I love the Greystone apartment Kim and I live in, in Logan Square. Like thousands of Chicago homes, the stone was quarried from Indiana rock over a hundred years ago. I love the neighborhoods adorned with these beautiful stones. But then, I’m a sucker for old stones. I remember the European city walls, castles, and church buildings, hundreds of years, even millennia, that actually made me tingle with excitement, when I visited there.
But, with each wall and city, each castle and church, every synagogue or mosque, there are stories that go with their building and being “thrown down.” Before their building occurred, lands were conquered, and winners and losers were declared. Beautiful stones, captured or quarried abroad, were brought by captives to the land of the victors, and built with indentured labor, to create the next nation and kingdom.
And Jesus has some strong feelings about that. But, it may help to first review the geological history of where these masoned stones come from, the history of rocks.
In a new book called “How It Ends: From You To The Universe,” author and scientist Bob Hazen discusses how rocks are made from minerals. It does not come as a surprise to those of us who are steeped in the biblical tradition that there is a very direct connection between you and I, and the rocks, and that it begins over 13 billion years ago with the big bang when minerals were created. Add a little cooling, the formation of stars and solar systems, and a key ingredient of life, water, and you are well on your way to the creation of rocks and humans, just another 6 or 7 billion years down the road.
We know this process theologically as the story of creation in Genesis 1. God created the universe out of a chaotic pool of inert nothingness, with a bang, that gave everything form, and shape, and meaning. Light and life were created, and eventually the waters were separated from the land to give us a safe place to stand, and to live. Animals and plants were created for our enjoyment and nourishment, and we were given responsibility to be good stewards and care takers of them. And ‘God saw that it was very good.’
And each Ash Wednesday, as we are about to enter the 40 days of Lent, we also humbly confess, that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return.” We are created good, but not immortal. We “gain our souls only by our patience and endurance” as followers of Christ, born again by baptism. Our bodies are made up of mineral dust, and they will once again return to that. In between, we do a lot of consuming of minerals too, taking in a diet of iron and calcium, sodium and sulfur! And yet, though science can’t prove it, “not a hair on our heads will perish.” And so we confess it and know it, by faith.
So, somebody’s ancestors could possibly be recycled in those beautiful greystones which are the frontal of our apartment building. We are dust and to dust we shall return. And Jesus tells us that nations and kingdoms, and the stones, one on another, that make up their beauty, are dust too, and to dust shall they return. “As for these things that you see,” he told those looking at the Temple, “the days are coming when not a stone on stone will be left; all will be thrown down.” And, in the year 70, about forty years after Jesus died, that’s exactly what happened.
What are the temples now in our lives? What are the monuments we like to praise and worship for their beauty, to honor and revere for their strength. Those institutions that we have forgotten are temporary, and so are perhaps, holding us back from true worship, and from being a true worshiping community?
After 911, our country largely followed the strategy of defending our monuments that were attacked and destroyed. After the Pentagon was scarred, and the twin towers fell, we fell in line behind the one who declared from the rubble that someone must pay for this. But even before the search for the perpetrators in Afghanistan failed, our elected leaders were already devising a pre-emptive plan to go after it’s oil rich neighbor. In the end, we have fallen right into the trap that was set for us. We have been imploding, economically and morally, have fallen from the world’s power, even, and especially, as we continue to defend the prolific life-style, the beautiful buildings and great possessions we adore, and the mineral oil fields, we must have. “When you hear of wars and terrorists, do not be afraid!” And, don’t react in kind. “the end will not follow immediately, but this will give you an opportunity to testify, to stand up for the “wonderful” “gifts” of God that “endure.”
Our temple here, this beautiful building dedicated to God, is a wonderful place to worship. But the church is not the building, the church is the people. And both will perish, and be recycled, back and forth, one into the other, dust to dust, minerals to minerals. But our lives, “our souls,” will gain new life through the promise of our baptisms. What lives on, is the body of Christ, the church as collective, the church as the people, the great cloud of witnesses.
And witnesses, “testify.” We have a story to tell, and a ministry to share. If our beautiful building doesn’t facilitate that mission, there is no stone beautiful enough, no memorial gift large enough, to save us.
The “opportunity to testify” comes, says Jesus, when we are recognized as the people of God. When people start seeing us as standing up, “because of his name,” because of, “the gospel of Jesus.” That’s when our opportunity comes. And by then, we must be ready for the push back. Not with our weapons of destruction, but with the faith handed down to us from the cloud of witnesses, a faith that is recycled and infused in us, with God’s wonderful words and a wisdom.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Nations and kingdoms come and go. But the people of God live on as the body of Christ. Jesus is the rock that endures forever, and who promises, “Not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”