Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Hoping Skills": A sermon preached at Littlefield Presbyterian Church on November 15, 2015

"Hoping Skills"
Mark 13:1-8

There will be wars and rumors of wars.  There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.
            Just a few days ago, I was wondering what I would do with this passage on a Sunday when we consecrate our stewardship commitments and take some time for faithful imagination about the future of the church.  Then we studied it at the beginning of Evangelism committee meeting, and I started to see some possibilities. 
            Then it happened-- again.   Just this week:  Terrorist attacks in Beirut.  Baghdad.  Paris. 
            The thirteenth chapter of Mark has traditionally been called “the little apocalypse.”  This passage, along with the other apocalyptic writings in the Bible, has been what Lamar Williamson calls “a happy hunting ground for persons fascinated by the end of the world.   It figures prominently in books by doomsayers and in sermons by evangelists more interested in the next world than in this one.”[1] 
            “Apocalypse” can mean the uncovering or revealing of things that are to come:  like the wars and earthquakes and desolation of Mark 13.  But perhaps in a deeper sense it’s about how the vision of devastation transforms our vision of the things that are.  What is revealed is the true nature of the reality in which we live: its transitory, provisional character.   And so, it can be a kind of reality check.

            As Jesus was coming out of the temple, one of his disciples says to him, “Look Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”  Herod the Great had reconstructed the Jerusalem temple at immense expense, and it was one of the wonders of the ancient world.”[2]   It was designed to be the crowning glory of King Herod’s ambitious architectural program.  Herod probably didn’t want to be remembered for his legendary brutality, so these imposing structures were to be his lasting legacy.
            “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”
            Jesus asked the disciples, “Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another.  All will be thrown down.”
            “Tell us, when will this be, Jesus?  What will be the sign?”
            We want to know what the future will be.  We want to know what’s going to happen… and when it will happen.  We worry. 
            Instead of giving them direct answers to their questions, Jesus warns them against false Messiahs who may try to take advantage of excitement and anxiety about the end-times:    “Beware that no one leads you astray....  When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  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.”   Later, Jesus tells them it isn’t for us to know when the end will come.
            As one of my colleagues points out, “Worrying is a human pass time.  “It’s a way to cope with the reality that evil is in the world.  It is a tool that can be overused to the point where we worry too much and forget to live.”[3]
            I’m convinced that God doesn’t want us to worry or be afraid.  God wants us to live into hope.  Every time an angel shows up with a word from God, what do they say?  “Fear not.”  “Don’t be afraid.” 
            But that’s hard.  It’s hard when attacks occur around the world.  It’s hard when gun violence continues.  It’s hard when natural disasters strike.  It’s hard not to worry about all the terrible things that could happen.  It’s hard not to worry that we don’t have enough.   It’s hard not to worry about the future of the church.
            Yes, there will be wars, and rumors of wars.  There will be death…and disaster.  There will be all manner of things in this life to rattle our souls.  There will be terrorism…injustice…racism… and hatred.
            Don’t be alarmed.  Don’t be afraid.
            When we’re anxious or afraid, we make bad decisions.  I think that’s why we hear again and again in the scriptures that we should only fear God, and that we need to hope and trust in what God is doing.
            We need to trust in Jesus:  “Wars and rumors of war will not have the last word.  The storm clouds of war are not the last word.  There are people who are trampled down because of their race or their gender or their religious beliefs—but that trampling does not have the last word.  God has the last word.
            It is futile to try to put a time frame on when the end is going to come or trying to describe it in detail.  But as Christians, we are called to believe that we are headed toward peace and justice and the rule of love.  We are called to live into that hope. 
            When we show up on Sunday mornings--  which is a strange thing to do in our culture-- we are living our belief that the world is headed in a direction of God’s reign.   When we commit our lives to Christ and his way of love, we are invited into a way that can bring out goodness in us.   When we fill out our financial commitment card, we are living into hope for this congregation and for Christ’s mission of love and justice beyond this congregation.   When we witness as a congregation to Christ’s way of peace and justice and love, we are staking our lives on a path that goes counter to the direction of the popular culture.  
             Jesus tells us, “The end is yet to come.  Don’t be afraid.  This is not how the world ends.”  The world will end with peace—not violence. And that is the end of the world we can look forward to.
            Jesus says, “Nation will rise against nation… there will be earthquakes and famines.  This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” These are the signs we need to watch for, these “birth pangs.” 
            In his letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains....”[4]
            In other words, God is at work where something new and good is being born, where new life is becoming possible.
            We look forward in longing to the end of violence in the world and the birth of a more peaceful world… the end of poverty, and the birth of a more just world…the end of hate, and the birthing of a world ruled by love. 
            As Christians, we expect trouble in this broken world.  But we can be confident that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  No one who calls upon God’s name needs to be hopeless.  We can trust the promise we hear through the prophet Jeremiah:  “Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”[5]             
            We are called to witness to God’s love and justice and peace in the world.   Part of our witness is to let the world see us out-hoping our troubles…  and living into hope.
            We can’t do this alone.  But—with God’s help-- we can practice living into hope and faith and love.  We can help and encourage each other.  That’s why we need to be in community together.
            Even in the midst of suffering and turmoil, we can trust that God’s ways are rebirth and hope.  God is in charge.  Goodness is stronger than evil.
            Whenever we live in courage, whenever we trust in God’s promises as we make decisions, we are witnessing to God’s transforming love in the world and how God is birthing new life. 
            So let us keep practicing being faithful.  Let us live into hope.

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
Nov. 15, 2015

[1]Lamar Williamson, Mark.  (John Knox Press, 1983), p. 235.
[2]Lectionary Homiletics, Nov. 16, 2003.
[3] #hopewins#notafraid#diwali Practicing Humanity & Defeating #terrorism.  Posted by on November 14, 2015.

[4] Romans 8:22

[5] Jeremiah 29:11

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