Sermon for Proper 28(B)

St. Mary’s Church, Kansas City

14 November 2021

          In a recent survey, 9 in 10 evangelical pastors say they see at least some current events matching those Jesus said would occur shortly before he returns to Earth. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they expected Jesus to return within their lifetime. Darrell Bock, a New Testament studies professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, noted that the Bible has several lists of potential signs of Jesus’ return. Some of these signs are found in this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to St. Mark. These predictions are full of disturbing images like war, national unrest, natural disasters, plagues, pestilence, and famine.

If you watch the news for any length of time its not hard to understand why these pastors might think the end is near. We’ve had our fill of wars, national unrest, natural disasters, plagues, pestilence, and famines in recent years. In the last twenty months alone make it hard to imagine that the world could go on like this much longer. Yet these signs are nothing new. The situations Jesus describes to his disciples are ongoing. Those who first heard Mark’s story of Jesus would have recognized the signs just as we do: people claiming authority they don’t have…check. Wars….check. Famines…yep, environmental disaster..all the time—will there ever be an end?

People have tried to pin down texts like this to one date, one time in history or yet to come, as if Jesus were describing one false Messiah, war, or disaster. But Jesus isn’t being specific, and, at the same time, he is. A time did come when the temple was torn down… only about forty years after Jesus’ earthly ministry ended. Since then, generation upon generation has experienced hardship and it’s easy to get caught up in the horrific things that are going on and forget that as Christians we are called to be people of hope. As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us this morning Jesus gives us hope because he stepped into this broken and hurting world and by embracing the Cross took decisive action to bring about it’s renewal.

The word apocalypse means an unveiling or uncovering of what was previously unknown or hidden. Apocalyptic literature like the story we hear in the Gospel this morning abounds with bizarre visions and strange symbolism. Apocalyptic writing emerges especially when people are in desperate situations, in times of persecution, when their faith is under attack or in danger of being abandoned for the sake of safety. Because it’s written in times of persecution, apocalyptic writing often uses symbolic speech that makes it seem a sealed book to those outside the situation. What is always clear, though, is that apocalyptic writing, including chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel, which we hear just the beginning of today, is written to give hope to its readers. It’s written to keep our eyes focused on God and God’s actions in history and to give assurance that, despite appearances to the contrary God is still God. God is still in control. The future belongs to God. From the very beginning, the faith of Israel, our spiritual forebears, was oriented toward the future. God’s work in history is purposeful, and events are pressing toward the realization of the divine goal for all of God’s creation. History is not spinning in circles or repeating itself like the cycle of the seasons. Nor is it governed by blind fate or chance. Israel perceived that its history was part of a great divine drama, which, under the direction of God, is moving toward a final consummation.

In today’s Gospel lesson, as Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem and to all that it will bring him, we hear his description of the events that precipitate the inauguration of the kingdom of God in its fullness. Jesus is reminding his disciples that our times—our past, our present, our future—are in God’s hands. Not that God controls every action, as if there is no such thing as human choice or agency, but that God will work and is working His purposes out within human history, within time and space, on this earth. God began that work when he walked on the earth in the person of Jesus Christ and will continue it until God brings about the new heavens and a new earth. The disciples ask Jesus when this will happen, and Jesus answers them by not answering them. Instead, he tells them to be faithful, not fearful,

Every day is the end of the world as we know it. We are living in the apocalypse but that’s not something to mourn or be afraid of. It’s good news because God is in control. These signs of the time are not something to be feared they are reminders that while we do not know the day and may not see it in this life God is working something which is greater than anything we can ask or imagine, something which will in time be revealed. We who have boldness to stand before God through the blood of his son are called to be a people of hope and to encourage one another as we wait for, and work towards the day that is promised. That day that breaks through here and now every time we gather around this altar to bring before God the cares and concerns of the world because it is here at this altar that we reach into eternity and the saving works of Jesus are accessed.  So, I encourage you. If it all seems like too much if you find it difficult to hold on to hope in the face of horrific tragedies and senseless violence come to this table. Come to meet your God who came to take them on, come glimpse that great day waiting to be revealed and remember God is God, God is in control and that is a reason to hope.