Proper 28B, November 15, 2015

November 16, 2015

Navigating Calamity
Mark 13:1-8

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

It seems fitting to consider the dark events of last Friday night in Paris in light of this morning’s scripture lesson. The horror of that situation leaves me somewhat speechless, but I’m compelled to say something about it, and I think what Jesus had to say is good for us to hear. Because Jesus wasn’t unfamiliar with horrible violence. You might even say that the world that Jesus inhabited was largely managed by brute force. The people of Jesus’ day and place were more likely to experience the threat of violent death than we are, but I’m guessing this old problem has always felt surprisingly raw and unwelcome.

People who love God will never be accustomed to violent destruction, but Jesus didn’t want us to let it have the power that it yearns to have. Jesus knew about death and destruction. He knew of natural disasters, he knew of political torture and he knew of war. Jesus also knew how religion sometimes fuels the engines of hateful movements, and he warned us not to go there. He knew there would continue to be great upheaval in this world and that there would always be great opportunity for us to react to the events of this world in a lot of different ways. He knew there would always be somebody with a bold scheme, and he warned us to be careful. It’s easy to lose sight of God in the drama of a desperate moment.

Misguided passion for God has always been a problem in this world. I don’t really know how people reconcile killing innocent people with obedience to God, but I know it’s been going on for a long time, and it’s been a blight within every major religion. I don’t know enough about Islam to know how badly these current murderers have distorted the teaching of Muhammad, but I don’t believe that the mass killing of innocent people is what he intended his followers to do. I don’t know what he actually taught, but I know that there are people who have found their way to God through his teachings, and there are others who use his words to do the most hateful things imaginable.

I don’t know what Muhammad taught, but I know what Jesus taught, and I know there are people who have used his words to do hateful things. It’s easy for good words to get hijacked and used in bad ways. Passion for personal power is often portrayed as passion for God. It’s easy for people to be confused about who they are serving, and Jesus warned us about this. Jesus didn’t want us to be confused.

Jesus didn’t want us to react badly to bad things. He didn’t want us to be overly excited about fleeting things or overly distressed about discouraging things.

When the disciples saw Jesus coming out of the Temple they commented on what a magnificent building the Temple was. I’m sure it was an amazing facility, but Jesus didn’t respond in the way they would have expected. He started talking about its destruction. He spoke of the way in which every one of those amazing stones was going to be thrown down, and he sort of acted like that was going to be a good thing. He wasn’t plotting its destruction, but he wasn’t distressed about its destruction.

It wasn’t that he had no appreciation for good architecture. But what he didn’t appreciate was the way God was being misrepresented by the things that were going on in the Temple, and he was looking forward to the day when God would become less identified with a particular place and more identified with a way of living.

Jesus didn’t confuse magnificent things with the magnificence of God. He didn’t want us to be overly impressed with anything in this world nor did he want us to be overly distressed by the destruction of any thing in this world.

And this is hard. Moments of social upheaval are very threatening to us, and we want clear instructions on what we need to do to regain the security we think we need. Good leadership is a valuable thing during moments of national or personal disaster, but Jesus warned us to be careful about who we chose to follow. It’s amazing how quick some people are to explain what role God is playing in any given disaster. Jesus didn’t want us to be taken in by people who offer easy answers in difficult times.

Of course as soon as Jesus started talking about the trials that were to come the first thing the disciples wanted to hear from Jesus was an easy answer. When they heard Jesus talk about the destruction of the Temple they wanted to know when it was going to happen and what they needed to look for, but Jesus didn’t make it easy for them, and it’s not easy for us.

Jesus anticipated the way in which some people are inclined to take advantage of unfortunate situations, and he didn’t want us to be taken in by those who utilize moments of insecurity to promote their own agenda. I dare say this is exactly what has happened within the Muslim community. False teachers have offered easy answers to complex problems.

I guess you could say this is my overly simplistic analysis of what’s going on in the world today, but what I also know is that there’s not an easy solution to this problem of religious terrorism. I don’t know what needs to happen to reduce tension within the world, but our challenge as Christians is the same that it’s always been. Our challenge is to fully love life and to be fully engaged in this world, but to not be overly reactive to anything that goes on in this world.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have any outrage or remorse about what we see happening in the world, but Jesus didn’t expect for things to be easy for any of us, and he didn’t want us to think that the difficulties of this world are a reflection of what God intends.

Terrible things are going on in this world. Criminals shoot honorable judges in the presence of their children. Terrorists shoot people as they attend concerts or have dinner. Refugees leave everything and risk dangerous journeys in search of safety for their families. Natural and unnatural disasters abound, and it’s probably natural for all of us to try to generate reasons for the difficulties that we face, but Jesus didn’t want us to think that way.

Jesus wanted us to have an attitude of trust in God regardless of what is going on around us. It’s important for us to look to God for comfort and direction as we seek to navigate the trials of this world, but we shouldn’t expect easy answers. What Jesus wanted us to understand is that none of the events of this world compare to the ultimate glory of God. Jesus offered this image of the trials of this world as being like the pain of childbirth.

From what I understand, the pain of childbirth is real, but it’s not futile pain. While much of what we see happening in this world seems very futile I don’t believe it reflects any kind of abandonment from God.

It’s a hard thing to balance our inability to know what’s going on or what to expect with our need to trust, but I believe that is exactly what it means to have Christian faith. We are to love this world, but our ultimate home is the kingdom of God – which extends well beyond the turf on which we currently stand.

I don’t have an easy answer for what we need to do, but it’s easy for me to tell you where to look to find some peace and understanding. Jesus wasn’t confused about what was going on in this world. He fully understood what would go on in this world, and he fully understood God. Jesus knew how to live in this world in perfect relationship with God, and he has invited us to follow him. It’s not an easy path, but it’s the true path, and it’s the path that leads to the place where true peace abounds.

Thanks be to God for being with us in the life of Jesus Christ, and for the light he offers in times of great darkness.

May the light of Christ shine brightly among us. Amen.

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