Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sermon; 25 Pentecost/Proper 28B; Mark 13:1-8

I always envision the unnamed disciple in today's gospel as Little Red Riding Hood . . . “My, what big stones you have!”

And now that that's out of the way . . . Today's gospel comes from Mark 13, commonly called the Little Apocalypse, and, other than three verses, is one long discourse from Jesus.  Today's event takes place deep into Holy Week.  Jesus has ridden into town, overturned tables, argued with temple priests and elders, told anti-establishment parables, and watched a poor widow give away her last two cents.  And now the disciples want to spend their time praising the grandeur of the temple.  In response, Jesus begins talking about the end of the world.

For some people this provides a mother-lode of material for scary stories, misguided teachings, and bad theology.  The list of people who teach, or taught, that the world was ending soon, that the rapture is imminent, and that Jesus would return on a specific date is embarrassingly long.  Longer still is the list of people who have been convinced and boondoggled that those people were right.

Why is that?  Why is there a plethora of people who read Mark 13 (and other apocalyptic stories in the Bible) and spend their time plotting out end-of-the-world time-lines?

I think one reason is because it's easy.  It's easy to make calculations, offer simple blanket statements along the lines of, “Scripture clearly says . . .” and then sit back and wait for Jesus to show up on his white horse reaping vengeance on all who doubted.  It's easy to turn the reigns over to God and do absolutely nothing to advance the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  It's easy to not have to do the hard work of discipleship if you know Jesus is coming back next February 17th.

A second reason is that there is more than a small revenge fantasy at play here.  When the end of the world comes, and all the real, true faithful have been whisked away, and Jesus shows up on his white horse to punish the unbelievers, then those righteous faithful will be able to look on the unrighteous who have been cast out into the outer darkness of eternal punishment with a gleam in their eye and say, “I told you so.”  And it will be in that moment that they will be proven right.

A third reason is a direct result of, or correlation to, the above, and that is a fragile faith.  We should proclaim a resurrection faith.  We should attempt to live a faith steeped in holy mystery.  We should live a faith of long-term discipleship, not instantaneous conversion.  And we should live a faith in which doubts and questions are welcomed.  What does it say about our faith when we can't question or explore, where we constantly look for the easy answers, and where we expect and demand certainty; especially the certainty of a manufactured end date?

Instead of reading these apocalyptic stories and looking for time-lines and prophecy fulfillments and whatever else we can come up with to usher in the end of the world, we should probably spend more time paying attention to the apocalyptic imperatives.

The first imperative is what Jesus is saying about religion.  Look what large stones and buildings we have.  The reply – it will all be thrown down.

In other words, if all we see and do revolves around the building, we are missing the point.  Don't get me wrong, the buildings are nice.  And it's a joy to worship God in the beauty of holiness.  But if the building is our sole focus, we are doing it wrong.  Our focus should be Jesus.  Our goal should be proclaiming his good news to the world.  If we evangelize the building and not Jesus, it will all be thrown down.

A second imperative is, “Beware.”  Beware of false teachers.  Beware of people trying to lead you astray.  Beware of those coming in Jesus' name.  Be alert.  Do the research.  If someone uses religious language steeped in Musts, Onlies, and Exclusions, be wary and beware.  Oftentimes that leads not to a gospel of love and welcoming, but a gospel of mistrust, fear, and limitations.  It is, in a word, anti-Christ.

And a third imperative is do not be alarmed; or, as our new Presiding Bishop said in his opening sermon, and quoting Bobby McFerrin, “Don't worry, be happy.”

“Don't be alarmed” does not mean, “Don't be prepared.”  But it does mean to recognize that we live in an imperfect, sinful and fallen world.  Because of that, conflicts will arise, both personally and globally.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes really bad stuff happens.  But rather than praying for the rapture to come and take us away, or spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an apocalypse safe-house, pay attention to where God's light needs to be made known.

Right now, refugees need to be welcomed, food and clothing need to be bought and delivered, people of all kinds need to know God loves them.  Rather than be alarmed, we need to stand up and simply say, “Don't worry – on behalf of God, you are welcome here.”

This is the true apocalypse.  The end is certainly coming, but the time is unknown.  Our job, therefore, is to do what the apostles failed to do in the garden – keep awake and keep watch.

Apocalypse, remember, is a revealing of things to come.  It is not a blueprint for how things will be, but a slight opening of what God's plan looks like.  This apocalyptic vision we have in Mark is for us to keep awake, to be alert and to watch for God to be revealed in the world.

That revealing in the world is not a call for us to sit and wait for Jesus to show up, but it is a call for us to make Jesus known in the world around us.

We are, therefore, not only an Easter people, but we are also an apocalyptic people.  Stay awake.  Be watchful.  Beware.  And do the work we are called to do – reveal Jesus to the world.



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