From Pastor Kenny's Desk
November 18, 2018
As Jesus was leaving the Temple, one of the disciples commented in passing, “Look, Teacher! What huge stones these are! What wonderful buildings!” Jesus replied, “See these great buildings? Not a single stone will be left on another. Everything will be torn down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives facing the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What will be the sign that all this is about to take place?”
Jesus began by saying, “Be on your guard that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the One,’ and they will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be alarmed. Things like this must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation and empire against empire; there will be earthquakes throughout the world and famines – yet this is only the beginning of the labor pains.”
~ Mark 13:1-8
Let’s just admit it up front: apocalyptic … meaning the end times or uncovering or disclosure of knowledge or revelation … passages like this sacred text are more than a little weird, rather off-putting, and consistently difficult to understand and embrace especially if you are not familiar with the genre. Actually, while many might not be intimately familiar with the apocalyptic worldview, likely each of us has had experiences with its passing acquaintance. It was only a few years ago that most of us saw billboards or news stories carrying the predictions of Harold Camping regarding Jesus imminent return. There were also articles and big-budget films based on the Mayan calendar’s supposed assertion that the end of the world would occur on December 21, 2012. And if we stretch the category of apocalyptic just a little beyond its typical religious meanings, we might put the Y2K phenomenon and fear in the same category, as it also projected dooms-day scenarios and offered plenty of counsel for how to prepare for the end of the world as we know it.
So perhaps we’re more familiar with the apocalyptic worldview than we might think, even if we still find it rather odd and off-putting. The question we might ask is … what
drives authors … in biblical times or today … to want to peer into the future and describe the end of history? More often than not, the answer rests in the belief that knowing the future not only sheds lights on present problems but provides a little relief from them. And this is especially true in confusing and uncertain times.
Which means that this passage from Mark’s story was likely not intended to give us concrete hints about Jesus triumphant return and the end of the world … let alone a timeline for such events … as it was trying to frame and interpret some of the challenges Jesus’ followers were facing. These challenges may have included disappointment at Jesus delayed return, the immense social and religious upheaval caused by the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, possible persecution by secular and religious forces, confusion among Jesus’ followers about whether they had missed his second coming, and conflicts between rival Christian leaders. It is important to realize life was something of a mess for many in Mark’s community, and he uses symbols and metaphors of apocalyptic traditions about Jesus … that he inherits … to place the difficulties and questions of his people in a cosmic context and to provide and offer both perspective and comfort.
All of which, I think, invites us to consider the images Mark suggests to name and identify some of our own challenges and questions. While there are several elements of this passage that might serve in this way, the one that draws my imagination is Jesus’ warning that many will come claiming to be him in order to lead his followers astray. It’s an interesting caution when you think about it. While we aren’t likely to be tempted away from faith or from whatever groups or charismatic leaders tempted some of Mark’s community let’s be honest: there are still many things claiming our attention and promising us salvation.
Perhaps it’s the enticement of wealth or possessions, the perpetual contender for our allegiance in a consumerist economy oriented to unending consumption. Or maybe it’s the possibility of a more prestigious position at work or acceptance by an appealing school or social group. Perhaps it’s the dream of the perfect relationship, or just being in a relationship with someone who values and cares for you. Or maybe it’s the attractions of being super competent … and hopefully being noticed for that … or the ideal friend, sibling, child … again, placing attention to our achievement. Or maybe ... Well, you get the idea.
And here’s the interesting thing that all these various petitions of our attention and allegiance have in common: there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of them … not wealth or status or belonging or relationship or competency. In fact, there is much to be admired about, and much good that can be achieved through, these various desires. Yet none of them can bring or offer needed healing from spiritual, physical or personal pain and abuse, long-term fulfillment which satisfies our deepest longings whatever they may be, or a sense of purpose, or achievement that comes from helping and making a difference in others lives or the reality of God’s loving embrace and security that comes from the Divine … just to mention a few of the things most of us long for and seek the most. None of these things can bear the weight of meaning we unconsciously ask them to and for which we desperately long. And yet we are either so insecure or confused … or maybe a little of both … that like Mark’s community we crave a level of certainty that we take these God-given gifts and turn them into … God.
Which is perhaps the human condition … worshiping the gifts of God rather than God the giver of our gifts. I have come to believe that what this tricky little passage is about is this: in times of confusion, challenge, and distress, we will not only be overly impressed by the symbols of power around us … Teacher, look how big these stones are… … but we will also take many of the joys and gifts of this life and seek to find our security in and through them rather than in the One who gave them to us in the first place.
Living with uncertainty was hard for the first century-followers of Jesus and it’s just as hard for his twenty-first century disciples as well. The promise God offers us in Jesus is not that if we just work hard enough, are pious enough, make ourselves acceptable enough, or achieve enough or we’ll leave all our uncertainties and insecurities behind. The truth is the Christian faith does not offer an end to uncertainty or insecurity at all. Rather, it promises that we can discover who we are only in relation to Whose we are, as we receive our identity as Beloved children of the God who created and sustains all things and loves us unconditionally … just the way we are! The antidote to uncertainty isn’t certainty, but courage; and the best response to insecurity is the confidence that comes from knowing that God makes and blesses you worthy of dignity, honor, and love. Remembering, claiming and living these promises, we are better equipped to resist all pretenders and give our confidence to the One who gave all things for us. And, that my friends is not weird or off-putting but rather life giving. So live knowing and placing your confidence in the One who loves you more than you could ever imagine! Thanks to be to God.