A sermon, based on Mark 13.1-8, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, November 18, 2018
Whenever I’ve encountered folk who speak, as Jesus does this morning, in apocalyptic language of revelations of the coming end of time filled with terror and destruction, I’ve had two distinct reactions.
The first and more favorable, I listen with interest to discern how they arrived at what they claimed to know and what compelled their fervent warnings. I recall one such gentleman in Washington, DC, who regularly took up his post near the Capitol Building, declaring Congress to be a den of iniquity doomed for destruction. (I or anyone, given one’s point of view about any particular congressional legislation or lack, might have tended to agree with him!)
The second and more judgmental, I dismiss these prophets of doom as delusional, detached from reality or misguided biblical literalists who misuse scripture as a kind of cosmic blueprint to interpret the current or any time during the past two millennia. Truth to tell, even Jesus, asked by his disciples, “When will this be,” eventually answers their question: “About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”(1)
Nevertheless, if, when, as I take Jesus seriously, his prediction about distressing days and the destruction of the Temple (which, more truth be told, was fulfilled in 70 C.E. when the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem) is in keeping with the opening proclamation of his ministry: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”(2) Jesus declared that his mission was to reveal the unconditional and impartial love and justice of God for all and that his ministry of preaching and teaching and healing, exercising power over all nature and all spirits demonstrated what life in the kingdom looks like, is like. It is in that light that we are to interpret these strange and terrifying words.
Again, no one, save God, says Jesus, knows about the day or hour of the end of time. Neither does any one of us know of the day or hour of the end of our lives when we will cross the threshold of death from this world to the next. What we do know is that right now we are here, and as long as we have breath and strength, we have life and labor.
To do what? As Christians, I submit to you, first, what we never are to do and, second, what we alway are to do.
In times of ease, when the proverbial “all” is right in our worlds – when we and our loved ones are healthy, when our closest relationships are harmonious and fulfilling, when our personal economies are stable, when all (well, most!) of the seeds of our plans bear the fruit we desire – we are not to allow ourselves to become complacent in our discipleship, following Jesus at a distance, that is, when we remember that we daily are to take up our cross.(3) And in times of danger, when all is not right in our individual worlds and when the world around us of politics, our foundational institutions, and the underlying social fabric is beset by strife and unrest, we are not to faint in faithless fear.
In times good and bad, we alway are to be the eyes of Jesus to look out upon the world with the vision of love and justice. We alway are to be the hands of Jesus to reach out to the unlovely and unloved and those battered by life’s difficulties, those wronged by life’s ills. We alway are to be the feet of Jesus to walk along the paths of God’s righteousness when the world, through cries of hatred and injustice, would summon us to be and do likewise.
(1) Mark 13.32
(2) Mark 1.15
(3) Mark 8.34
Illustration: Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple (1874), Alexandre Bida (1813-1895)
2 thoughts on “Waiting for the End”
I had to smile when I read this sermon Paul, primarily because of the last few days of this week. Many people thought I had lost my mind as I covered more than 1300 miles in three days, in three different states! A few people even asked if I was trying to kill myself. Of course the answer is NO! But here’s the thing. I try to never say NO to people who are looking for hope and inspiration regarding a horrible disease… it just so happened that these opportunities happened in the same week. I knew when I was getting into when I said YES I’d do it… I’d stand on a stage and motivate people. The interesting thing is … I never even got tired, likely because I had planned for this for months AND prepared myself. I share this because I have thought about my death often especially years ago when I was sick, and I think that IF I knew when my death would come, what would I do??… I think that rather than going on a cruise, I’d get in JOY and drive to see as many things as possible in this country, AND simultaneously chat with everyone I meet along the way about working together to find a cure for Alzheimer’s… See, I’d be killing two birds with one stone … Literally!! I often think about Jesus going anywhere and everywhere to preach…Talking to crowds of a few and crowds of many and I think the ministry I hope I am fulfilling would be work that Jesus would approve of. At least I hope so!! I will confess that when I worked at church this morning, I first prayed and thanked God for keeping me safe on the road and in the air as I accomplished all of what I set out this week, both with small groups and a huge group. I’d count this week as a huge success and I hope that 2019 allows me to continue to use my voice for good…
Thank you for these words!! Love you!
Loretta, just so you know, my prayers ever ascend and abide regarding your safety in your travels and your perseverance in your strength of purpose. This calling of yours to share words of uplift for those who offer care, whether as family or professional service-givers, for loved ones and clients stricken with dementia has its root in your heart of love and yearning to give back to your mother who poured her life of love into you. As I think and re-think this path you’ve been on o’er these past years, I can see the evolution and expansion of your, yes, ministry. Brava and thanks be to God!
As I reflect afresh on this sermon, I employed two words I rarely used, whether in writing or in speaking: never and always. For, as I contemplated and interpreted Jesus’ apocalyptic utterance, it called for definitude in describing how Christians are to live in these “last days” (for, given that none of us knows when we will die, every and any day could be our last day). Thus, no we “might” or “may” or “could” be and do, but rather we never are to do… and we always are to do… As much of a “both-and” person as I can be, in this instance, I am resolved to be “either-or.”