Sunday, November 18, 2018
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Daniel 12:1-3 The deliverance of God’s people at the end
Hebrews 10:11-25 The way to God opened through Christ’s death
Mark 13:1-8 The end and the coming of the Son
Title: While We Wait
So, one question for this morning that rises out of our gospel reading – Is Jesus having a conversation with his disciples? Or is he reading his twitter feed, or does he have the CNN app on his phone opened and scrolling? Look at his list: mass destruction, wars and threats of wars between nations and kingdoms, earthquakes, famines. Actually, using any news source these days, we could come up with an even longer list than Jesus’ doomsday list, couldn’t we? Devastating fires, killer storms, overwhelming floods, political intrigue and frustration, mass shootings, violent sectarianism. (And we New Yorkers are complaining about the effects of a passing snow storm.)
But rather than get caught up in Jesus’ realistic survey of life in our rough and tumble world, I want to go back and look at his constantly puzzling practice of not answering questions. We have another classic example here. He has just predicted that everything around them, namely Jerusalem and her Temple, is going to be laying in ruins one day. And since prophets are known to offer the promise of a sign that will signal the coming events that they have predicted – You know the tradition, – Moses asks God for a sign that he can show the enslaved people so that they know he is sent from God, Jeremiah offers a sign so that the people know that the devastation that is coming is punishment from God, even those Christmas angels that we will be hearing from in a five weeks (yup, it’s that close) will say to the shepherds, this will be a sign unto you… Yes, the “sign” tradition for Jesus’ followers is a strong one. They want and expect signs, they are both a warning of what is coming and a confirmation that what has come upon them is from the one the prophets are speaking on behalf.
So, Jesus has made his prediction (and it is a devasting one) so it is only natural that a warning sign be given. But Jesus gives none. So, the disciples, the inner circle even, request that expected and expectant sign. Their question is asked: “when will this be? What are the signs to look for?” And in typical Jesus fashion, he does not answer the question. He says something that seems to be a non-sequitur. Jesus replies: “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”
So, I’m finally starting to get this practice of Jesus’ in which he doesn’t answer questions. Once again, we see that he gives the answer to the question the person (or we) should be asking. It’s like he’s a fan of Jeopardy. You know, Alex gives the answer and the contestants give the question. (And it has to be in the form of a question, or Alex will shame you.) So, let’s go back one more time. The disciples say “what will be the sign.” Jesus answers: Don’t let anyone mislead you. They are not me. So, the question that should have been asked is…maybe “What should we, your disciples be doing until this catastrophe or apocalypse?” Could Jesus be teaching us that that is more important than knowing the exact day and time when all will come to pass?
Jesus knows what happens when people are frightened. They get anxious. Anxiety craves information. Even though it be false information. Just something to hang your fear on. It’s like what they say about publicity: Bad is better than none. And we certainly have plenty of current examples of fear latching on to whatever and whoever.
And we certainly have plenty of examples throughout the history of Christianity of people thinking they know enough to answer the question that Jesus clearly felt there was no point in answering. How many times have people cried out THE END IS NEAR! Gathered frightened folks into cults and given them the Kool-Aid to drink. Sat up on roof tops convinced that our Lord’s return was imminent.
I’m with Jesus on this one. (Well, I try to be with him on all things.) Focusing on the mysterious end, only raises our level of anxiety. As Saints (think two weeks ago) and as Peacemakers (think last week) we are invited and encouraged to live our lives knowing the end and therefore not worried about the end. We follow the one who is worthy of our trust, who is wise in leading us, and who is merciful when we falter.
Hear again what the writer of Hebrews has to say:
19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
And while we are waiting without fear or anxiety, the writer suggests:
24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Friday evening, I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite musicals – ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. After telling a beautiful story of faith, hope, love, forgiveness, and courage, the company sings the final song “Why We Tell the Story.” Part of the lyric is
Life is why we tell the story
Pain is why we tell the story
Love is why we tell the story
Grief is why we tell the story
Hope is why we tell the story
Faith is why we tell the story
You are why we tell the story
So it is with us. We tell and live our story as God’s children, as Jesus’ disciples, and as the Spirit’s instruments because of the fullness and franticness of life on this shaky planet. Because of the one who is with us through it all. Because of the one who will be there in the end however and whenever that end comes. Let us not be led astray, not look to another or to ourselves in the face of anxiety and fear, and let us fill our time provoking one another to love and good deeds because we have nothing to fear, it is Jesus who saves.
The fill line in the song Why We Tell the Story is a line for us as well. The storytellers sing:
For out of what we live and we believe
Our lives become the stories that we weave.
What’s going on over there, Lord? Jesus redirects with a “Don’t wander off. Stay close to me.”
When’s it all going to end, Lord? Jesus calms with a “All you need to know is I am here.”
How will we know, Lord? Jesus soothes with a “You know me. That is enough.”
Jesus gives us the story of his life to live and believe. It comes to us in the water and the word, the meal and the fellowship, the serving and the resting. On him our hope is founded and our trust is renewed. Forever and ever. Amen.
The Rev. Mark Erson,