Sunday, April 26, 2020

God Works Through Us: No Joke!

Theophilus, the first scroll I wrote concerned everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven. Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”

Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a sabbath day’s journey away. When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son— all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

Peter and John were going up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the established prayer time. Meanwhile, a man crippled since birth was being carried in. Every day, people would place him at the temple gate known as the Beautiful Gate so he could ask for money from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” Then he grasped the man’s right hand and raised him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong. Jumping up, he began to walk around. He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God. They recognized him as the same one who used to sit at the temple’s Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise at what had happened to him. --Acts 1:1-14; 3:1-10 (CEB)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father; Jesus, our risen Savior; and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Comforter. Amen.

A riddle. Why is an elephant big, gray and wrinkled? Because if he was small, white and round, he'd be an aspirin. (They’ll get better, I promise!)

In honor of the NFL draft this week, did you hear about the quarterback who wanted to call his wife? He couldn’t find the receiver.  (Okay, I promised they would get better, didn’t I?)

Last one. I promise. One Sunday morning, a mother went in to wake her son and tell him it was time to get ready for church, to which he replied, "I'm not going." "Why not?" she asked. "I'll give you two good reasons," he said. "One, they don't like me, and two, I don't like them." His mother replied, "I'll give YOU two good reasons why YOU SHOULD go to church. (1) You're 59 years old, and (2) you're the pastor!"

We love to tell jokes, don’t we? And, in these times, when things can feel very dark, jokes and laughter can help lighten our mood. We love to tell jokes. Perhaps, it's because there is often a nugget of truth in them. 

I was looking online for jokes about men looking up into heaven. Strangely, I couldn’t find any. But, it feels like this first part of today’s story is kind of a joke, isn’t it? A joke on the disciples? Perhaps, a rather cruel joke. After all this time they had spent with their teacher, the years of teaching and learning, the good experiences and the “not so good” experiences. Even with the shame of abandoning Jesus in those last moments. The grief at his death. Then, the fear and amazement of the women at the end of the Easter story in Mark - a cruel joke of an ending. Not really even an ending, but a void waiting to be filled in. It all must have felt like some cruel joke on the disciples.

But, the joke didn’t end there. As we move into a new book, the Acts of the Apostles, part two of Luke’s Gospel, we enter into a book that begins to fill in the void with details in a more satisfying way. The beginning opens with a brief summary of everything that has happened. Perhaps it wasn’t such a cruel joke, after all. Especially, as the disciples learned that Jesus had been resurrected. Had experienced their risen teacher in their midst. As Jesus had continued to teach them about the kingdom of God over those 40 days. Speaking to them about what was to come. And, how, even after all they had experienced and learned, they still didn’t quite get it. “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” they asked. Perhaps, the joke was on Jesus.

Quickly, he sets them straight. It’s not about the when. But about the how. The how of the kingdom. And, they learn, they will be the how. “You will be my witnesses.” In Jerusalem, among the Jews. In Judea, among a more mixed population. In Samaria, among their political and religious enemies. And to the end of the earth - the Roman empire - the known world at that time. They were to be the how.

I mentioned earlier that the joke, though, didn’t end there. Because just after they had learned all of this - that they were to be the “how” of God’s kingdom - Jesus simply disappears up into the heavens. Can’t you hear what the disciples are thinking as they stand and watch Jesus go?  “Oh, crap!” they think. “What the heck are we going to do now?” The joke is truly on them.

But, they wait. Together, men and women in that upper room. For days. They wait, following Jesus’ instruction to them. To wait until the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. And, then, they begin. Probably, like us, never really knowing quite what to do.

But the opportunities begin to present themselves. During the course of the day as they go about doing their usual things, the opportunities arise. One day, as Peter and John are going to the temple for prayer as they always did, they come upon a man, crippled since birth. For whom, every day, his friends would engage in an act of mercy that helped him to survive. Carrying him to a place where there were people. Where he could beg the passersby to drop just a few coins in his cup. And, then, Peter and John see him. One has to wonder why they never noticed him before. But, our text says, they “stared” at him. Perhaps, for the first time, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they truly saw him. And, then, they engaged in an act of mercy that was way beyond the previous boundaries. Way beyond the imagination of the man’s friends and what they had done.  “Look at us!” Peter said to him. “Look at us! You are worthy to make eye contact with us. You, who have suffered for years, you deserve to be healed. And then, purely with the gift of healing given to him by the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter heals him. No joke.

Sisters and brothers, you and I are called to do this same work. You and I, like Peter and John, have been baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, to be the “how” of the kingdom of God. To notice those in our hurting world and to engage in acts of mercy, whatever they may be. But, not to stop there. To invite them to look at you, so that you, too, like Peter and John, might witness to the “why.” Why you do these acts of mercy. And why is that? Because we have a God who loves us, who comes to be with us, to be like us, to experience the whole of the human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life to the isolation of pandemic life, from lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, of defeat, of despair, and of death. And, then, to free us from it all: from sin, from the power of evil, and from death.

So that we, like the man in our story, who experienced healing after years of suffering, might jump up for joy. Walking, leaping, and praising God. And inviting others to experience that same joy. No joke.

Knock! Knock! Who’s There?
Howl. Howl who? Howl you know if you don’t open the door?

Go. Open the door and go. Be the “how” of the kingdom of God. Amen.

Preached online at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY, on April 26, 2020.
Easter 3
Readings: Acts 1:1-14, 3:1-10; Mark 6:7-13; Psalm 47

Saturday, April 18, 2020

God's Triumph: The End of the Story

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. --Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV)

There is a reason we don't often read the resurrection story in Mark on Easter. Nowhere in it do we see a resurrected Jesus. Nowhere do we see Jesus meeting the disciples later, where they are witness to their now risen Savior.  There's a reason we don't often read the resurrection story in Mark on Easter. Because it ends with the women leaving in terror and amazement. It doesn’t tell us what happened next - whether they went and told the disciples. It leaves us hanging, wondering what happened. 

There is a reason we don’t often read the resurrection story in Mark on Easter. 

Last summer, when I was looking through our readings for this year and realized that this reading was the Gospel text appointed for Easter Sunday, I honestly considered changing it. And yet, who could have predicted what is happening in this moment? Who could have predicted that the entire world would be in the midst of a pandemic? Who could have predicted that much of what we know and our ways of life could have been so turned upside down? Who could have predicted any of this last summer? 

Now - in this moment - the resurrection story in Mark seems right. 

So, what do we have in the story? It opens with the women going to the tomb. These are the same women we met at the end of our Good Friday reading. They had remained at the cross. They had seen Jesus crucified when everyone had abandoned him. They had also witnessed where Jesus was buried. So, early on this morning they set out for the tomb, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, something they’d been unable to do immediately after his death because of the start of the Sabbath. They go to offer this last loving gesture, this last service of love.

But, they had one very practical concern. Who would roll away the stone?  

It's hard to ignore the imagery in Mark that points to the coming kingdom of God - it’s unveiling and the opening up of access to God. We first saw it at the very beginning of Mark, when the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit came down to anoint him as the son of God. We saw it in the hours leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. The references in Mark 15 to nakedness, or as Gary would have said if given the opportunity last Sunday, “nekedness.” These point to the undressing and the unveiling of God’s kingdom. 

We saw this same imagery at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, with the tearing from top to bottom of the temple curtain. Opening up access to a God restricted by the temple system. Then, finally, in our story today, as the women arrive at the tomb, they realize that the stone has already been rolled away. Once more, we have the signal that the tomb has been opened to the entire world. The unveiling of the kingdom of God has begun for everyone.

Now I should mention here that, while we view this unveiling as a positive thing, we must also remember that it is a direct threat to death and the power of evil. Evil recognizes who this Jesus is. We saw this earlier in Mark when only the demons recognized the true power of Jesus and his true identity. Evil fears Jesus and the kingdom of God. Because not only does Jesus usher in life, the kingdom of God unveils evil. Exposes it for what it is. Perhaps this is what is happening in our own time, in this time of pandemic. As we finally begin to see and more fully understand the failures of our economic systems. And of our healthcare systems. Of our systems of class and race. Of our religious systems. The kingdom of God exposes these systems - systems that keep people from shalom. From that wholeness and that peace that God desires for all of us.

Perhaps, this is why the resurrection story in Mark is so helpful for us in this time. Because the very last word in Mark in Greek is the word “gar,” which is a word that in English means “for” or “because.” So, if we read the Greek in English exactly as translated, the last line of our text and of all of Mark reads, “So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, they were afraid because…”

In other words, the Mark resurrection story ends with an invitation. To the reader. To finish the story. An invitation into this question of what will happen next. Will anyone go to Galilee? What is the adventure you will choose? Because the end of the story has not been written. Will you respond in faith? Will you respond in fear? Are you, dear reader or dear listener, going to Galilee? Or not.

It may be hard right now to see God’s action in our world, to witness the resurrected Jesus. To see God creating life. It may feel much more like Good Friday than Easter. But, there is no excuse in Mark's gospel to freeze up, to not do the next thing, to not go to Galilee. We, just like those women so long ago, are called to act in faith with only a story, a promise, with only some evidence. We must live toward that promise that we’ve had rumors of, but of which there is perhaps little evidence. To see God at work in our world, creating new life. To believe that, even in the midst of this time, God continues to roll out the kingdom. Working to bring life out of the death we are witnessing in this moment. To give us faith to move us beyond our fear and to live into this life for all eternity that has been promised for each one of us. And for all people.

So, perhaps, the resurrection story in Mark is perfect for this time. May we join God in writing the end of it. Amen.

Preached April 12, 2020, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Easter 1
Readings: Mark 16:1-8; Romans 6:5-11.

Friday, April 10, 2020

God's Triumph: In Light of the Resurrection

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. --Mark 15:16-41 (NRSV)

I’ve been thinking alot over these past few days about the words spoken by Jesus. The only words spoken by him on the cross. In both Mark and Matthew. And, in Mark, the last words that He will speak on earth.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? These words of lament spoken by Jesus from Psalm 22. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

If you noticed, they were spoken at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, just 3 hours after everything had grown dark. In the middle of the day - darkness. At a time when things should be brightest. Instead, everything is dark. 

In scripture, the imagery of darkness is often used as an apocalyptic portrayal of God’s judgment. Is this what Jesus was feeling when he spoke these words? Was he feeling the weight of God’s judgment? Or was he, perhaps, feeling as though God had abandoned him completely? After all, everyone else had. His disciples. Peter. Now God?

One has to wonder at his lament. Surely, Jesus knew that this wouldn’t be the end. He had predicted his own death on the cross. He, too, had predicted his resurrection. Yet, in the midst of his crucifixion. In the midst of the pain and agony he is suffering from this cruel means of torture, used only by the Romans for political revolutionaries. In the midst of dying, it is as though Jesus has simply forgotten everything he knows. As he suffers, feeling isolated and abandoned, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I wonder if, in this time in which we are living, we cry the very same words. Where is God in the midst of this pandemic? Has God abandoned us we wonder? I even recently read a post on Facebook where someone had commented that, occasionally, God lifts the veil of protection from us. Really? The God who comes to us on earth, who shows his very nature in the suffering Jesus, chooses not to protect us?

But, isn’t this where we go in the midst of our own suffering and confusion? When everything we know seems to be falling down around us. When we have socially distanced ourselves into complete isolation. When we feel alone and abandoned. At the mercy of an evil we can’t even see or touch. Don’t we cry out, just as Jesus did, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

We don’t like to admit this. Our fear. Our sense of isolation. And, mostly, our sense of loss. Our grief. Particularly in the church when we are so accustomed to gathering together each week. And, then, during this Holy Week, when we are unable to gather on these holiest of days. It is hard for us to admit this grief over all of the loss we are feeling in the midst of this time. Because it is easier to be Easter people than it is to be Good Friday people. When death and loss and grief and, like Jesus, our own fear of abandonment meets us head-on.

But isn’t this why God in Jesus came? To experience our very humanity? Our fear and grief and our sense of abandonment? To meet us where we are. To bring us peace.

I’m particularly struck by the closing verses of tonight’s reading. About the women. These verses are the first time in Mark that any women are named. These women, who have been following Jesus, who have cared for and provided for him in the rural parts of Galilee, who have not abandoned him, but who are still there.

It’s a reminder for us, that even in these times of isolation and what may feel like abandonment, God remains with us. In the connections we have with one another. God is still there. And, it is in these connections, even in the darkest of times where God, who knows our fear and our pain and our grief, meets us. In love. Bringing us new life. 

A few days, one of my fellow pastors died in our synod.  Rev. Dick Hunt. I never knew him. But I learned that, for every day of the past 20 years, Pastor Hunt had written a haiku poem. This was the one included in his obituary, entitled “God Delights In Us.”

Alive or dead God
delights in us because love
knows what death feels like
knows what grief and mourning feel
like to search through what is lost
to find the light of new life.

May we, on this Good Friday, trust that God has not abandoned us, but continues to be present. That God continues to meet us in these darkest of times. And that God will lead us through the darkness to find the light of new life. This is not the end, but only the beginning. Amen.

Preached April 10, 2020 online with Grace & Glory Lutheran Church and Shiloh United Methodist, Goshen, KY.
Good Friday
Readings: Psalm 22:1-2, 14-21; Mark 15:16-39

God's Triumph: The Church at Home - Holy

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” --Mark 11:1-11; 14:3-9 (NRSV)

In all of scripture, to anoint - to engage in the act of anointing - occurs at three different occasions.

First, as we heard in both our readings from 1 Samuel and Psalm 20, the act of anointing happens when a new king is crowned. Perhaps, that’s how it is being used here. After all, we just heard the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey - the way in which all of Israel’s kings would have begun their reign.

And then there’s the cry of the people, as Jesus enters the city. They cry out, “Hosanna!” Hosanna. This complex word with a double meaning. Praise Him! us! So, at first blush, this anointing by this unnamed woman in our text must be the signal that there is a new king for Israel. And a new kingdom. 

A second occasion in which one is anointed comes out of the deep Jewish tradition of hospitality. A tradition in which no expense is spared in caring for one’s guest. Perhaps this is the occasion here. After all, this unnamed woman anoints Jesus with oil that has cost her a year’s salary. It is an extravagant gesture on her part. So extravagant that, in fact, the other guests become critical. “Couldn’t she have sold the oil and given the money to the poor?” they exclaim. After all, in another gospel, we learn that the amount of money she has spent on this sweetly perfumed ointment would have fed a population of 7,500 poor - the equivalent of seven months of food for our food pantry. Yet, Jesus acclaims her. And her extravagant devotion. To him.

Then, there’s the third occasion for anointing. Which is for burial. Where family members - mostly women - gather together. And lovingly wash their dead. And then rub beautifully scented oils into the body of their loved one. For the last time. 

This is how Jesus views the act of this unnamed woman. One who remains unnamed in our story and yet, as Jesus has promised, has now been acclaimed for over 2,000 years. Jesus views her extravagant act as the preparation for his burial. Which will take place after his own extravagant act.  An extravagant act of humility and sacrifice. An extravagant act of acquiescence and obedience.  An extravagant act of love. For you. And me. And for all people.

In this time of pandemic, as we are all re-examining our priorities and shedding those that no longer seem right, and as we move into this holiest of weeks, may we once again hear the story of God’s extravagant act of love in Christ. And may we, like the unnamed woman, respond with our own act of extravagant devotion. Amen.

Preached April 5, 2020, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Passion/Palm Sunday
Readings: Mark 11:1-11; 14:3-9; 1 Samuel 10:1; Psalm 20:6-9

God's Triumph: The Church at Home - Fear

As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”

Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”

Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What sign will show that all these things are about to come to an end?”

Jesus said, “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.

“In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

“Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

“But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!” --Mark 13:1-8, 24-37 (CEB)

When I first looked at our lectionary reading assigned for this Sunday, my initial reaction was, "Really?" This was last fall, as I was looking over all of our readings for this lectionary year. This week, as we are gripped by fear and panic in what might seem like the end of the world, my reaction is even stronger. If I react this way, even after having studied the book of Revelation, I imagine that you might feel similar. So, how do we approach this Sunday's text?

Avoidance. Mostly, avoiding things may not be a good thing to do because, eventually it seems, whatever we avoid has a habit of "rearing its ugly head later on." But, in this case, especially if you have children, avoiding this text and focusing on something else to read may be a good choice. Our readings this week can be scary for young disciples and even a little confusing. Perhaps focus on 1 John 4:7-21 and 5:1-5, or even some of the more beautiful parts of Revelation, especially chapters 21 and 22:1-5.

Engagement. If you are older, I encourage you to confront this head-on. But, read it with a few things in mind:

  • At the beginning, apocalypse didn't mean the end of the world. It meant "revelation" and it was a peek behind the curtain of reality of what God's up to. The main points? God is in charge. Evil/suffering exists. God will triumph.
  • These passages were written to people who were suffering. The good news: God is in charge and will triumph. Suffering is temporary.
  • These passages were also written to people who didn't care about loving God and loving others (Remember last week's story?) The message: God cares, so live in love.
  • Bad things have already happened. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE. The people were scattered. We often look at prophecies in the Bible having at least two fulfillments - a past and a future. These warnings in Mark 13 happened a long time ago. But, as we've been experiencing these past few weeks, bad things still happen. Yet, Jesus has promised to return in the future and get rid of suffering, once and for all.

Faith, not Fear. So, what are you afraid of? What are the other members of your family or group afraid of?

Today, we reflect on this topic of "fear" with John Moel, as we hear his story, and think together about how, even in the midst of our fear, we might move deeper into faith, believing in a God who is in charge and who will triumph. That's simple, yet still difficult. Even with that knowledge, we might still be scared. But, that's okay. Because God loves us no matter what.

So, let's just keep loving, praying, and holding on. Together.

Preached March 29, 2020, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Lent 5
Readings: Mark 13:1-8, 24-37; Isaiah 13:9-11, Psalm 102:12-17