Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Nov 18, 2018

    26th Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Mark 13:1-8

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year B: 2017-2018

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

     

                You know what they say: Jesus is coming—look busy. As a middle-schooler growing up in the 80’s and 90’s in more conservative traditions of the church, I was on the lookout for Jesus. You could find me in church Sunday morning and evening, plus Wednesday nights with my study bible, wrapped in its denim carrying case with its zippered pocket, pen in hand underlining passages of scripture the pastor was quoting as we discovered the road map to Jesus’ return: what to look for, how to read the signs, and most importantly, how to make sure we were suitable enough, faithful enough, for Jesus to find us worthy of surviving the apocalypse that inevitably would come with Jesus’ return to earth. Indeed, we were busy as well as hopeful, yet braced for what was to come.

                The idea of apocalypse has captured our imagination for millennia. Be it religious, or cultural, there are plenty of dystopian books and movies that explore the idea of the end of the world. We’re fascinated—there’s a reason there’s nine seasons of The Walking Dead. The Left Behind series, a fictional portrayal of what two pastors believe to be how the world will end and Jesus will return sold millions of copies in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Yet, the word apocalypse doesn’t actually mean the utter destruction of all things, it means ‘revelation’ or ‘unveiling’ that those hidden things, or that unknown future can now be revealed. But it happens that apocalyptic literature is written in pretty conflicted and intense situations. Apocalyptic literature, particularly Jewish apocalyptic literature like the Book of Daniel, emerges from periods of conflict and oppression. These writings were meant to comfort the suffering communities and offer them hope.[1] So in Mark’s gospel, where we are getting into what scholars call Mark’s Little Apocalypse, Jesus is outlining the events that are to come after his death.[2] Now, scholars disagree as to whether or not the temple had already been destroyed at the time of the writing of Mark, or if was yet to come, but this gospel seems to exists in a context of conflict, uncertainty, persecution and outright war as all of these are presence in chapter 13. It is likely that the Markan community experienced these things directly.

                So apocalyptic literature emerges out of conflict and suffering, it seeks to empower and encourage those who are being persecuted. It points to a glorious new future when the current evil gives way to renewed goodness. It offers hope when the despair seems to be insurmountable. But what this kind of literature doesn’t do is seek out conflict and suffering, and we should be careful to not need turmoil for God’s will to be done. Violence and want are not tools of the Creator, but love and gentleness are. And there is no need anyway, is there, for the world is full of conflict, persecution and suffering and has been. For many people, horror is not a stranger. The end of all things as they know it is not an event out there, but one they experience as a lived reality. In Yemen, a million people face starving to death, Eastern North Carolina is struggling to recover from two major storms, and Paradise, California has been wiped from the map by fire with 63 dead and 630 now missing.[3]

                However, there is one issue that seems to threaten the well-being of every living creature and which seems truly apocalyptic and where we can indeed see the beginnings of birth pangs and that is around our changing environment. But, instead of madmen standing on street corners with signs yelling that the end is near, repent, we have normally reticent scientists, publishing papers and talking to journalists about how our planet is and may continue to change in ways that will transform our own lives here. Instead of signs and prophecies, they point to computer models and rainfall rates, unseasonal fires and monster hurricanes.  Feeling particularly unnerved by the news I was hearing coming from the scientific community, I reached out to a friend who is an environmental scientist and former professor of mine in my undergraduate days. I turned to him for ways to respond, ways to get involved, and a way to see some hope. His response was not what I expected. “There is nothing anyone can do to reverse the trajectory towards which we are heading” he wrote. And he went on to talk about an extinction rate that was at least a 1000 times greater than what is normal, and that’s a conservative estimate, he talked about overwhelming plastic pollution, both on a macro and microscopic scale, human health suffering from toxins in the soil and water. “Simply put,” he wrote, “ the world we know is dying.” This is coming from someone I would least describe as hysterical. But to my surprise he also posed the same question to me: What do we do? He finished his letter saying… “Science may be an avenue for solutions, but I can tell you as a scientist, if it is the only avenue available to us we will surely fail. I have for a long time now, wondered how we can meld the spiritual nature of who we are and what we are doing here on this earth, not only to promote a better environment, but to share in the delight of God’s splendor….I believe strongly that there is a relationship between our changing planet and our restless nature, our anger and hostility to one another.” So you tell me, what do we do?

                So often questions of faith and spirituality are divorced from issues of science, finances, and polity. Or worse, faith and religion are blamed for all that is wrong in the world. But it occurred to me that he was right. Science will not save us, our policies and laws will not save us, they will not make us whole no matter the issue for that is not their purpose. But our faith seeks our wholeness as well as the world’s. It gets at the heart of what makes us human and what honors God’s will, it reveals to us what we are to love, and what love looks like. Science cannot do this. So no matter what we are facing as people who follow Christ, our work is to remain faithful be it war or famine. One commentator notes that as one continues listening to Jesus teaching on the end here in Mark’s gospel is that it is clear that Jesus does not want his listeners to loose sight of their work in the midst of the crisis.[4] It is the same for us: we cannot succumb to nihilism and despair, we cannot make violence and suffering a self-fulfilling prophecy, and we cannot lose sight of what God’s will is. We cannot be looking for Jesus in the skies, waiting for his coming down to us but missing the Jesus that is already standing in front of us in the form of the needs of the world and all who live within. In other words, when the going gets tough, keep calm and carry on because it is our faithfulness to love, to justice, to beauty, to mystery, to hope and to joy all these things God in Christ is calling us to seek is what can indeed save us and our work as disciples does not change. The need for love will not diminish but will only grow.

                Faith is at the heart of all we do. If we have faith that competition and consumption, fear and violence are the only ways to survive and be whole, then that is what we will get. But if we have faith that God has made us for one another, to be as Henri Nouwen believes, taken, blessed, broken, and given for and to one another,[5] and if we have faith that God is still present in the world and working God’s will in it, then we have a way to move forward come whatever may. Author Terry Patten who addresses the need for holistic change in difficult circumstances, writes this about what we will need to meet an uncertain future: our relationships, our communities, our connectedness to others, our ability to be resourceful and resilient, our psychological and spiritual resilience, our courage and generosity, our ability to defy our fear, to be happy for no reason at all, to cooperate wither others, to bounce back…These are the kinds of virtues—and the kind of bonds—that will probably really matter.”[6] These virtues do not come to us from science, but from faith.

                People of faith, the world needs your faithfulness, because it needs and will need to be reminded again and again that it is beloved of God, that all God has made is good, that we are beloved. In the midst of any crisis whether its housing in Greensboro, or the collapse of societies due to famine and conflict, God’s love for all remains, but God continues to need hands and feet and hearts serving the vulnerable, the suffering, and the dying to testify to that truth that God remains steadfast. Christianity is not a faith made for heaven, it is a faith meant for earth to seek the fulfilling of God’s purposes for all of God’s creatures. It seeks not to be an escape pod from what challenges us but a way to enter not only crisis, but ourselves and to transform them both from the inside out. We are a people of the cross and also of the Resurrection. As we move forward into the future God is calling us into, let us always be reminded of this. Amen.

     

    [1] See Dictionary of the Christian Church

    [2] New Interpreter’s Series

    [3] This number keeps changing with deaths increasing.

    [4] Feasting on the Word

    [5] Life of the Beloved

    [6] A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries