By Bryce Hansen – Mark 13:1-8
You will notice that we have deviated from our regularly scheduled program. I had written what I thought was a really good sermon… A sermon about Hannah, the mother of Samuel. The message was about her courage in the face of mistreatment and persecution, and how she found her strength in her God… Hopefully we can speak of her soon, as I don’t want her memory to ultimately be forgotten.
But I just can’t preach that message this morning… Too much has happened. Something horrifically tragic. Although I lack the eloquence of many I hope that perhaps my voice can speak something of value today. I assume most of you are aware of the attacks in Paris on Friday. At first there was confusion, scattered reports, and then it seemed like every hour the death toll kept rising. It seems now that three teams of terrorists (probably from ISIS, assuming their claims are correct), coordinated attacks on a soccer stadium, a music venue called the Bataclan, and some downtown bars. It was an attack on the young urban core of Paris. As of the writing of this sermon 129 are dead while 99 are in critical condition. I don’t want to talk about this story, but I fear that if we don’t we will miss a moment that could be very important.
Now you may not have known this… But the day before, there was another terrorist attack… This attack was in Beirut, where more than 40 people were killed with hundreds more injured. So yes, Paris is getting the media attention, but if we look around we notice that this form or terror is alive and well. I think I know why Beirut wasn’t covered and Paris was… But all victims of senseless and inhumane violence matter, regardless of where the violence takes place. Let us not forget about Beirut… They are suffering too. With an interesting phrase Pope Francis has even termed the war on terror as a piecemeal World War III. Man… It’s hard to argue with those words is it not?
It’s all just senseless… The darkness is suffocating. Darkness, violence, religious fanaticism, and hate seem so powerful. Why? Why? I don’t know why! We ask these questions, but the answers aren’t clear. Sometimes the reality that comes our way is bigger than even we can grasp. Sometimes what we see is too devastating to even look at. So yes, yes, that is where I was yesterday. Fidgeting in that darkness, asking questions and wondering where answers might be, wondering where God was as the guns were fired and the bombs went off… trying to figure out what to say to you. Wondering where to turn because yet again more bloodshed, more violence, more death has entered into the world. More beating hearts were stopped. The world lost many people over the past couple of days. Pray for Paris… Pray for Beirut. Pray for the world…
And as Christians, we want answers… We turn to our bibles, we turn to God in prayer and we ask why, how… When will this happen again? I was planning a sermon from 1 Samuel, but the lectionary gave us another text. One that is all too fitting with the events that have transpired in recent days. And while this passage does not give us the easy answer we seek, it points us to the reality in which we live. So we turn to the 13th chapter of Mark. A strange chapter that some refer to as the little apocalypse… Now the word apocalypse does not mean destruction or the end of the world like we so often think it does. That word has been abused. Apocalypse simply means a revealing… So something in this passage is being revealed to the disciples… What might that be? Let us listen closely.
We find Jesus and his disciples sitting atop a hill looking down at the Holy City Jerusalem. And the disciples are mesmerized by the sheer size and magnitude of the temple itself. Herod the Great had done some massive renovations, and the temple complex was nothing short of extraordinary. One of the disciples even proclaimed … “Look! What awesome stones and buildings!” Yes the structure was impressive. Some of the walls were over 300 feet high and there were some massive stones that were 40 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 7 feet high. Big stones! But Jesus takes this moment to say something peculiar as they sit atop that hill…
He points to the temple and says, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” Now his followers were really confused because they couldn’t imagine this magnificent temple not standing… And so naturally they want to know when, when will this destruction take place? Jesus does not answer them directly, but he does answer with some ominous words… He says:
“Watch out that no one deceives you. Many people will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ They will deceive many people. When you hear of wars and reports of wars, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be earthquakes and famines in all sorts of places. These things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end.” Rather haunting words from the great teacher aren’t they? He first predicts the destruction of the temple, then he speaks of false prophets, wars, and disasters… Sound familiar? Unfortunately so.
It is easy to over analyze these words, however… I suggest we don’t. I suggest we approach them cautiously, yet somewhat optimistically. Because in this moment Jesus was talking with his followers about the realities they would soon face. And he was correct. The temple was destroyed in the year 70 when the Romans sacked the city during the Roman-Jewish War. Actually the gospel of Mark was written during this war… Isn’t that fascinating? And Jesus was right that there would be false prophets, and nations would rise up against each other. Since the day he spoke those words, this has been the reality of the world we live in. If you follow the last 2000 years of human history, we see it all play out over and over again. Is it worse today than it used to be? Hard to tell… More than likely the answer is yes, and no… I share these words from Mark with you this morning because they are in fact reality… We still live in difficult days. We can try to turn a blind eye to situations overseas, we can try to ignore the struggles within our own borders, but I don’t think in good conscience we should. Especially as Christians.
But notice one little phrase in there… He says when you hear about these wars and reports of wars… don’t be alarmed. Don’t be alarmed. How can I not be alarmed? The first thing people do is become alarmed! In fact as I turned on the TV, the first thing I heard were voices promising vengeance and war. Then ISIS made more threats. All of this is in fact alarming, but Jesus says don’t be alarmed… Can we heed his advice? I hope so…
So what do we do? Where do we go from here? The more I read the more I think Jesus was trying to make a very important point to his followers… And it’s this: Even in the midst of the destruction comes, even when we find ourselves hearing the reports of wars raging throughout the world, even in the midst of disaster we are still called to be his followers. Does Jesus tell us to give up? No! The church is not immune to the sufferings of this world, but the church is called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the midst of the chaos. Jesus promises that suffering will someday come to an end… Scripture makes that promise… Do we know when? No… But we have hope that it will. That is why we keep working.
And it’s hard… It’s really hard. Truth be told, I’m not sure what to say in the face of terrorism, war, drones, and more evidence of threats. But let us not despair… In the midst of the deepest dark, there is always light. There is always a glimmer. I’m not sure how closely you followed the story as it was unfolding in Paris, but there were Parisians everywhere who were opening up their homes to those who were lost and afraid on the streets using a special open door hashtag on twitter. It was amazing. Perhaps it was one of the best uses of Twitter to date. There was a man who yesterday brought a grand piano outside the Bataclan where the largest of the mass murders took place. He began playing the Beatles “Imagine” on the piano and a crowd gathered. A moment of serenity following those awful events. While these moments will not bring back those who were lost, God has the strength to somehow bring good out of the bad. I know we are still pretty far away from the Christmas season, but isn’t that what Christmas is all about… That in the dark cold night, God burst forth in the birth of Jesus. Light in darkness…
With that being said, I want to take a moment to share some of my honest hopes with you this morning. Because that’s what this sermon is… A chance to share with you. Actually what I have to share are mostly questions. My hopes will come later. So if you will indulge me for a moment, and let me ramble for a bit I will share what has been running through my mind for the past 48 hours.
I have heard many Christians spewing wrath… But Jesus says to love our enemies. How do we reconcile that? What does love look like in the face of terrorism? I have heard a chorus of shouts condemning refugees who are fleeing war-torn regions, but Jesus still tells us to welcome them. Should we abandon biblical principles because we are afraid? The political posturing has begun already both inside our country and abroad… Why? God calls us to come together. I have heard people, Christians, say that peace will never be able to defeat terrorism, but don’t we call Jesus the prince of peace? Some have said that love is weak… I disagree… It is the love of Jesus that saved the world is it not? I worry that fear will cause us to lose our focus on the gospel. I worry that our anger could cause us to become what we most despise. And we know that hate only breeds more hate, and violence more violence. We want to be the judge, but isn’t God the ultimate Judge? Questions I hope we will ponder.
Now for my hopes… my great hope is that the church, in the midst of chaos, won’t forget to be the church. My hope is that the church when terrorism strikes won’t forget the gospel. My hope is that the church when it is afraid, will not forget to be blessed peacemakers. My hope is that the church won’t forget that ultimately it is love that will conquer all, and yes that sounds cheesy, but God is love, so I don’t care. My hope is that the church in the face of uncertain times will make it a point to love more, pray more, forgive more, welcome more, and ultimately come together more.
The 13th chapter of Mark does not give us the clean answers that we seek. But then again, the bible doesn’t give us every answer all the time. What it does do, is point out the reality of our situation. The church is called to live out the teachings of Christ in this amazing, beautiful, suffering hurting world that we call home. Even in the midst of war and disaster. We are not called to avoid the pain of creation, but instead we are to engage with it. We are called not to fear… We are called not to be alarmed. We are called to be that beacon of light that comforts the hurting and gives hope to the lost. We trust in God that love will win, and we hope in the impossible promise that the suffering will someday end. So yes, we wait for that moment to become reality, but we wait by doing good in the world every day. We trust in the words of Christ, and not the worldly powers. We trust in the promises of our scriptures.
We trust in the good news… We trust in God. We have to trust in God.