Sermon for November 18, 2018 | Pentecost 26
Psalm 16 and Mark 13:1-8
In the year 66, some thirty years after Jesus’ life, a revolt against the Roman occupation of Israel began. No longer wishing to be under the heavy foot of a colonial power, a good number of Israelites rose up with arms against Rome. By the year 70, however, the revolt had been suppressed ruthlessly: the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the city was pillaged and burned, and much of the surrounding land was laid waste. The Jewish historian, Josephus, reported that close to one million natives were put to death. In composing his gospel at the time of the revolt, including the excerpt we just heard, Mark knew one of two things: either the Temple was destroyed or the Roman army was at the city gates and prepared to destroy city and shrine. Thus, Jesus’ reference to the Temple being destroyed might have more to do with Mark’s experience than Jesus’ experience some thirty years earlier. “Not one stone will be left here; all will be thrown down.”
What Jesus did know, and know quite well, was this: to be his disciple, his follower, was and is to claim a particular way of life regardless of what might happen tomorrow or two years hence. Indeed, Mark wrote his gospel to a group of Christ followers who knew they were a minority in the world, and who offered their loyalty, to Jesus – a Jew executed by Rome. But Mark was also aware of this, some thirty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus: that there are individuals who claim to be his followers, who claim to be his spokespersons, who will confuse or harm people with their teaching. “Many will come in my name,” announces Jesus, “and they will lead many astray.”
What, then, we might ask, were and are they teaching? I say, “are teaching,” because I have encountered and continue to meet people who come to this parish bearing the wounds inflicted by religious leaders from other forms of Christianity, to say nothing of the society in which we live. What, I ask, have they been taught? Consider this: the idea that Jesus was not fully human and thus could not have experienced what we all experience in the flesh. That idea can quickly lead some to teach that your flesh and mine matter little. And we know where that false teaching leads in a society divided by gender, race, and class: the flesh, the bodies, of some matter more than others. And yet, in the discipleship of equals inaugurated by Jesus and ritualized in the waters of Holy Baptism, your body and mine become the sacrament through which people encounter the presence of Christ. Or consider this false teaching: if you don’t obey the rules of religion, God will punish you – or at least God’s self-proclaimed leaders will come after you. I find it so troubling that many of the university students I encounter hold this third-grader’s view of Christianity: if you obey, you will be rewarded; if you don’t obey, you will be punished or at least sent to the principal’s office for discipline. During a conversation at Christ Church 101, an earnest young man asked with incredulity, “You don’t have rules here that have to be followed to be a disciple of Jesus?” No, I responded: No rules. There are no forced marches in the movement we call Christianity. There is only the gospel of love and its public form: the doing of justice in society, our service with and among our neighbors in need. Or consider this false teaching so alive at the time of Mark and in our own day: I know without a doubt the mind of God and what God intends for you. Consider, if you will, what this false teaching is really about: the urge to control and manipulate people. And yet, the conviction of faith is a commitment to Jesus who, according to Mark, does not know everything and is skeptical of people who claim to know the mind of God as if they were privy to secret knowledge. How many times have newscasters reported the crazy claims of outspoken Christians who profess insider knowledge: the attacks of September 11 were God’s punishment for America’s sexual immorality; feminism is a plot of the Devil to rob men of their masculinity and headship of the family; there will soon be a war between the children of God and the children of Satan: get yourself saved before it is too late. But, then, what does Jesus say? “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.”
To say the least, we live in more than interesting times. Daily we hear reports of authoritarian regimes washing over the world. Our nation continues to witness a sharp increase in hate crimes and hate speech as if someone – someone – opened wide the chamber of ugliness. Indeed, nation may well rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. But you and I have been washed into another kingdom, another way of living in this world: one that is grounded in the conviction that God is with us in the flesh – in your flesh and my flesh, in broken bread and wine cup, in the words that spring from the page of our holy book, in the gifts of nature that come to us so freely. And the God who is with us is most assuredly with us, tenderly yet strongly, in our suffering and the suffering of God’s creatures and God’s earth, not simply when all is going well. And the God who is with us in the flesh and with us when things seem to be falling apart is coaxing us to live with a love that is expansive – not shriveled – urging us to seek justice and peace and thus repair the broken stones and torn fabric of this world.