The Lord be with you! Greetings – I hope you are comfortable and well!
Welcome to week three of video worship. In the 21st century worship curators recognize that visual images offer much in the way a text is heard and interpreted. Today, I am incorporating visual liturgy developed by filmmakers from theworkofthepeople.com. The folks behind this enterprise consider themselves “a spiritual library and a virtual sanctuary.”
To start this week, I’ve included a visual prayer before we hear the scripture. It is a centering prayer that will help when we hear the troubling text that follows. This is not to soften what Jesus says to disciples, but to ground us in the good, good news of God’s love.
The Scripture passage we are about to hear is from chapter 13 of the gospel according to Mark. Nearing the end of the gospel, Jesus has predicted his impending death three times. This scene is commonly called Mark’s “Little Apocalypse.”
In the Greek, the term Apocalypse translates as “revelation” or uncovering. Synonyms for apocalypse are terms such as calamity, catastrophe, disaster – or end time. Which is why there will be another video clip to communicate the emotion of the passage.
Listen for what Jesus is uncovering in God’s Word to us today.
Mark 13:1 As Jesus came out of the temple,
one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”
2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Mark 13:3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”
5 Then Jesus began to say to them,
“Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 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.
9 “As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils;
and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them.
10 And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.
11 When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
… 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
This is the Word of God for all of God’s people. Amen.
This coronavirus pandemic feels apocalyptic – right?
Theologically, an apocalypse means a radical uncovering of God’s purpose – which often includes a reordering of creation to make things right. Of course, it depends on who you are as to whether you really want Creation reordered. Those experiencing good times in the present may fear loss in a reordered future. Say you’re a part of the one percent of the wealthy in America. You may not want an economic or social reordering.
Whereas, those at the other end of the spectrum, say a single parent, perhaps an immigrant, in the bottom 25% of the economy working two or three jobs to dig their family out of debt – or even stay afloat, you might be praying for that reordering. Their fear is that the future will simply bring more of the same toil, with no relief in sight.
Apocalyptic scripture is hard to preach for that very reason. Some people just don’t want to think about it. Apocalyptic thought often captures the imagination of those who are the clearly oppressed.
Think about those fishermen followers of Jesus from the backwaters of Galilee. They are now in Jerusalem, touring the Temple, the center of power in their world, and they are spellbound with the Temple’s beauty and magnificence.
“Look at the large stones and large buildings!”
“Don’t be too impressed.” Jesus tells them. These stones are never going to last!”
Really?? Tell us WHEN they will fall, so we can be ready, the disciples respond.
We humans are hardwired to want to know the future, aren’t we?
We try to imagine what will the future bring, and, Will We Be Ready?
If we dig a little, just below the surface of wondering about the future -- is fear. The uncertainty of the future can leave us feeling nervous and out of control. So, we turn to Jesus for answers.
Only -- he doesn’t answer the question – WHEN. Instead he warns.
It’s not going to be easy to recognize –
Many will come in my name and lead people astray...
there will be wars...there will be natural disasters...there will be chaos.
But ---make no mistake that is not the end! This is just the beginning of birth pangs...the beginning of a rebirth.
And two thousand years later – history has shown that generation after generation have experienced disasters, wars, and rebirths of one kind or another. Often, we distract ourselves by trying to predict the end time, rather than viewing this as a story of salvation.
From the Greek salvation comes from the root “to save.” Have you ever thought about what God’s salvation, God’s saving work would look like for us?
Some folks who often use the word salvation believe God has given a distinct formula:
1. Acknowledge you are a sinner
2. Repent from that sin
3. Believe Jesus died for you.
4. Invite Jesus to be your personal Savior.
And, they have it right, to the extent that salvation is a process of repentance, forgiveness, and rebirth. But – it is not simply a personal salvation, because for ancient Judaism, of which Jesus was a part, salvation involves the whole community.
Dean Koontz, acknowledged as America’s most popular suspense novelist gets closer a communal understanding of salvation when he said:
“None of us can ever save himself;
we are the instruments of one another’s salvation,
and only by the hope that we give to others do we lift ourselves out of the darkness into light.”
N. T. Wright says “the work of salvation, in its full sense, is
(1) about whole human beings, not merely souls;
(2) about the present, not simply the future; and
(3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”
God’s apocalyptic intervention in our lives is not simply a spiritual intervention – God intervenes by a social, historical, environmental and economic awakening. In this time and place in history, the media has been asking if covid19 is a health crisis, economic crisis, or a political crisis.
Perhaps God is creating a rebirthing in each of these realms for the wholeness of Creation. It is not going to be easy. Just like labor, some of the rebirthing is going to be very painful. Disciples are going to have to be strong, have faith, trust that you will be given the wisdom and words along the way as you seek to respond faithfully.
There is an amusing analogy to what Jesus is trying to say to disciples. One morning an optimistic boy woke up early on his birthday. He looked out his window – only to find - a giant pile of manure in the yard outside. He ran downstairs, got a shovel, and started happily shoveling.
"What are you doing?" his neighbor asked. "I know there's got to be a pony in there somewhere!" said the boy.
Jesus want disciples to remember there is a pony under the pile – of whatever life throws at you. We have been called by God to help uncover the seeds of hope in the pile of messy chaos that life can be. And sometimes, the work gets hard and smelly and we get tired and want to give up. And then, someone else comes along with a shovel to help. Because, We Need Each Other To Keep Our Hope Alive – especially when fear threatens to overcome.
In Bible study this week someone mentioned how the word patriotic is getting a rebirth in this period of American history. In this time of isolation, we are being held up by the brave. The brave store clerks and warehouse workers, custodians and sanitation workers, home delivery people, health care aides, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, first responders, factory workers making masks and ventilators, teachers who have to find a new way to facilitate learning, scientists working fervently to find a vaccine…these brave people are keeping us afloat and giving us hope. In this time in history – it’s true “the first will be last and the last will be first.”
God is turning things upside down and changing our perspectives – making all things new.
Mark places this text right before the passion of Jesus. The message to his persecuted community is that they need to prepare to participate in Jesus' suffering. It will be hard. But they will be lifted from darkness to light and eventual victory by maintaining their witness to the truth in tough times.
Jesus addresses the disciples fear – and ours. We are not alone.
In the midst of destruction lie the seeds of salvation.
So -- be alert and watchful – together – as virtually as possible, because alone we might miss something crucial and lose hope.
So, “Beware, ...keep awake, watch, resist, hold out for the coming of Christ.”
Let us pray,
God of grace, all around us are wars, and rumors of wars,
and we are afraid for ourselves and our world.
We grasp for whatever security we can find.
Keep us mindful that all of life is in your hands.
Renew our hope, increase our courage,
and keep us watchful for the signs
of your just and peaceful reign that is to come;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
May the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
one God, Mother of us all, be with you this day and forevermore.