Wednesday, November 18

Participation in the Apocalypse: What do you think?

Mark 13:1-8 As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘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.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!”* and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. These eight verses, near the end of Mark, are often referred to as the Little Apocalypse… the language in this section might sound familiar, a little like the prophets, and a little like the visions of Revelation, but it’s really hard to make sense of, in lots of ways. And, to be honest with you. I had no idea where to begin. Writing a sermon on these verses was not easy. It was a very emotional process. Because I just ended up finding more and more problems here. It seemed like there were contradictions, even, to the rest of the Scripture narrative. I began in confusion about which events Jesus was even describing, was it the destruction of the temple? The end of the human story on earth? Or His own death? I didn’t know what to make of the violence and desolation that Jesus is talking about here, the famines and wars and earthquakes. And I certainly had no idea what to do with Jesus’ statement, in verse 7, that war and strife are necessary. I’ve spent the better part of my seminary formation, becoming an earth dweller, and a member of the Church Universal, who’s desperately striving in a vision of God’s Shalom, extended, deepened, dazzling, permeating peace on this earth. And this Shalom vision, that we are to participate in, doesn’t seem to look like the Mark 13 vision of what is coming. Here, a Shalom vision, might look more like this: Isaiah 2:2-4 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. This is the word of the Lord. Thanks, be to God. Well this doesn’t look like what Jesus is foretelling here in Mark, I spend my time living in the category of Isaiah. I spend my energy trying faithfully to apply this unfolding vision of peace to all the small places of my life. No more violence. No weapons. Grow vegetables and hope instead of strife and destruction. And now this. Jesus is telling us, the disciples, not even to be startled as the wars rage around us. …As strife and conflict take root and hold on tight to resist the works of God in the people of God. …As our selfish ambitions for power and luxury and freedom tear holes in the fabric of God’s Shalom. …As we live our lives in the blind pursuit of security and comfort in this life by neglecting the hopeless and by marginalizing those who don’t think like us. And I just don’t know what to make of it. Is this Shalom we participate in already here? Should we plant gardens marching in rows instead of armies? Or is it not here yet? Are we still living in the age of destruction and death without the renewal of Christ’s resurrection touching us yet? What do you think?... Now maybe you can see the contradictions. Maybe you can see how the boundaries of my God box, you know, the one we’re not even suppose to have, slipped chillingly out of focus for me in Jesus’ words about nations rising against each other and kingdoms too. So I talked to a lot of people. I asked lots of questions about all this confusion. And I got lots of insights from thoughtful, faithful people. A few people reminded my to start with the biblical context. What’s happening in the book of Mark? What’s happening on the ground when Jesus is speaking these things? Well I think, if we read through the entire chapter, Mark 13, we might see that, indeed, there are many things being revealed in Jesus long, discourse here, the longest in the whole book in fact. Jesus is speaking of the coming destruction of the temple by the Romans, which will take place before the listening generation has passed away from the earth. And Jesus is talking about the end of his own life. He’s further unscrewing the lid on the secret of his divinity and salvation. But, Jesus is, in fact, also speaking of the end of the age. The end of humanity on the earth… reality as we know it now. And in all these things, Jesus is telling us to wait, be watchful, beware. The temple will be destroyed and so the center of Hebrew faith will be shaken. Many will come with lies and seduction to bring us further away from the renewing power of Shalom. And we have to vigilant. Keep watch. Do not be deceived. We must… discern what God is doing in our midst, which way do we go to follow? and how we can live in service of Shalom with each decision we make and each confusion we face. You know, the Jews in the context of Mark lived with an iron clad loyalty to the ritual and symbol of religion. This is embodied in the temple, where inside, lies the Holy of Holies, and the Spirit of God itself. The people Jesus speaks this to also carry a deep sense of mourning and fierceness about the temple, See, it had been destroyed once before, and rebuilt even more glorious, centuries later. This place was not to be trifled with. It was the one place that should remain untouchable. The one place that would never be shaken. And the disciples embody this notion in their admiration in verse 1, “oh Lord what great stones, what great buildings!” they marvel. There is great satisfaction in the stability of knowing exactly how one’s worship and life should look. There is strength found in knowing exactly how to approach God and live out a faithful life. The temple, which is about to be devastated, represents this coveted assurance of how to live faithfully. And now, post Temple assurance, the disciples and the rest of us, have a difficult job. We hear of the robust and glorious redemption story that begins with the birth of the soft, fleshy baby Christ. And we also hear of wars. We know that the people have fought and killed in the name of many motives, some even religious. We know that we all too often steal freedom and dignity from those in our own lives. We can’t get away from it. We can’t deny that we’re in the midst of wars and rumors of wars. We may even be having a part in them. And now… The weight and yolk of what Jesus is speaking here, begins to come into clarity. Which world do we live in? Is redemption already here? Can we participate in the weaponless, warless reality of Shalom? Or are we waiting for redemption in some other life? Is it out there somewhere on the horizon? Both. We live in an Already, Not yet sort of world as Christians. In Christian hope we look for a final restoration that we do not experience now. But, in the life of Christ, we have already received the gifts of grace and salvation for this life, now. The redemption is both here and yet to come. So, which world do you live in… today? Do you feel inside you soul the spacious Shalom of Isaiah or the resistance and urgency of Mark? This is why we mourn the loss of the temple assurance. We’re mourning, with the Hebrews, the loss of a categorical definitive. The answer is not a trifle one. Peace is just not an easy descision. We are cast to confusion in the light of the command to beware, to discern. We have to live in both worlds. We cannot turn our sights only to a coming redemption and pretend that there isn’t a power struggle for the hearts of the world, that there isn’t resistance to this Shalom that God’s already bringing. Neither can we live only in a world of weapons and conflict, throwing ourselves to the cause of violence, thinking foolishly that we ourselves can force the kingdom of God into the world by destroying those in the way. We have to discern at each turn of the tides, which vision is ours to live into in that moment, in that battle. One of our Old Testament professors at Western said this to me in my confusion. Then what in the world do we preach? Which way should we choose for peace? I had asked him: “Rachel, Sometimes we preach ‘wait on the Lord. Trust in the Lord. Lay down your weapons which can bring you no security.’ And sometimes we preach ‘The Lord is coming to break the powers of the oppressors. Participate in that.’” No matter the vision, we are always in the search to let God’s restoration into our world. Sometimes we fling those doors wide open. Sometimes we push with exhausting force for a small crack and a leak of that hope. But it’s always in the service of God’s peace to the world. We simply have to decide how to play our faithful part. Each of us has a different journey, a different set of battles to stand back and evaluate. Sometimes we must join Christ in God’s breaking of the powers of oppression. Sometimes we must plead for the cease of conflict, for the laying down of weapons. We no longer have the Temple to make our path to God simple and crystal clear. Now we have Jesus. Now we must beware. Be watchful and discerning for where God works in the world, and how we can join. You see, we can’t live faithfully, blindly. We can’t participate in the Already and Not Yet reign of peace in the world, without getting stumped at times, without getting dirty and a little bit confused. We can’t participate in the renewing peace of Christ without becoming tangled into murky decisions and faced with slippery slopes. We need space to wonder and to talk and love in order to know how God would have us let in Shalom. This is the way of faithful living that Jesus presents to the disciples here. Clearly, in our world, it is presented to us too. The temple will be gone. In only a few short years, before this generation passes away, Jesus says in verse 30 of this same chapter, the safe and sturdy center of the Jew’s religion will be shattered. The magnitude and splendor that boasts certainty, finality and stability of faith in God will be dismantled by the very forces of those resisting this coming Shalom. And there will be no marvelous white marble stones gleaming brightly in the center of the Jewish universe, no structure to turn to, no physical assurance. And this is the time, these are the times that we are meant to be faced with the challenge of peace. These are the times we are left without the security of symbol and ritual. And here we are called still to participate in peace though our bearings seem lost. We are constantly called back to God, back to unity with the Father. We are constantly meant to work for peace, justice, hope… in this world, in this life. And we will ask ourselves, we will discern in anguish sometimes, over and over again, how do we participate in peace… today? …looking in the face of this person and lifestyle …wondering if this opportunity is right for our family …searching to find a way to repair this relationship ….or resist this oppression Will today be the day that we decide to melt down our weapons, to call others to set violence aside? To realize and embrace the folly, the futility of placing our certainty in sword and army? Or will today be the day that we are struck painfully by the violence of those who would resist the coming and present reign of Christ? Is this a day to know that a fight is already being waged, the powers collide and the conflict and strife already tear our churches, our nations and our own hearts to tender, bleeding ribbons? Which world do we live in today? A vision which includes the toppling of the Berlin wall? A vision that has space for the certain pain and prospective death that some experience in the face of violence, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, … countless others who know first hand of the nations rising against each other and accept the challenge of participating in the powerful coming of peace in the midst of it. All these were not deceived into thinking that there are only gardens here and not battles. Neither did they choose to invoke the power of violence or oppression against those who resist God’s reign. And we have to make these same choices. The challenge of peace. The confusion of faithfulness in a broken world. The hope of final restoration. All this we carry with us as followers of Christ.

1 comment:

wayne said...

"Grow vegetables and hope instead of strife and destruction"

Love, love, love these words. Thanks for extending the invite to think about what world, what vision we live in beyond Sunday morning by posting your sermon. I shall be asking myself this the rest of the day.