Scriptures: Psalm 63: 1-8 & Luke 13: 1-9
My wife Connie and I love NYC, to visit. We usually go down several times a year and quite often bring one or two of our grandchildren. Last summer we brought our 16-year-old grandson David Jr. for a two day visit. The first night we took him to the musical Hamilton, thought it would be entertaining and educational, and it was. Both Connie and I read the 700-page book; took Connie 3 months, took me the better part of a year. Hamilton, by the way, was the brains behind the establishment of the Constitution and our economic system.
The next morning we went to the Freedom Tower. It’s over 1,000 feet and the ele-vator gets you to the top in less than one minute. The view from the top is incredible. Walking around the tower you can see all the skyscrapers in upper Manhattan, the East river, Hudson River, Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. Needless to say, lots of pictures were taken.
After leaving the Freedom Tower, we wanted to show our grandson the memorial pools, and the bronze plaques surrounding the pools that contain the names of the nearly 3,000 souls that lost their lives on 9/11. Unfortunately, by this time, the usual NYC crowds had arrived and it was impossible to get to the edge of the pool. We walked around one side then another and finally a group of people stepped away and we took their spot. Your eyes are first drawn to the water cascading and flowing into what ap-pears to be a bottomless pit. Then my grandson suddenly exclaimed, “Poppop, look at this.” My eyes went from the pool to the plaque, and the name I saw took me quite by surprise, Andrea Lyn Haberman. No relation but, you have to say, a most unusual coincidence. Andrea was a young woman living in Chicago, recently got a job and was planning her wedding in December. She came to NYC on a business trip, arrived ½ hour early for a meeting in the WTC and was never heard from again.
In our reading of Luke today, the Galileans were killed on orders from Pilate, and Jesus tells us their deaths had nothing to do with the way they conducted their lives. God gave all of us free will, free will to do good or to do evil, and history is replete with evidence of free will causing tragedy. God does not cause tragedy. God was not complicit in the death of the Galileans nor complicit in the death of the 3,000 souls at the WTC or the death of Andrea Lyn Haberman.
Nature is not an innocent bystander, it also plays a role in tragedy. Many years ago I was in Washington DC on business and had some down time so I went over to the Smith-
sonian Air and Space Museum. What I recall seeing is the Wright Brothers’ plane and the Gemini landing craft. But the most vivid recollection was a short five-minute movie called the “Power of Ten.” The movie takes place in Central Park and begins with a view one me-ter above a couple having a picnic. The next view is from 10 meters away, the next 100 meters and so on. As the distance increases the entire earth comes into view, then the moon, planets and solar system. Then darkness followed by another sun, more suns, clus-ters of suns, thousands, millions and finally billions. What is revealed is our galaxy, then partial darkness. Progressing further into space we begin to see other galaxies containing billions of stars, then clusters of galaxies, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of galax-ies. The word fantastic is insufficient to describe the wonder of the universe, God’s crea-tion.
But we aren’t done exploring God’s creation. Let’s now decrease our view of the couple having a picnic by factors of 10 and look at the microscopic world. First we see is the outer layer of skin, next blood vessels. then cells, the DNA helix, molecules and electrons in the outer orbit of atoms. Probing still further, we encounter the nucleus contain-ing protons and neutrons. Nature does not end there, but contains even smaller particles such as leptons, quarks and muons, and particles yet to be discovered. God’s creation.
It is a material world we inhabit, and along with this material world are natural laws. Laws such as gravity, conservation of energy, entropy never decreases, boats float, rocks sink, the earth’s tectonic plates shift, earthquakes are created, tsunamis formed and lives are lost.
Referring to our reading of Luke today, eighteen were killed when the tower of Si-loam fell on them. We are not told why the tower fell, but clearly it was due to some natu-ral cause. Jesus again makes the point that their behavior in life had nothing to do with their deaths. They unfortunately just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jesus then tells a parable that could be interpreted in part to mean life can be short and unpredictable. Doing a little research, life expectancy during biblical time was only 30 to 40 years; you had to worry about tribal warfare, the Romans having a bad day, and of course you didn’t have universal health care. Matter of fact, we still don’t have it today. But, here is the good news, God provides all of us a gift for experiencing life’s special joys and coping with the tragedies of life. That gift is love and, by urging us to repent, Jesus means to nurture that gift, and over time we (the fig trees in the parable) will produce fruits, that is, loving relationships.
For Christmas I was given a book called “Bucky expletive Dent” by David Duchovny. A little background regarding the title—in 1919 the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the NY Yankees and as a result the Red Sox were cursed to never ever win a World Series. Well, we all know it took 86 years for the curse to be broken but, along the way, the curse reared its ugly head numerous times. And this is where Bucky expletive Dent comes in. The story however is not really about baseball but about the power of love between a father and son. The son lives by himself in the Bronx, went to Columbia, aspires to be a great writer, smokes pot and, to earn a living, sells peanuts at Yankee stadium. He is essentially a loner and for many years estranged from his father who lives in Brooklyn.
One day, he gets a call from a nurse who informs him his father is dying of lung cancer and has very little time to live. He has second thoughts about visiting his father but something compels him to at least show some concern. The meeting is awkward, but he decides to move back into his childhood bedroom. During the ensuing days he discovers his father is an avid Red Sox fan, and it turns out his health is related to the success or failure of the Sox. So the son hatches a very elaborate plan along with the help from neighborhood friends to conceal the losses and reveal the wins. The plan is too complicated to go into but what evolves is a profound change in their relationship. A loving bond is created—a bond that essentially keeps his father alive.
At the end of the baseball season, the Red Sox are tied with the Yankees and a sin-gle game is to be played to determine who will compete in the World Series. The son, to show his love, buys two tickets for the game. They drive up to Boston, get lost and wind up on the shore of the Charles River. It’s a beautiful day with sailboats and sculls on the river. Father and son just sit and talk and, before you know it, it’s the seventh inning. Je-sus would definitely refer to this as quality time! They decide to stay in the car and listen to the game on the radio. The Sox are ahead by two runs but the Yankees are up with two men on base and two outs. Their worst hitter comes to the plate, Bucky Dent, a little guy with only two home runs all year. Right away he gets two strikes. Seems like a certainty to strike out. On the next pitch the curse rears its ugly head—the ball is hit in a high arc toward the Green Monster (left field wall), an out in many ball parks, but just far enough for a home run. The Yankees go on to win the game. On the way home, the father dies quietly in the car. It is of course a sad ending to the story but, for the entire baseball season, a loving bond was created that gave joy and happiness to both father and son. I think that is what Jesus means by repentance.
But what happens if you don’t repent? Will a meteor come screaming through your living room and strike you dead? Based on the gospel reading, we concluded that God does not cause tragedy. You however miss out on the special joys of life, your soul atro-phies. That is what I believe Jesus meant by perish. A good question is, “How does God feel about this? Is God indifferent? Does God even care? Is it somehow possible to get a glimpse into the heart of God when we walk away?”
Back in February, Connie and I went to see the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The movie covers the life of Freddie Mercury and the rock band, Queen. A couple of days later, we flew down to Puerto Rico for a vacation and Connie downloaded the movie to an iPad to watch on the flight down. Well, being challenged when it comes to electronic devices, we couldn’t get the iPad to work but, as luck would have it, the movie was shown on the plane. Now the place we were staying was showing outdoor movies twice a week and again as luck would have it, one night it was showing Bohemian Rhapsody.
The music is infectious. In the evening we watched YouTube videos of their performances and during the day I would look over at Connie on the beach or by the pool and she would have ear buds on listening to Freddie Mercury. And of course one night we watched the movie again on the iPad. They say their performance during the Live Aid concert in1985, attended by over 100,000 people all participating with the music, was the best rock performance ever. You know when you listen to a song over and over again it gets stuck in your head? Well, as I give this sermon, I’m fighting the urge to break out and
sing, “We are The Champions.”
Then one evening I heard the song “Love of My Life.” It is a song Freddie Mercury composed for his lifelong love, Mary Austin. Even though he was gay, his heart was bond-ed to Mary. It’s absolutely beautiful! As I listened to the words, I was suddenly overcome; it was as if the song was a window into God’s heart. It was telling me how God feels when we walk away.
“Love of my life, you’ve hurt me.
You’ve broken my heart and now you leave me.
Love of my life, can’t you see?
Bring it back, bring it back.
Don’t take it away from me, because you don’t know,
What it means to me.
When this is blown over,
Everything’s all by the way
I will be there at your side to remind you,
How I still love you.
Hurry back, hurry back.
Don’t take it away from me.
Because you don’t know what it means to me,
Love of my life.
Love of my life.”