St. John's, Centreville
November 18, 2018
Proper 28 B
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine, to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is hard to be a human being in this world....It is HARD to be a human being in this world. The longer we live and the more we see, it can become harder and harder to depend on anything. The world is not trustworthy. Planes are not supposed to crash into towering buildings, crash down and kill thousands. A concert, a church, a synagogue, a movie theater, a school are not supposed to be places of death and destruction. Things that we believed to be true - that tall buildings would not fall and schools were safe places - are no longer trustworthy. Some beliefs that we have built our lives on can no longer be trusted. It's a losing of our innocence. So we ask ourselves, "What will happen next?"
The uncertainty of the future can leave us feeling nervous and out of control. Will our country be preyed upon by terrorists? Will global warming kill this planet and everything on it? Will I come down with some incurable disease that will cause me great pain and suffering?
In our lesson from the gospel of Mark, known as the "Little Apocalypse", the disciples are marveling at the large stones and the large buildings in Jerusalem. In Mark's chronology, this is the first time Jesus and his disciples have come to Jerusalem. These fishermen from Galilee are astonished at the large buildings, particularly the temple.
Jesus then tells the disciples that the temple will be destroyed, and there will be additional destruction everywhere. When will this happen, the disciples want to know. What are the signs that this will happen?
Jesus then gives the disciples a sobering account of the end times. Before it is all said and done, there will be wars, famines and earthquakes. "But do not be alarmed," Jesus says. "This is only the beginning of the birth pangs." This is only the start of a new world, a new kingdom, a new life.
A lot of books have been written about the end times - when it will happen, what it will be like. People have tried to interpret what is happening around the world and try to fit it into some kind of check off list so they can predict when the world as we know it will end. But it doesn't work. It will never work. Jesus said only God the Father knows and God has not told us when this will happen. And our trying to figure it out is not helpful. The possibility of apocalyptic violence will be generated by human beings, not by God.
But Jesus has told us, "Do not be alarmed." You will see violence and terrorism and evil all around you. There will be earthquakes, fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. You will see refugees fleeing their homes because of war, danger or violence, and many of them dying on their treacherous journeys to places where they might be safe. Life is hard. Life can be fearful.
But Jesus is trying to give the disciples some advice about how to live into the future. Use caution, he tells them, as some will come in my name and try to lead you astray. Be careful not to follow false leaders. Wars will happen as nations rise up against nations. Natural disasters will happen. There will be famines and desperate times. Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, that these things will happen.
But as Christians, what are we supposed to think and do when these things happen that are beyond our control - the wild fires in California that have caused so much destruction, the hurricanes that seem to hit our coasts with greater frequency, earthquakes that kill thousands in other parts of the world. As people of faith, we often ask, where is God in all this? We often search for God in the "midst of the rubble of life's tragedies."*
"In Christian terms, the larger question is about how we think about God when the world is turned upside down. Mark's gospel does not explain how God is involved in these unsettling experiences." * But our faith tells us that God is with us. Jesus tells his disciples that he will not leave them comfortless after his ascension, that he will send the Holy Spirit to lead them and guide them. And he does the same for us.
God is present with us always, even in times of unimaginable suffering. The Holy Spirit is with us to offer us courage, consolation and hope. That is how Christians can endure the suffering and pain of this world, because we have hope and the knowledge that God is with us, no matter what.
Jesus tells his disciples that the destruction that is to come are the birth pangs of a new creation, a new kingdom, a new reality. We are living in the in-between times, between the first and second comings of Christ. A new creation, a new world is coming - a world where there will be justice and peace and equality and love for all. We don't know when this will happen. We don't know what the signs of the end of this world might be. That is not for us to know.
Jesus calls us not to focus on the end times and when and how that will happen. Jesus calls us to focus on our mission and ministry in this world right now - to feed the hungry, house the homeless, take care of the widows and orphans, the poor and the destitute, to love one another as God loves us. We are the people of God, doing God's work in this world, right here and right now.
Jesus calls us, not only to remain unafraid of the future, but he calls us to confront the darkness, the hatred, the evil that surrounds us. People around us need to hear the good news, the hope we have in Jesus Christ, the love that God has for us. People need to find communities of faith where they can be accepted as they are, where they can hear the message of hope and love, and get away from focusing on all that is wrong with the world. God's love will strengthen and sustain us, even through the toughest times of our lives.
It is hard to be human in this world. Many things that we thought in our childhood were trustworthy are not. But God is trustworthy. God is our anchor in this turbulent world. God is our hope in a troubled world. God is our strength and sustainer as we encounter the difficulties of life.
Let us not fall under burdens of worry and fear and anxiety about the troubles of this world or the end times. Let us give our joy and thanks to God for all the blessings that God has given us. For God is with us daily, every step of the way, walking with us, holding us up, leading us forward, all with God's grace and love. Amen.
*"Feasting on the Gospels - Mark", article by Nancy Mikoski, page 403.