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)