Sunday, November 18, 2012

What, me worry?

Revelation 11:15-19
Mark 13:1-13

In nearly every post-apocalyptic fiction movie I've seen or book I've read, there is a common theme that is overlooked.  You know the stories I'm talking about; fictional stories about what the world could look like after a nuclear war or some cataclysmic natural disaster that literally changes the face of the earth.  In the aftermath of such disasters there are always survivors and there is usually that "lone ranger" type who wanders from place to place (and the story usually centers on this "individual"), but in his wanderings our "lone ranger" friend always finds ... communities.  Sometimes these communities are little more than bands of outlaws who murder and pillage for resources, but sometimes there are those communities of survivors who band together and share - rather than fight or kill for - what few resources there are.

Each of these communities exists because its members hold something in common; and the nature of these communities, for good or bad, indicates how they will try to survive.  In the end the "predator" communities will ultimately perish for this simple reason: one can only take so much from those around them before there is nothing left to take if no one is producing.  Their greed will be their undoing. 

Yet those who work together for the common good and freely share what they have find themselves relatively prosperous ... and substantially worry-free, discovering that a community with a common sense of purpose and being will always look after one another unafraid of tomorrow.  These communities would not be considered "wealthy" in our contemporary context, but they often have enough.  And because they have one another and because they all share a foundational goal and because they have learned they can depend on one another through the good times AND the bad times, their need to worry is not as acute as before they found one another and formed this community.

They also discovered that even as they could not control the circumstances that brought them to such a pass - such as a world nuclear war or a meteor crashing to earth - they can control how they live and work and relate to one another.  They can choose to play the role of "predator" who can never be trusted, they can be the "lone ranger" - OR - they can take control and manage themselves and their resources within a community of commonality despite the circumstances.  These communities, the good and the bad, pretty much determine their own destinies by the way they choose to live: they can destroy themselves from within, they can die alone - OR - they can build up from within.  Either way, the outcome will always be determined from within the community.

It's hard to know exactly what Jesus is referring to even as the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD seems to be a given in Mark's context, but the disciples could not possibly have known this.  Other scholars suggest Jesus may have been referring to the coming reign of Nero whose persecution of Christians is legendary, or it could be as others have suggested: what Jesus is referring to is more directly related to His imminent return. 

Regardless of whoever is correct in the assessment, however, one thing remains clear: Jesus is admonishing and warning the community of the faithful that there will be things taking place that we cannot control; but we must also note that Jesus is admonishing and warning the community that despite the coming persecutions, in whatever form or fashion they will come, the faithful will still have total control over how we will choose to respond. 

This is why practicing and engaging the "means of grace" in peace time is a lot like peace time war maneuvers; when the time comes (and Jesus says this time is certain when we will be challenged), it is important that we are prepared.  It is a mistake to believe our faith will suddenly come to us when we need it if we spend a lifetime neglecting that faith, taking it for granted as some "magic spell" that can be conjured up when needed.  And in Mark's context, underscored by The Revelation, we are warned well in advance that all which is man-made - including our laws - will ultimately perish when the Kingdom of the Most High God is finally and completely revealed.

Yet we also read that even as Jesus prepares us for the worst which is certain to come, our Lord also prepares us for what we must continue to do in the meantime: "The Good News must ... be proclaimed ..." (Mark 13:10).  We must not be distracted by the things we will certainly endure, the things over which we have no control - like wars and natural disasters because, as Jesus teaches, "these things must take place ... but do not be alarmed ... for the End is yet to come." 

Even as "nations will rise against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms ... this is but the beginning of birth pangs".  Do we see that even as Jesus seems to be referring to death and destruction of the "former things", He is also making us aware that what is actually taking place is birth rather than death?   Reading apocalyptic literature in the Bible is often very hard to take because it sounds like a lot of gloom and doom - indeed for those outside the community of faith, it may well be!  For the faithful, however, something wonderful is coming forth from these "birth pangs", and it has nothing to do with the commercialization of eschatology (end times theology)!  The knowledge of what is to come is not for sale, for the Price has already been paid!

It also cannot be good for the soul that we would spend so much time worrying about what is to come, but it can benefit the soul greatly to spend time dealing with what already is!  And this is where the community of faith comes in.  I think perhaps the Church has done a grave disservice to the people we are supposed to minister to by trying to make the masses afraid of the End Times instead of showing them what is to be had right here and right now!  "Eschatology" is a $20 word for something that really should not concern the devoted disciple.  When Jesus tells His followers not to worry about these "things to come", is He essentially telling us to just plain, ol' NOT worry at all?  Especially as there is nothing we can do about it?

Governments will do what they will do, and we have little control over these decisions.  There are bands of international outlaws doing their level best to make us afraid, trying to convince us that their acts of terror will be our undoing - OR - our future way of life.  Jesus is not trying to make His followers afraid of these things which are certain, and He is not offering advice on how we must deal with these treacheries.  He is teaching us about how we are to conduct ourselves - not as a nation of individuals, "lone rangers", each seeking his or her own - but as The Church, His Body, His very being!

We must not be "afraid" or even overly concerned about the state of the world; we have chosen representatives to see to that business for us.  We must not be afraid of other "kingdoms" or "nations" that seek to do harm, and we certainly cannot control nature!  We can, however, be mindful of that certain promise from our Lord: that "This is but the beginning of birth pangs".

Something wonderful will arise from the smoke and ash of natural and man-made disaster; it is the Holy Church, the Body of Christ.  It is the community of the faithful that will endure not by "magic" but by sheer will, rigid determination, and practiced faith as a community.  And those "who endure to the end will be saved".  And it is a safe bet that it will be a long time between "now" and "then".

If we wish to endure "to the end" and "be saved", let us as a community stand together.  Let us declare our allegiance to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Let us reaffirm our faith by sharing together the Last Meal our Lord shared with His faithful. 

To the End.  And beyond.  Amen.

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