Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sermon; Ash Wednesday 2018

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. So it was ordained from the beginning at our creation that all of us go down to the dust.

If we go back and look at the second creation story with Adam and Eve in the garden, you should notice something significant there. God created Adam and put him in the garden. And he said “You may eat from any tree in the garden, but you shall not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Eventually Eve comes along, has a conversation with a serpent, and both she and Adam eat from the forbidden tree. God then lists out curses/consequences for their disobedience, and one of the things he says is,”You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Adam and Eve are then expelled from the garden because God is afraid they will next eat from the Tree of Life and live forever.

In other words, Paul and all those who thought that death only entered the world through Adam and Eve's disobedience got it wrong: death has always been part of the equation. For out of the dust were we taken. We are dust, and to dust shall we return.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

We are mortal. We are born, we live, and we die. Despite knowing this fact, despite knowing that 100 percent of people who were, or who will be, born will die, we try to ignore it. We put off doing what we should to prepare for that day. We create euphemisms to soften the words, “He/She died.” But the reality is that we all die.

Within that reality, though is uncertainty. Even though we all die, no one knows when we will die. That uncertainty has led to stories and movies along the lines of, “What if you knew how much time you had left?” One of the funnier movies was, “Last Holiday,” starring Queen Latifah. Her character learns she has a terminal brain disease and is given three weeks to live. The movie revolves around the, “What would you do?” theme.

What would we do if we were born with a tattoo showing how many days we would live? What would we do if our birth certificate came with a death certificate? Would we live differently? Would we live better? Would we live worse?

It's a fact that we will die. It's also a fact that we don't know when that will happen. But what if we took the idea of knowing when we will die and insert it into our uncertain lives? What if we took the best of what we would do given a limited time – more time with family, volunteer more, read more, pray more – and applied it right now?

Last week I was in Kingsville for the monthly Fresh Start program and the topic was discernment. It didn't just focus on discerning a call to ordained ministry, but on everything – discerning the direction of the parish, discerning personal goals, and the like.

During the discussion one person said, “This reminds me of a saying from the Sufi master Rumi. He said, 'Before anything passes through your lips, consider three things: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?'”

Today is Ash Wednesday. Today we are called to the observance of a holy Lent through a variety of actions and examinations. Today is the day when we attempt to empty ourselves of things selfish in nature and fill ourselves with things holy in nature. This is the time when we, like the bread and wine at Communion, make a substantial change in our nature which will bring us closer to the presence of Christ.

This Lent, what if we examined our lives and lived as if we knew just how limited our time on earth was? What if, this Lent, we vowed to evaluate our behaviors on whether or not it is true, necessary, and kind?

For all of us go down to the grave; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. With that in mind, will the changes we make and the life we live allow God to say, “Well done.”


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sermon; Last Epiphany; Mark 9:2-9

Today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. Some Protestant denominations refer to this as Transfiguration Sunday. I was talking with a friend about this and the question came up that if the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated on August 6, why do we also have, essentially, a celebration of the Transfiguration on this, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany?

If you have been paying attention over the past six weeks, you will recall that the two major themes of Epiphany are knowledge and proclamation. In Epiphany we gain knowledge of who Jesus is through the wise men, John the Baptist, Philip, and even demons. That knowledge is then proclaimed, made known, not only here, but in the surrounding towns and villages, as we heard last week.

These twin themes of knowledge and proclamation culminate in the Transfiguration event. Jesus is made known through the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah, and he is proclaimed as God's Son by God himself. This event is the perfect end to the season of knowledge and proclamation.

But today I want to deviate from these themes and address a particular and important aspect of this story, and that is the aspect of mystery. Because we may know all there is to know about Jesus or Scripture or the Church, but just because we know it all doesn't mean we know it all.

Mystery has several meanings associated with it, usually along the lines of trying to figure out, or find, a solution to something. Agatha Christie wrote murder mysteries for a living. We watch Columbo, CSI, and Fr. Brown. We play games to determine if it was Col. Mustard in the kitchen with a pipe. Scientists are probing the mysteries of the universe trying to find the answer to life and everything. And when I was a kid, I had to find out who was eating my chocolate Easter bunny without my permission. All mysteries to be solved.

But the mystery of faith is something else entirely. We do not proclaim a faith to be solved, we proclaim a faith to be lived. And it is in the living of our faith that we live into its mystery.

The early Church easily lived into this. Christian doctrine and liturgy were developed with an understanding of the importance of mystery, and they reflect a mystical experience. That mystery is experienced by revelation, such as the event of the Transfiguration that we hear today.

Ignatius said that the words of scripture enacted in the Eucharist contain a mystic significance into which believers are progressively initiated, so that we hear the quietness of Jesus. It is the mystery of the Eucharist, with its symbols, rituals, and words, that help draw us beyond intellectual notions of God and into a mystical union with God. This mystery, or these mystical acts, do not persuade us, as a good argument might, but they act on us and move us into a deeper relation with God.

In short, the experience of God is a mystery. It is a mysterious and mystical event that cannot be explained. And on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, this is exactly what is happening – a mysterious and mystical experience of God that cannot be explained. A mystery not to be solved but to be lived.

Four men ascend the mountain where one of them is miraculously transfigured so that he shown with an other-worldly light and his clothes were more dazzling white than even Tide could get them.

Shortly after Jesus is transfigured, Moses and Elijah appear, representing the Law and the Prophets. How they got there and how the disciples identified them is a mystery.

Peter, wanting to do something, suggests building three dwellings, when suddenly a cloud overshadows them and they hear a voice that proclaims Jesus as Son and that they should listen to him. They were overshadowed in the same way that Mary was overshadowed, and in the same way that they would be overshadowed after Jesus' ascension.

These are mysteries of our faith,. The experience of God is a mystery. It is a mysterious and mystical event that cannot be explained. Sort of like what happens in here on a Sunday morning.

It is very hard for us to describe the importance of our liturgy to others; for how do you describe a mystery?

Our liturgy is full of mystery. We can start with the mystery of Scripture which stands as a record of God and humanity trying to connect. As Eucharistic Prayer C says, “Again and again you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law.”

There is the mystery of Christ, fully human and fully divine, who showed us what it means to live in a complete and faithful relationship with God.

There is the mystery of Holy Communion, that great feast which is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This also includes the mystery of bread and wine becoming Body and Blood.

And it includes the mystery of prayer, healing, and community.

In here we are surrounded by mystery.

On this Last Sunday after the Epiphany let us not forget to proclaim the Christ we know, but neither let us forget to live into an unsolvable mystery whose purpose is to reveal God so that we may draw into a closer union with the divine.

And on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, let us remember that the mystery of God is not to be solved, but to be lived.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon; Christmas Eve; Luke 2:1-20

At services this morning (earlier today also being the Fourth Sunday of Advent) I preached on the bravery, confidence, and decisiveness of Mary. This was appropriate because our gospel lesson for Advent IV was the story of the Annunciation – that time in history when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a son who would be called the Son of God.

When the angel appeared before her, Mary did not tremble in fear. Mary listened to all the angel had to say and made the life-changing, world-altering decision to allow God to work through her and trust that God would be with her. In short, Mary fearlessly stared down an angel, agreed to become the Theotokos, God-bearer, the Mother of God, when most people have trouble simply talking about God, and she was willing to carry out a mission that could very well get her killed.

Far from meek and mild, Mary was hard core. She was fierce. She was feisty. She was a bad mama.

Tonight we come to worship God. We come to celebrate the birth of God made man. We come to hear the stories and sing the hymns. We come to experience a bit of peace in a chaotic world. We come to partake of a holy meal instituted by a man born in a stable in a town whose name means, “House of bread.”

But besides all of these reasons as to why we come, and besides recognizing the fierceness of Mary, there is something else going on in this story that we need to pay attention to today. To do that, though, I need to go beyond just tonight's gospel passage and look further back into Luke and over into Matthew as well.

Scripture tells us that the virgin Mary became pregnant out of wedlock. Engaged to Joseph but not yet married, she finds herself in a dangerous predicament in which the father of her child is not the man to whom she is engaged. As I said this morning, one possible outcome of these events could have been a death sentence. And yet fierce Mary agreed to let this happen. Fierce Mary agreed to stare down death.

Joseph, as you might imagine, was rightfully upset. But as Matthew tells us, Joseph was righteous, not legalistic. Legally he could have had Mary executed. Instead he chose to “dismiss her quietly” so that she and her child could have a chance at life. Eventually, with a little angelic prodding, Joseph believed Mary and became her husband and father to Jesus.

When Jesus was finally born angels appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. After a few terrifying moments when they had to be told to fear not, they heard the story of Mary and the birth of the holy child. They also believed the story and traveled into town to pay their respects.

We are here tonight because, on some level, we also believe the story. We may or may not believe all the details of the story, but we believe THE STORY. We believe that God became man through the willingness of fierce Mary. We believe that child grew up to become the same Jesus who died on a cross for our sins.

We believe the story of God. We believe the story of a young, yet-to-be married woman. We believe. And this is where this story can speak to us today.

We have been inundated lately with stories from women who have shared their experiences of abuse and misconduct at the hands of men. From Hollywood to Washington, DC, in corporations and in churches, women are speaking out. The #MeToo movement is a movement of stories – sad, hurtful, powerful, and shameful stories – but the stories of women nonetheless.

The responses to those stories have been varied. They range from immediate termination to defiant denial, victim blaming, and any number of responses that fall somewhere in-between. There has not been one universal response.

As unfortunate as that is, it is also a fairly typical response to any story we hear. Some are believed outright. Some are patently ignored. Some are taken with a grain of salt. Some are researched. Some accuse the storyteller of lying. But with accusations of abuse, very rarely will someone invent that charge. And woe to us if we treat all those who have been abused as if they are the extreme minority who make it up.

What do the stories about the abuse of and misconduct toward modern-day women have to do with the Christmas story of an angelic visitation to a young virgin and the birth of God made man? Maybe more than we might originally think.

The story of Mary is that she was visited by the angel Gabriel, that she miraculously conceived a child despite being a virgin, that she gave birth to the Son of God, and that Joseph and the shepherds believed. Tonight we not only celebrate this story, but we proclaim that we also believe Mary's story.

The women of today have stories to tell. They may or may not be as amazing or outrageous as Mary's story, but they are almost always as true. And for women to tell those stories they also need to be as brave, decisive, and fierce as Mary.

This Christmas we have the opportunity to give the gift of belief. We gave it to Mary; we should do no less to the women of today.

So no matter what happens out there, the gift this church gives you is that in here you are believed.

Merry Christmas.

Sermon; Advent 4B; Luke 1:26-38

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Today is the fourth Sunday of our preparation for the coming of the Messiah. And today we hear from the ultimate preparation story, that of what we refer to as “The Annunciation.” In this story the angel Gabriel appears before Mary to announce that she will bear the Son of God.

Today I want to focus on Mary and how she might help us in our Advent preparation and Christmas celebration.

Over the years Mary has been ascribed a variety of traits and characteristics that may or may not be true. My goal here isn't to debunk stories and ideas of Mary as much as it is to challenge our assumptions and maybe give her character a little more depth.

Those assumptions about Mary include the idea that she was a young teenage girl, that she was passive, maybe that she had no choice, and that she was “meek and mild.” There are probably others, but that will give us a good start.

Mary may or may not have been a young teenage girl. There is ample evidence that she was – the use of the word virgin certainly implies a young teenager, along with our understanding of the social constructs of the time in which girls were married at much younger ages than men, give evidence she was a young teenager. Add to that the fact she was engaged, which means this was probably a family arrangement. So yes, she could have been a young teen.

But then again, she may have been older. Certainly not Elizabeth-old, but old enough to have developed a strong sense of self. Consider: when Gabriel appears to Zechariah, the first words he says are, “Do not be afraid.” When an angel appears before the shepherds, the first words are, again, “Do not be afraid.” And in both those cases, Zechariah and the shepherds are described as being terrified at the angel's appearing.

Not so with Mary. The first words to her are, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” And Luke records that she was perplexed, not afraid. So it's possible Mary was older, braver, and more self-assured than a young teenage girl.

As to the assumption that she was passive or had no choice, I will say this wasn't the case. The first clue we get is that she pondered over the greeting of the angel. She pondered. She thought. She tried to make sense of what was happening. She just didn't sit back to observe what was happening without any thought to the matter.

As the gears are turning in her head about all that Gabriel is telling her, she doesn't ask for proof like Zechariah did, but she asks for clarification. “How can this happen under these circumstances?” She reminds me of the girl in the GE commercial who sees a problem (trash, lawn mowing, etc.) and continually asks, “How will this work under different circumstances?”

Mary is always thinking.

And Mary did have a choice. God always gives us a choice. An angel could have come to me and said, “You will become a priest of God. You will move your family multiple times and you will end up on the East coast far from family and friends.” Had the angel said THAT, my answer may well have been, “No thank you.”

But Mary, after hearing all the angel's words, said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” She not only had a choice and said, “Yes,” but she is more gutsy and brave than I would have been.

And speaking of gutsy and brave, Mary was certainly not meek and mild. She faced down an angel without fear. She agreed to being part of God's plan to actively involve himself in the world as he had never done before. And this young, as-yet unmarried woman agreed to become pregnant in order to help fulfill God's mission on earth. Young, unwed, pregnant women have a hard enough time here in the 21st Century U.S. Imagine the difficulties and fear she may have faced in that time and place; not the least of which was a possible death sentence.

When Gabriel tells her to not be afraid, it isn't in reference to his presence, as it was with Zechariah and the shepherds. Rather, this, “Do not be afraid,” is looking forward. Do not be afraid to let God work with you. Do not be afraid of how you may be treated. Do not be afraid of what could happen. Do not be afraid because God is with you.

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent we hear the story of Mary. It is the story of a confident, responsive, brave, and decisive woman of valor. Mary was Mulan, Merida, and Moana all rolled into one real-life amazing woman. In short, Mary was one hardcore, feisty, bad mama.

As this season of Advent comes to a close we would do well to follow Mary's example to answer God's call and to be not afraid of where that will lead us. For as we hear in another gospel story, God is with us.

And, really, isn't this what we've been preparing for?


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sermon; Advent 3B; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Once again we hear the story (or part of the story) of John the Baptist, but this time it comes from the gospel of John (referred to as “the fourth gospel” from here on out to avoid confusion between John and John). In this version there is no camel-hair clothing, no locusts and wild honey, no frantic calls to repent or accusing the Pharisees of being a brood of vipers. There isn't even a reference to “the wilderness,” since all this takes place in Bethany, across the Jordan. So the image of John in the fourth gospel is very different from Mathew, Mark, and Luke. It is, by comparison, rather tame. But although tame, it is still vitally important.

Today's gospel passage is important because it tells what John's role is and how he lives into that role.

John came as a witness to testify. In the fourth gospel that is his main function. He does baptize, but that is secondary to being a witness and testifying to the light. Sometimes we get so caught up in the wild, confrontational, earnest and urgent portrayal of John that we miss this aspect of his life. And if we miss that part, then we miss the implication it has for our own lives as well.

Let me ask a question: What is a witness? A witness is more than just seeing an event. A witness is one who serves as a legal observer, who provides evidence or testimony in court, or who signs a legal document. A person who is a witness is more than a person who watches the action or is a simple bystander. A witness helps create the framework of a story. When I sat on the jury for a medical malpractice case, the witnesses helped us determine the guilt or innocence of the doctor on trial.

A witness, in essence, relays to others what they have seen or known as honestly and truthfully as possible, and with the understanding that they are accountable for that testimony. John is a witness who testifies to the light and truth of the story. And today's passage is John's testimony.

Please state for the record of this court your name. Who are you?

I am John, son of Zechariah, a priest of the order of Abijah, and of Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron. I have come to prepare the way of the Lord. I am not the Messiah.

If you aren't the Messiah but have come to prepare the way, are you Elijah?

I am not.

Are you the prophet of whom Moses foretold?


Then who are you? Tell us.

I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

If you are neither the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet, why do you baptize?

I baptize with water to prepare people for the Messiah's coming. One among you whom you do not know is coming after me and I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.

In this exchange we have John as a witness testifying to the light, to Jesus. And not only testifying to Jesus, but removing himself from the spotlight. This is equally important.

In their commentaries on this passage, a variety of Church fathers write that those who came to John were anticipating the coming of the Messiah and that they would have gladly crowned him with that title. The line of questioning indicates they were not only cautious about making such an important assertion, but also that they were doing their due diligence. And Augustine writes that those who questioned John were so impressed by his grace that they would have believed whatever he said.

That is, of course, one man's interpretation. If we assume Augustine was right and that the questioners would have believed whatever John said, then John is our ultimate example of what it means to be a witness for Christ.

The history of Christianity is full of examples of people in positions of authority who use that authority to say, “I am he.” Oh, they may not say that outright, but their behavior and words certainly indicate otherwise. People who claim that they have the only correct interpretation of scripture. People who condemn those who differ from themselves. People who build large followings only to have them fall away when they themselves retire or die.

John does none of these things. As for interpretation, he simply testifies to what he believes is true, and lets others decide for themselves. As for condemnation, John does no such thing here; he only encourages people to look further. As for building up a large following, John points his followers away from himself to Christ.

The John of the fourth gospel has a lot to show us. During this Advent season of preparing for the coming of Christ, let us follow John's example by
remembering that we are witnesses for Christ, always testifying to the light;
offering people the opportunity to explore our claims for themselves; and
remembering it's not about us, but it's always about Jesus.

May we go from here as witnesses for Christ, testifying to the light.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sermon; Advent 2B; Mark 1:1-8

Last week we heard from Mark's “little apocalypse” and Jesus' promise that his words will not pass away even though heaven and earth will. Today we move from a focus on the last days to the very beginning of Jesus' ministry according to Mark.

Mark doesn't give us any genealogies or birth narratives. He doesn't give us any shepherds or kings. He doesn't give us any angelic announcements or choirs from on high. If Mark were buying Christmas gifts for Jesus, he wouldn't give him a 23-and-Me DNA kit because Mark doesn't care where Jesus came from, he only cares where he is going. And in Mark, Jesus is going to Golgotha – but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

So here we are on the Second Sunday of Advent and at the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As I pointed out, there is no prologue to the gospel. There is no easing into the story of Jesus with birth narratives or genealogies. Mark immediately jumps into the story by abruptly declaring that this is the beginning of the good news. If you read Mark's gospel, you will notice how things move abruptly and happen immediately. In fact, Mark uses the word “immediately” more than Matthew and Luke combined.

But even with Mark's immediate focus, he still must prepare his readers for what is coming. And in order to prepare for what is coming, we must look both backward and forward. That back-and-fore looking requires us to hear the story of John the Baptist; and this is the only pre-Jesus story Mark gives us.

This is the beginning of the good news, or the beginning of the gospel. In order to see the beginning of the gospel, we look back to Isaiah: “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'.”

Mark attributes that quote to Isaiah, but it's really a conflation from three sources: Ex. 23:20, Is. 40:3, and Malachi 3:1 This is why some other ancient sources don't attribute the saying solely to Isaiah, but to “the prophets.” Either way, Mark is looking back to reflect on what's coming.

We are doing the same thing – looking back to look forward. We are preparing to look forward by looking back.

Advent is the season of expectation and hopeful waiting. Advent is the season of preparation. We are expectantly and hopefully waiting for the coming of Christ, and we are preparing for his arrival. We prepare by putting up trees and decorations. We prepare by sending out Christmas cards and letters. We prepare by displaying creche sets and marching Mary and Joseph and the wise men on their respective journeys to Bethlehem. And, hopefully, we prepare for his arrival in a way that changes us.

This was the point of John's ministry – to urge people to prepare for the imminent coming of Christ, to make significant and lasting changes in their lives, and to be baptized as a symbol of that change.

So we look back to the arrival of Christ and prepare for his coming again. We look back to his imminent arrival that we celebrate on December 24 & 25. We hope that our preparations today will change us and prepare us for his next coming.

The danger we face, though, is becoming too backward-focused. We can spend too much time focusing on the manger and not on his arrival. We can spend too much time trying to arrange the creche set “just so” that we don't work to properly arrange our lives. We can spend too much time remembering the gifts the wise men brought that we neglect to share the gift of the gospel with those around us.

This, as you might expect, has implications not only for Advent and Christmas, but for us as we move forward. We can look backward to “the good old days,” while not recognizing that these are the good old days. We can spend so much time looking back longingly to how things used to be that we neglect to see how things are now, or how they could become in the future.

So yes, we can look back. But let us not look back with sentimentality about the way it used to be, but let us look back to prepare for the future.

Look back to the prophets to see a messenger that prepares the way of the Lord. Look forward to the coming of the Lord by understanding that you are God's messenger. Look back to the birth of Christ and the hope that instills. Look forward by preparing to offer hope to the world through your actions. Look back to the way things were. Look forward to the way things could be by helping prepare the next generation of faithful people.

In today's gospel, Mark is looking both forward – the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, and backward – as it is written in the prophets. In this season of Advent, we are also looking both forward – as we prepare for the coming of Christ, and backward – as we celebrate a coming that has already taken place. But we can't look so far forward that we decide our actions have no impact; nor can we look so far backward that we refuse to act now.

This may be why Mark is the perfect Advent gospel. Know where we have come from, but also be prepared to put our faith into action right now. We can't afford to spend all our time reminiscing about the good old days. Neither can we spend all our time worrying about a future that seems to be in jeopardy and who might save us.

Our time is now.
God's time is now.
This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
You are part of that story; and in understanding both what came before and what is yet to come, you are called to act now.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sermon; Advent 1B; Mark 13:24-27

As I said at the beginning of the announcements, “Happy New Year!”

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday in the liturgical cycle, and the first Sunday of Year B. Unlike most New Years that begin with hopes and dreams of prosperity and improvements, with promises or vows to turn over a new leaf, or with promises to take on goals for personal betterment, the new Church year begins with a dire warning about the end of days. Instead of promises of betterment, we hear promises of destruction, of a darkened sun, of falling stars, and dire warnings about the unknown hour of the master's return.

Happy New Year?

Chapter 13 of Mark is traditionally called, “The Little Apocalypse,” mainly because it is short. Mark 13 is the extent of apocalyptic writing in the gospel. It is set up by the disciples commenting to Jesus how grand the temple was. Jesus basically replies, “Not one stone will be left; all this will be thrown down.” And in a private moment with the inner circle – Peter, Andrew, James, and John – he is asked, “When will all this take place?” And here Jesus goes off on his apocalyptic rant.

In the part of the chapter we didn't hear today, Jesus talks of false prophets and wars, of famines and earthquakes, of trials and tribulations, of beatings and betrayals, of the desolating sacrilege, and of all sorts of other mean, nasty, horrible, ugly things. And from what we did hear, a darkened sun and falling stars, heaven and earth passing away, and a warning to keep awake and stay alert.

The end is coming. Happy New Year.

This little apocalypse is particularly interesting to me right now because I'm watching a video series on the Book of Revelation that is put out by Trinity Wall Street. If you also would like to watch it, you can go to the “About Us” tab on our website, click on Education, and there's a blurb with a link.

In that series the Rev. Dr. Michael Battle says that because Jesus is the alpha and omega we cannot read Revelation in chronological time from Point A to Point B. Instead we must read it in kairos time, or God's time, recognizing that God is the beginning and ending, the ending and the beginning. “How,” he asks, “is God being revealed through the imagination of the Apocalypse?”

We can ask the same thing with regard to Mark's little apocalypse: How is God being revealed through the imagination that is being presented to us today?

While we may know enough to not read Revelation as a chronological road map to the end days, and while we might apply that non-chronological view to Mark's little apocalypse, we might let our imagination run wildly dark when reading these pieces of scripture.

We have probably all heard or read some of those imaginative dark interpretations. The end is coming based on the generational timeline of Revelation and the state of Israel being created in 1947. The end is coming because the ratio of ships destroyed in WWII is the same as the ratio of ships destroyed in Revelation. The end is coming because Apache helicopters look just like the locusts mentioned in Revelation. The end is coming because nuclear war between the US and insert-enemy-of-the-day here will result in a darkened sun. And no, I am not making any of this up.

I want you to notice something: All of those interpretations focus on the death and destruction of not only the world, but of those whom the interpreters deem unworthy or evil. All of those interpretations are, in essence, revenge fantasies based on a made up chronological time.

But what if we used a different focus for our apocalyptic imagination?

In Revelation we are given a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. A vision of God dwelling with his people and a place where death, mourning, crying, and pain are no more. A place where the tree of life grows for the healing of nations.

In today's gospel passage we are also given some dark and terrifying images. There are those who would interpret and use these images in order to strike fear into the hearts of people or, worse, to use this apocalyptic vision to define whom God destroys and whom God welcomes into life.

Again, what if we used a different focus for our apocalyptic imagination?

In the beginning of this chapter Jesus says that not one stone of the temple will be left; that all will be thrown down. And toward the end of the chapter he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” While this may seem dark and terrifying (all will be thrown down, all will pass away), I think we can employ a positive imagination here.

In this life, all created things pass away. Civilizations fall into ruins and are eventually forgotten. Buildings collapse. Old neighborhoods change. People die. Heaven and earth, as created things, will pass away. But the word of God will not pass away.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Everyone who hears these words and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock. Then they remembered his words.

For thousands of years people have seen signs of the coming of the end of the world all around them. Every generation has faced famines and wars and false prophets. It isn't too hard to see visions of the end in the world around us today – politically, socially, economically, ethically, spiritually. But rather than panic and build fallout bunkers in our basement, or rather than ignore the signs and bury our head in the sand, we must continue to stay awake and keep alert. Do not put your faith in the signs and times of that which will pass away. Rather, put your faith in the enduring word of God which will never pass away.

If we hold fast to the words of Christ, if we put our hope in the words of Christ, if we obey the words of Christ, then we just might be able to help usher in a time when people receive healing from the tree of life, drink from God's living waters, and create a place that is better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today. Through the imaginative and enduring words of Christ we can see our world in God's time, where God is Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and ending, ending and beginning.

Happy New Year. This Advent, how will your imagination reveal God to the world?