Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost 15 November 2015
(Daniel 12:1-3 Psalm 16 Hebrews 10:11-25 Mark 13:1-8)
“Don’t Freak Out!”
Not too long ago my wife and I were riding in the car with our 7-year-old grandson, and seemingly out of nowhere, he said, “You know, that time when Mommy and Daddy and Jaxon, when we were going to the beach and we went over that really big bridge, well, you know what? That really freaked me out!” Lois and I looked at each other and smiled, not because we didn’t care about what he might have been feeling, but because he used the words, “freaked out!”
That is sort of where we are in today’s Gospel text. The disciples are “freaked out” when Jesus seems to infer that the Jerusalem Temple will soon be destroyed. The community of Mark, who put the Gospel into its final version more than 40 years later, were “freaked out” because by then the Temple, the very foundation of Jewish faith, had been destroyed.
As we now get to the 13th Chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we enter into a whole different type of writing, called “apocalyptic writing.”
Let me say a few words as a way to better understanding. I’d begin by saying that it is really important to listen in a whole different way to apocalyptic writing than the way we might listen to other parts of the Bible. A common mistake is to use apocalyptic writing to predict events in the future. So let’s not do that!
As defined by David Lose, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, “apocalyptic writing stems from a worldview that believes that everything happening on earth correlates with a larger, heavenly struggle between good and evil,” the intent being that if we cast current tragic events in a larger framework that includes God’s saving love, we might then find comfort and meaning in our own current sufferings or oppression.
The one place where this seemed to work in more recent history was in the tragic years of slavery, where slaves from Africa were able to see their current suffering as part of a larger “battle” if you will, between the forces of good and evil. As I understand it, it was out of such a worldview where the deeply-moving, faith-filled Negro spirituals could even come to birth. It was only in light of a larger framework, where these oppressed people were assured that God was still with them even in the midst of the structures of disenfranchisement that robbed them of their humanity.
To me, it is such an affront to Biblical understanding to use these texts to “predict” when Jesus will come again! In way too many instances, Christians have come to believe that the question asked by Peter, James, John, and Andrew is the central question of the Christian faith—“When will this be, and what will be the signs that all these things are about to happen?”
Like the disciples, people want to know when, so they can be prepared, so they can be ready. They want to have all their Ps and Qs in order to be sure they do not fail some Divine Behavior Test. They want to make sure they have time to clean up they act before the Big Guy arrives! That’s all hog wash, if that is how we want to interpret this text!
Oh my goodness! The point is so much bigger than predicting the future! Please hear that where apocalyptic writing makes sense in your lives and mine is: that any moment of personal strife or tragedy; or natural disaster, or world catastrophe (like all that has taken place in Paris this past Friday)—must always to be seen within the context of a bigger, cosmic struggle where Jesus Christ is seen as the Giver of all good things!
We are being invited to be ready all the time! We are called to live always anticipating the activity of God. We are called to live in joy and confidence. Joy in the knowledge that God has revealed God’s grace, mercy and goodness to us and to the entire world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Confidence that comes from trusting the promise that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us, restoring the world to its intended glory.
And, of course, we would love to know when that is. But that is not our calling. We are called to live now, allowing the promises of God about the future to infuse every present moment. Because when we live looking for the activity of God here and now, we begin to see it. In an act of kindness of a friend, in an opportunity to help one another, in the outreach ministry of a congregation, in the chance to listen deeply to the hurt of another. God shows up in all kinds of places, working with us, for us, through us and in us. We just have to be awake and aware enough to notice.
So I must go back to the question: what is the message of apocalyptic writing in a world filled with so much despair? What good does it do for us when we read disturbing headlines, and receive a crushing medical report, and when mass killings and tragic natural disasters come at us every day?
I believe apocalyptic writing defines the role of baptized and believing Christians in a world of despair, and our role is this: to stand through the storms, even after all the lights have gone out and all the tourists have gone home. Our role is to stare into the darkness, making justice and peace, while always speaking God’s love with authority and conviction and giving witness to the work of God in the darkness and even in the abyss.
Our burden and, at the same time, our yoke is that we have encountered a God of grace and love, but the world we look at does not always fit that which we have encountered. So our role is not to minimize God to some puny, inadequate definition who has lost control of the world. Rather, it is up to every one of us to harness a portion of the divine energy with which we were signed and sealed in baptism, because we believe God to be loose in the world.
I want these words to be heard by everyone one of you sitting here this morning. I want these words to be heard by those who are being torn apart by inner conflict, by family conflict, by fear because of uncertainties, by sadness because of loss, by confusion because of insecurity. For any one of you who is “freaked out” because the bridge looks too high and feels too unsteady and appears impossible to cross safely, or because the world in which you live is too scary and daunting and overwhelming, please hear the word of God this morning: There is always hope! There is always hope! Amen.
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost 15 November 2015