Sermon - 25 Pentecost
The so-called holiday season is upon us, sooner than we would like perhaps, but here it is. The Thanksgiving feast – turkey and cranberries and more food than we can eat; family and football. And then, Christmas, coming up soon after.
But, just as the media tell us to get revved up for the “holidays,” the church gives us today’s gospel: Jesus says, in no uncertain terms, that “all will be thrown down.” Couldn’t we wait to start talking about the end of the world, the end of all things? Why talk about the end of the world now, at this time of year?
Jesus was talking about the temple in Jerusalem of course – and he was right. A few years after Jesus said this, the temple was in fact destroyed.
But Jesus is talking about a greater truth: everything in the world and in our lives comes to an end. Nothing is permanent, nothing is safe. We build walls, like the walls of the temple, to protect us from the realities of the world. But, Jesus is right: No matter how much we try – eventually, all things are thrown down.
Passages in the scripture like this are called “apocalyptic” – meaning that they uncover or reveal the end. The curtain is pulled back; God’s plan is revealed. And what we see is scary. The future holds all sorts of events that produce fear in us, judgment, destruction, and the end of the world as we know it. The Gospels, Old Testament prophets, the Revelation of St. John – all talk about the future in this highly symbolic and dramatic apocalyptic language.
Mark’s community, like all early Christians, had much to fear; the life of Christians in the Roman Empire was not easy. The destruction of the temple was just a start. Persecutions followed.
We have a relatively better time of it. But we have our own fears which look like the end the world as we know it: Wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, economic collapse, loss of health, climate change, political dysfunction – all this and more surrounds us – signs of the end of all things. The events in Paris in recent days are a powerful, horrible reminder. All we know and love and hold onto will be thrown down.
Even in the church, perhaps here at St. Paul’s as we look for a new rector, we consider the future of the parish. The church changes, the world changes – church life is shaky and there is plenty to fear: what will our future here be like? Will we be able to continue as the parish we know and love?
Perhaps, at this time of year especially, we need Jesus’ reminder. Because, there is no such thing as a perfect Thanksgiving holiday. And no matter how much we try, how much we buy, how beautiful the wrappings are and Christmas decorations are, we cannot remove the fears.
The “holiday spirit” which always falls short and fails.
Our efforts to build temples of security and possessions, of good health and strong relationships, to keep ourselves safe by our own efforts and talents and abilities, to build strong walls in our nation and in our hearts to protect ourselves. All those things all end.
So we don’t lose heart – we celebrate the holidays no matter what, realizing that, even though there is fear and destruction around us, Jesus speaks of hope – the birth-pangs of God’s kingdom. Hope – this is the gospel message, shrouded in the mystery of the end, but still there. Hope blazing in Jesus’ life and Resurrection, and in our hearts and in our faith.
Hope -- because in the end, no matter what happens, there is GOD, the God who loves, the God who saves, the God of life. God has the last word. Jesus’ death on the Cross seemed to be the last word – but there is the empty tomb of the resurrection. Resurrection, life - that is the last word, God’s last word. That is the heart of our faith.
We may suffer. All our best plans for health and security may collapse. The future is not necessarily happy and peaceful. It is not what we wanted or planned for. Over and over in our lives we discover that all those things we want are thrown down. And in the end, we know, we will die. But God’s word is stronger than whatever happens to us. God’s love is there at the end.
When we started our service we prayed that we would hear the scriptures, read them, to mark, learn and inwardly digest them, and embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life with God.
The scriptures from beginning to end tell us how God’s people, in spite of disaster and suffering, fear and death, have held fast and trusted in God alone. Listen to their experience of faith – look for and embrace that same faith.
All will be thrown down – yes. Everything comes to an end - yes. But God does not come to an end.
In God all things will be made new, and in Christ we will be made new. It is God who judges and saves, God who redeems and gives life. The whole of the scriptures, the story of the people of God, in fact, the whole creation, proclaim this truth and this hope.
In the end, there is God alone. We don’t understand, we don’t know when or how. The end is mystery. But that mystery is God – and we, each of us, now and always – in faith and in trust, by God’s grace, can embrace and hold fast to that blessed hope.