05 December 2009

Proper 33b - Jesus is coming - Look busy

Mark 13: 1-8

St. Luke’s Church, Burlington

Sunday, 15th November 2009

by Stuart Pike

You are of infinite worth! That is the way that God sees you. Perhaps some of us haven’t heard or understood or believed this deep truth about ourselves. Some of us have heard other, much more negative messages – sometimes given by our family, or our culture or our circumstance, or our religion. Actually, truth be told, for many it was the opposite message which was especially given by their religion – the message that we are unworthy – that we don’t measure up, that we are miserable sinners. It’s a false message, and it is not first message of the Bible – the first message is:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ 
So God created humankind in his image,
 in the image of God he created them;
 male and female he created them. 
God blessed them … and it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:1 ff - New Revised Standard Version)

God created you in the divine image. You are of infinite worth! And because we are in the divine image, we have divine things to do. We have been created for a purpose, and that purpose is to love, just like God loves creation.

That is why Jesus came: to remind us of our worth, to remind us that we are created in God’s image and to call us to stand up worthy and to act in ways which are equal to our worth. God became human to remind us that we are divine. God became human in Jesus Christ, and Jesus is still present today in the lives and actions of human beings. It’s what we’re for.

Today is Stewardship Sunday, which to me, means it is a day to celebrate how we are accomplishing Jesus’ mission for us through the work that we do at St. Luke’s. It is a day to look at how we are being good Stewards of all that God has put into our power. It is a day for me to thank you for all that you do and give for and through St. Luke’s. And - you know it’s coming - it is also a day for me to encourage you to give generously of your time, your talent and your treasure to ensure that we continue to do this mission, which is building his kingdom.

There is a wonderful bumper sticker which I saw ‘way back in the days when more people displayed bumper stickers on their cars. Some of the Jesus freaks in those days had stickers which said things like, “Jesus Saves” or “The end is nigh”. Around here you can often see the sign of the fish on a car as a tasteful indication that the owner is a Christian. This one particular bumper sticker I really enjoyed. It said, “Jesus is coming - Look Busy!”

Although I laughed at the bumper sticker, I knew that it was also a false message. It went along with the message that we’re not worthy, that we are insufficient, that we aren’t enough. And it is this deep-seated fear which many of us have which has also convinced us that we don’t have enough. And so we put stock in material things in order to cover our sense of unworthiness, or we put our stock in powerful institutions, such as nationalism or our religious institutions. The power of a strong list of behavioural rules or the material solidity of our temples and Churches sometimes assuages our sense of lack, at least for a time.

Today’s Gospel reading from the 13th chapter of Mark has been called the Little Apocalypse. In it, Jesus speaks about the end times. It starts with Jesus and his disciples at the Temple in Jerusalem. We all know they were Galileans. The City of Jerusalem was not part of their day to day lives. The Temple in Jerusalem was an astounding building. It was massive, it was beautiful. It also represented the authority of their religious institution. The temple stood for all of the customs and rules and laws which regulated most of their lives. For many of them the Temple even represented the place where God was. The Temple was their religion. It was the supreme example of the term “pride of place.”

And there is pride in that. Successfully conforming to a religion of rules can certainly make you feel you belong. Having such a beautiful and massive Temple as a focus for such a rigid faith would naturally lead to pride.

It is an easy enough thing to do. We too can feel pride of place for whatever group that we belong to and its symbols. Some of us feel that way about our faith, or even about our denomination or our beautiful Church building. There’s only one problem with having this sort of pride, however. It has to do with the saying which many of us have heard all too often: Pride comes before the fall.

It appears that this unknown disciple of Jesus is speaking with pride about the temple. Jesus then says something which would have been just about unthinkable for a Jew in his time. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

This scene marks the bridge between Jesus’ temple ministry and his own rejection trial and passion. Here Jesus leaves the Temple for the last time. He abandons it and all that it represents and leaves the city and crosses the Kidron valley to the Mount of Olives from which point they can see the City of Jerusalem and the Temple which they have left. Jesus has left everything – the materialism of the city and the trappings of his religion. He knows that the essence of his life is not about these things, but instead is about completely giving himself to God’s purpose.

Four of his disciples - the usual four - ask him when these things will take place. What will be the sign?

The disciples are perhaps displaying the anxiety which many feel when they think of the end of things. There are some religions or denominations who like to capitalize on this anxiety. Some want to scare you into faith and speak about the end times as a time of threat.

Instead I want to listen to the words of Jesus, and to try to understand his meaning. Jesus seems to be telling his disciples to put their faith in God alone. Even the great religious institution of their time, represented by the Temple will fall.

We know that ultimately everything made with human hands will crumble and turn to dust. And also the great constructs of our minds, our philosophy and theology will fail. The only thing which will remain unchanged is God.

Although many people are afraid of the end of time, Jesus refers to the upheaval of those times as birth-pangs, not death throes. In my experience, it seems that most people who think about the apocalypse approach it with great fear. Most of the people I’ve met who aren’t fearful about it are those who are the poor and the oppressed. Those who live in the Third world see the time of Jesus’ return as a great promise: a time of blessing and abundance. Jesus looks forward to it as a time of great hope, not of great fear.

There are many Churches which try to say exactly how everything is going to happen and when. They are trying to put all of the book of revelation into a nutshell. But I think that the only thing you find in the nutshell is the nut! The truth is, we don’t know how or when this physical world of ours will end. But we do have Jesus’ example and his words.

Jesus tells us that our time is like the time when a great king leaves his kingdom in the charge of his servants. One day he returns and says to his servants, “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and in prison and you visited me.” And his servants ask: “But when did we do this?” And the King says, “When you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

We don’t need to ask when Jesus will come again. We need, instead to minister to Jesus today who comes to us in the guise of our brothers and sisters in need. We don’t need to fear Jesus’ coming. We need to have faith in his promises.

Jesus is coming: we don’t need to look busy. We need, instead to be engaged in the work of his kingdom which can be glimpsed in the midst of our lives. Let us stop and see that kingdom amongst us and we can be builders of his kingdom here and now. Amen.

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