Our Tense Lives

“The Cataclysmic Answer”
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Rev. Robert Heimach

In 1961, a famous physicist at Caltech, Richard Feynman, opened one of his classes
with a provocative question. He offered a scenario that a cataclysmic event had
destroyed all the information in the world, and you as the sole survivor could pass on
only one sentence to the next generation. He asked his students: What would that a
sentence be?
I came across this question while listening to a podcast when I was running on a
treadmill last week. It is called the Cataclysmic Question and the podcast took this
question and asked it to leading writers, artists, historians and futurists. If you could
pass on only one sentence to the future world. In the fewest words, what would that
sentence be?
Now normally, running on a treadmill is a tedious experience for me. I would rather play
pickle ball or basketball or even go to a committee meeting than run on a treadmill.
(Well, maybe not a committee meeting.) But last week, because of that question, my 30
minutes of running literally raced by. The podcast host invited each person, one by
one, to answer that Cataclysmic Question and their answers were fascinating, …
mostly, because over the first 30 minutes, I thought their answers were horrible. One
person said the sentence should be: “We’re all going to die.” I think that was a
mortician. Another person suggested this sentence: “All of life is based in fear.” Wow,
another real downer. Then, Richard Feynman himself, the physicist, offered a scientific
answer. Something along the lines of: “The world is based on the atomic theory.” How
boring is that! My gosh, if I was in the future and read that as the only wisdom coming
from the past, I would be pretty disappointed. What a let down!
So, last week I’m running along listening to these very smart people giving some very
silly answers to the Cataclysmic Question, when it suddenly came to me: “Ah ha, I’ve
got it. The answer.” And so, it is your lucky day people of Orchard Park. You are about
to hear all the wisdom of the world, distilled to one sentence. And you will be able to
take that one sentence and tattoo it to your forearm and everyday you can look at it
and know that you are in possession of exactly what the world needs to pass on to all
future generations. It is the answer to the Cataclysmic Question. Are you ready for it?
But before I give you the answer, let’s talk a minute or two. For honestly, every
generation seems to believe that they are on the verge of some cataclysmic event. The
scripture reading today tells of the final days of John the Baptist, when he was
imprisoned by the whim of King Herod. He knew his days were numbered and he
wanted to know if Jesus was the Messiah of whom had been prophesied. So, Jesus
sent word to him of the mighty deeds he had done, and he waxed poetically on the
fickleness of the people. Basically, he said that people cannot see what is right in front
of them. If they could see, they would know that the Lord of heaven and earth had
delivered him as the answer to all of their questions.
The problem was that their vision was obscured by too much tension. They were all
afraid. They were afraid of the Romans, they were afraid of the Pharisees, they were
afraid of false messiahs and they were afraid of being afraid. The tension in their lives
clouded their vision and prevented them from living fully. Jesus compared them to
babes who didn’t understand the wisdom that was looking them in the eyes. Of course
they were tense. They believed the cataclysm was nearly upon them.
You would think that over the course of 2000 years, some of that tension would have
dissipated. You would think that by now the human race would have embraced some
of the wisdom of the ages, and snuffed out some of the tension that brought fear to
people’s lives. And there have been attempts to do this, for sure. Benjamin Franklin and
many others have offered some wonderful adages and proverbs to make our lives
easier. Maybe some of these could be our Cataclysmic Answers. How about this
“Better late than never.” – That’s not exactly inspiring, is it?
“Ignorance is bliss.” – That seems to be popular one in all generations. And it is
especially popular among certain politicians these days.
And then there are some great lines from movies we could use as the answer to the
Cataclysmic Question. The obvious one being the great line:
“The Force be with you!” – Maybe that should be the answer.
Then there is one that we all learned growing up and maybe this is what we want to
pass to the next generation. You all know it: “An apple a day…keeps the doctor away.”
Should that be the answer to the Cataclysmic Question? Should that be the wisdom
that we should pass along to the next generation to wipe away their tension and bring
hope to their lives? Well, probably not.
All of these witty and pithy statements have been around for years, but yet the tension
in our lives continue. Jesus was well aware that people live in a constant state of
tension. He was continually advising them to trust God to care for them and save
them. One of his sentences from the Sermon on the Mount has been my “go to”
sentence whenever the tension surrounding me seems insurmountable. That’s when I
go to Matthew 6, verse 34 and I read, “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Repeat that to yourself a couple times and see if
the tension in your life will ease a bit. Let’s hold Matthew 6, verse 34 in reserve as a
possible answer to the Cataclysmic Question.
When I was in 7th grade in Auburn, I remember the tension building up as the first day
of school drew near. Football practice was starting and there was the competition for
positions. It was a new school for me and my sister said that classes were hard. And
then there was the girl dilemma, trying to decipher which girl liked you. You think
Algebra was hard, try to understand the secret code of girls, it was impossible for a 7th
grade boy. So yes, I was filled with tension. But then, on the first day of school, I was
riding the bus and a song came on the radio. It was the Eagles, my favorite group, and
they sang my favorite refrain, “Take it easy, take it easy, don’t let the sound of your own
wheels drive you crazy.” And I let those lyrics settle into me, and I felt some of the
tension drain away. Maybe the Eagles had the answer to the Cataclysmic Question:
“Take it easy, take it easy….”
And yet, there is something impersonal and unhelpful about advice like that. It is like
someone telling you to just “get over” your problems. It’s not that easy. You can’t just
“get over” the tensions in life. “Get over” the cancer diagnosis. “Get over” the mass
shootings. “Get over” the racism, the cynicism, the sexism, the dumbing down of our
world. Just “get over” it. No, to release the tension in our lives we need something
more than just being told to “take it easy” or “get over it.”
Not so surprisingly, Jesus offers us more. As the scripture ends today, Jesus offers us
a thought, a good word, or maybe it is even something more. In response to the
tension of the times, Jesus says to the people: “Come to me, all who labor and are
heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
These are not just words to put people at ease, these are words to act upon. “Come to
me” Jesus says, knowing that the first step in taking care of yourself is to move in the
right direction. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden.” That is, “Come to me,
all of you tense people.” For Jesus knew that life is a challenge. Every day there are
small and large dramas to live out… a relationship problem here, a health problem
there, smoke from Canada here, another shooting there, a money problem here, a
mental health problem there. And Jesus doesn’t say, “ride it out” people, “get over it,
take it easy.” No. Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you tense people. Come to me, and I
will give you rest.”
As I was running on the treadmill last week, I couldn’t stop thinking that all of those
writers and historians and really smart people, much smarter than me, …they had
missed something in giving their answers to that Cataclysmic Question. They had
missed the intimate and personal response to our tense lives. If we are to pass along
something to the generations after us, do we really want to offer a blasé, anonymous
piece of wisdom that some ChatGPT software program cooked up? Or do we want to
deliver a person, a theology, a message of love, that has holiness oozing all over it?
That is the kind of message that every generation needs to withstand the tensions that
are constantly kicked up around us. And that is why, it seems to me, that the answer to
the Cataclysmic Question, is an answer that has been around for 2000 years. What is
the one sentence that we could pass on to the next generation that would provide
them with the best chance to live with joy and hope for the future? How about this,
from the voice of Jesus: “Come to me, all you tense people, and I will give you rest.”
In a moment we will gather around the table of the Lord. In this communion meal, we
have been invited to participate in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This bread
and wine is not a form of magic. It is not trick or a slight of hand. It is not even a grand
sweeping gesture of self-importance. It is simply Jesus, saying to us, “Come to me, all
who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
My friends, in our tense world, there are few things that release the burdens around us.
This is one of them. I invite you around this table and to embrace the answer which
Jesus has provided. “Come to me!” he says.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God. Amen.

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