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