Amandus Derr, Interim Senior Pastor
TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
November 14, 2021 Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-25; Saint Mark 13:1-8
In nomine Jesu!
There is general agreement among New Testament scholars that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome around 70 of the Common Era after most, if not all, of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, ministry and death had died. In my mind’s eye I see Mark writing the words of Jesus we heard today while sitting at his window, watching the boisterous Roman legions, led by general, soon-to-emperor Titus, carried the treasures of Jerusalem’s Temple — the gold candlesticks and soaring seraphim and the bronze sea – and marched the leading citizens of Jerusalem, now shackled and dazed captives, through the thoroughfares of Rome. In August of that year, they had sacked and destroyed Jerusalem, torn down its Temple, and thrown its massive limestone walls into broken heaps at the base of the temple mount’s soaring walls. A triumphal arch, depicting these very scenes, still stands near the ruins of Rome’s forum to this day. Watching in horror as that triumph passed, Mark wrote the words of Jesus we heard today: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
We cannot overstate the devastating impact the destruction of Jerusalem had on the Jews, and on the new but fast-growing Jewish sect they called Christians in those days. They had no hope of return; they saw no way to rebuild. Judea was no more. Jews, including Christians, were barred on pain of death from entering the city, which itself had been re-named, Aelia Capitolina. There could be no God-pleasing sacrifice. There were no priests. It was the end of the world; at least the end of their world. They were hopeless. They felt helpless. They were paralyzed by grief and immobilized by fear. Most of them had come to the same conclusion: It was every person for his- or her-self. Things could only get worse. There was nothing good to look forward to. Mark knew he had to deal with that.
Listening to the news; reading articles and blogs about the way we think about government and politics; eavesdropping on whispered conversations; seeing what’s being offered thematically as public entertainment – the most popular Netflix offering is the South Korean dystopian drama “Squid Games” in which desperately indebted people play children’s games, games in which the losers die, to relieve the boredom of the rich; in other words, paying attention to the trends and moods of people in our society indicates to me that all too many of us are responding today exactly as they did then and coming to the same conclusion. It’s everyone for his- or her-self. Things can only get worse. There is nothing good to look forward to. Like Mark, we people of faith know we have to deal with this.
Mark and Mark’s Jesus show us the way.
First, we need to acknowledge that this funk is real; that popular perception is reality. Listen again how Mark’s Jesus acknowledges their, and our, reality and the need that there is for an appropriate response: “Beware that no one leads you astray. … When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines” – all of which was happening around them then and all of which is happening around us now.
Now listen some more as Jesus put all of this in faith-based, hope-filled perspective: “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Or, as my friend Boyd and I put it during the darkest days of our early lives: “The beginning is coming.”
I’ve been a father twice. I know what “the beginning of the birth pangs” are -– every parent does – and I remember exactly how I reacted to my wife’s pain and how helpless I felt. I also remember exactly how I felt and what I did after each of my sons were born. Ever parent remembers that too. Every parent in Mark’s day remembered that too.
Dear faithful people, here at Christ the King Church and out there among all of you in “Wi-Fi-land” who are hearing or watching or reading these words in these days: Our message, our “mood,” our demeanor and actions in these day needs to reflect Jesus’ assurance that everything we are presently experiencing is “the beginning of the birth pangs,” not the end of life as we know it. That’s the task Christ’s Church and Christ’s people need to take on today so that there will be hope; and so that there will be behavior and action based on hope. In every venue, we need to proclaim what we are about to sing, “that the world is about to turn” for the better because “God is turning the world around.”
We need faith to do that. Faith that becomes confidence – in our God, in God’s Promises; in the forebears who handed us this faith and in one another. God gives us that faith and strengthens our faith-based hope in the Word we hear and share and the visible Word we eat and drink as we engage in this holy communion, which fills us with the Holy Spirit and binds us to one another and to Christ and all who have gone before us. We gather to obtain such faith. We are sent out to spread such hope. For such a time as then, God inspired Mark to proclaim the Gospel. For such a time as this, God fills us to do the same. Amen.