There Is Gospel Work To Do
The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd |:| November 18, 2012
The texts from Daniel and Mark could have been taken off the front pages of the newspapers of today. In recent months we have heard of continued hostility exchanged in the Gaza Strip, the destruction left by Hurricane Sandy, the economic decline in Greece, among others. We daily learn of wars, nation rising against nation, and earthquakes or other natural disasters. When we read Mark’s words and hear Jesus discuss the end to come it can feel like his words are spoken directly to us.
In fact history is laced with people who attempt to calculate the day the world will end. One of the most notable biblical numerologists is Howard Camping. Some of may have seen the billboards or trucks promoting Camping’s calculation for the end of times which was May 21, 2011. Camping gathered a large following with people spending their life savings to spread the word of the end coming, like Robert Fitzpatrick and Adrienne Martinez who stopped their usual routines and supported this campaign for the end of times.
As we live and breathe today we are living proof Camping’s prediction of the end coming on May 21 of last year was wrong. Biblical counters are not the only ones who focus a great deal of energy thinking of the end times. In fact you can turn on the National Geographic’s channel and learn of bug-out bags, bunkers, bulk food supplies, and homemade defense mechanisms on their show Doomsday Preppers. In order to understand this show I watched an episode … all in the name of research of course.
On this particular episode Big All was prepping for a nuclear attack from Russia, 15-year-old Jason prepared for anarchy following an economic collapse, and the Southwick family trained for a biological terrorist attack of small pox. These three groups of preppers had strategic plans and resources which would allow them to survive whatever catastrophe they believed to be eminent.
With texts like the one in Mark, which is referred to as the mini apocalypse, the news headlines of today, people like Howard Camping and the Doomsday Preppers it can be easy to get caught up in the desire to know how to keep ourselves safe and in the know of looming disasters – if there is anything to be in the know of. In verses 1 & 2 Jesus declares the impending destruction of the temple – the place where God was believed to dwell.
This naturally set the disciples into a nature of concern. When Jesus moves to the Mount of Olives across from the temple Peter, James, John, & Andrew approach him to ask how they can know the signs of when the temple – the place that was the center of their universe – was to have all its stones thrown down. These four were asking for the insider information, they wanted to be prepared. For them the destruction of the temple was the end of their world.
Jesus’ reply was not about a list of secret codes to look for to know the end of times but offered them wisdom of discernment. In verse 5 he tells them to be wise in discerning their leaders to follow him. To not forget his teachings and follow a false messiahs. In 7 Jesus declares that wars are not signs of the end times but will exist in this broken world. In verse 8 he continues with events which will be present in this life. Jesus concludes by saying these are not signs but mere birth pangs for what is to come.
These 8 verses – this mini apocalypse – sounds so ominous. Yet as with Jesus’ other predictions of the end of the current age he is guiding the disciples to look beyond appearances. As you may recall, just two chapters earlier in Mark 11:12-25 Jesus curses the lush fig tree that had not produced figs then he curses the temple for appearing to worship God when in fact they were not offering God earnest worship.
In our passage today Jesus is sharing with his disciples to look past the desires to look for the end of the current age because the current age will come to an end but even when it does there is Gospel work to be done.
Jesus’ words in this passage are not as ominous as they sound on the surface. Jesus is reminding Peter, James, John, & Andrew to keep hope and faith in his teachings and to find the strength to get through the trials and catastrophes of the world. To continue living and bringing about the Kingdom of God. It is understandable why the disciples wanted to know what the signs would be for the end of their current age – the desire in us to protect ourselves from danger is natural. It’s why we practice tornado drills at school or fire drills at work. Jesus is not telling his disciples to not be wise about their safety, he is telling them to keep their focus on what trials to be prepared for … the trials which will ensue for following him.
If we were to continue in Chapter 13 we would see that Jesus is telling the disciples that persecution will come to them, those offering false security from the persecution will come but to not give in to their lies, that one day the birth pangs will end and the coming of the Son of Man will arrive once again. Jesus is guiding the disciples to find strength and hope in the teachings of the true Messiah so they can continue to spread the Word of The Lord once he is gone. Even Jesus’ words at the end of verse 8 offers them hope for birth pangs of wars and famines will end with the coming of the Son of Man and the fullness of the Kingdom of God will be here.
In reading Mark 13 and discussing his words of the end of their current age it is important to note that at the end of this chapter Jesus offers his challenge to his disciples and to us here today. He says –
But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware; keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
How does Jesus’ challenge apply to us today? It’s not as though we are waiting for the destruction of the temple. Most likely no one here is calculating the end of the world as Mr. Camping did. It is unlikely for many, or any, of us to be appearing on Doomsday Preppers any time soon. It looks like we are all good with the message and challenge in Mark 13 today. We are even awake and at church this Sunday morning. Phew!
Too bad Jesus’ teachings don’t work that way. The challenge at the end of Mark still rest with us today and, here’s the kicker, it will for the remainder of our lives. We as the living, breathing body of Christ are to live today – each day – with the focus of ushering in the Kingdom of God. Each day we have the privilege to love the least of these will our actions, offer grace to our transgressors, peace & mercy to our neighbors and ourselves, with the help of God.
As disciples of God we do not need to be consumed with preparing bug-out bags and creating bunkers, God gives us the ability to live life not out of fear but with the purpose of bringing forth justice and love to this world. We are challenged to not get bogged down with the big and small fears and stresses of life. To be overcome by the pains, trials, desire to keep up with the Jones, the need to have it all together for whatever might come. We will experience these stresses, sure, but we are to not get to the point where they dominate our focus and detract us from the work left for us by Christ.
As we enter the wonderful season of Advent in a few weeks and wait for the coming of Christ let us not get overdone by the stress which accompanies Thanksgiving and Christmas, Let us focus on the birth of Christ and utilize the season of Advent to strengthen us, to focus us, on keeping awake and living so to usher the Kingdom of God in. We are given the same hope as the disciples; the birth pangs of the brokenness of this world will come to an end.
Go in peace this week knowing that Christ gives us the strength to see beyond the fears of the end of our current times so we can carry out his Gospel work and that the calamities of our world are not the end of our story … Christ’s coming again is. Thanks be to God! Amen.