SERMON NOTES — November 18, 2018
We’ve already spoken about “apocalyptic” in recent weeks (beginning on All Saints Sunday B), represented in the Bible in places like Daniel, Revelation, and Mark 13 (parallels in Matt. 24 and Luke 22). We have readings from two of those places this morning.
For a long time, many Christians have wondered if these parts of the Bible are about the “end of the world.” Our time is no different. It seems like every few years someone has combed the biblical apocalyptic to find clues to predict that the world is going to end on such-and-such a date. There is language that sounds like the end of the world: a time of wars and natural disasters, with images like the sun going dark and stars falling from the skies. Is such language about the end of the world?
Not literally, no. It is figuratively about the many, many times in history when events are life-changing or world-changing. Take the beginning of Mark 13, for example. Jesus is prophesying the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is about the year 30 A.D. The Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., shortly before the Gospel of Mark was written. So central in Mark’s Gospel is this fact that Jesus was an insightful prophet. After 70 A.D., the Jewish people were scattered over the world, and to this day the Temple has never been rebuilt. It was a world-ending event for the Jews, whose faith practice and way of life was forever altered.
In two weeks, on the First Sunday in Advent, we will read from the end of Luke 22 things like, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” End of the world? Again, no, it’s language of ‘earth-shattering’ events — the kind that come throughout history, both in our own personal lives and in the lives of communities, nations, and, in the last century, worldwide.
Think about times in your life or the lives of loved ones. What are events for which it feels like “the powers of the heavens will be shaken”? A catastrophic illness? Loss of a spouse or child? A deep betrayal? Sudden loss of job? Doesn’t it feel like the sun doesn’t shine? Like your world has been shattered? This is the kind of language used by Jesus and the prophets.
It also happens throughout the centuries to whole communities and nations during wars and natural disasters. Here is a passage from the call of the prophet Isaiah, a passage which Jesus quotes at a crucial point in the Gospels (Mark 4:12 and parallels):
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate . . . .” (Isaiah 6:8-11)
How many times have our cities been laid to waste since Isaiah spoke these words? Is there any good news yet?
I love the last verse of our Second Reading as Good News: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
We believe that in Jesus the Messiah was launched “the beginning of the good news” (Mark 1:1). It’s only the beginning, mind you. Mark’s Gospel famously ends up in the air. The first witnesses of the resurrection simply run away afraid and don’t tell anyone (Mark 16:8). But it has been continually been building now for two thousand years. And you and I continue as prophets in the long line of Jesus’ followers.
We are bold to continue to point to possible coming earth shattering events, calling our fellow citizens to ‘repent,’ change our current direction. Examples: the California wildfires and the connection to climate change? The rise in authoritarian tribalism?
We can always be prophetic by practicing love and kindness to those in need. It always begins by responding to fear and hate with love that reaches beyond boundaries to help others.
“You will always find people who are helping,” Fred Rogers wrote in the Mister Rogers Parenting Book. He continued: “To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” – Dec 18, 2012
Pastor Paul Nuechterlein
Lutheran Church of the Savior