What makes Jesus such a great teacher is that he challenges us to think for ourselves…Over and over, Jesus speaks to us in ways that force us to realize that we often need to change our perspective…The way we think about things may be different from God’s thoughts…Our efforts to make sense of the world around us tend to ignore that God is bigger than any problem or challenge we may face.
“End Times” preaching and prophecy is prolific around the globe, particularly in America…If you Google “End Times Prophecies” you receive more than 2.4 million results…That’s a lot of theories on when Christ will return and what it’s going to look like…There are many different opinions about the end of the world and no end to the rumors of war.
When we look at the context of today’s passage from Mark’s Gospel we realize that it was written in the midst of the Jewish-Roman War
of 66-70 C.E. The Jewish people rebelled against Roman rule in an effort to restore the ancestral throne of David. Sometime during this war the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, never to be rebuilt. Jewish Zealots were recruiting everyone they could to fight for the cause…A cause they claimed would end Roman oppression and redeem God’s people, restoring God’s Kingdom. The problem with this context, as with ours, is misunderstanding God’s point of view…“Recruiters” are still out in force claiming to speak on God’s behalf and urging us on to the pursuit of their goals…While their goals may be enticing and even worthy, are they God’s goals for the life of this world right now?
There are countless special interests in our culture and in our churches…Each of these groups has their own agenda and priorities…There are groups calling for staunch adherence to tradition and conservation of all things ancient and “holy”…Others lobby for progressive inclusion of all persons and all points of view…Then there are the moderates who cry out for grace across the board so that many may come together in respectful ways…They all proclaim their agenda as the way to the goal of peace, or unity and purity in the church…The question is: IF the agenda of any of these groups is achieved, will God’s goal for the Body of Christ be met?
I believe that today’s gospel is both a challenge and a caution for us…We are challenged to hear this text as more than a prediction of the future “Second Coming of Christ”. This text is about trust in God’s plan for the world and for our salvation…It challenges us to realize that redemption is a process of repentance, forgiveness, and new birth…It is about how we move from darkness into light, from alienation into community, from guilt to freedom, and from fear to assurance…The truth is that our salvation comes to us as a gift of God’s grace through our faith which grows, matures, and evolves over a lifetime. We are cautioned not to let those who claim to speak for God draw our attention to and focus our energy on the “End of the Age”…If you chase down some of those 2.4 million Google hits, you will find somebody that will offer ways to interpret every tragic event, every war, and every terrorist attack as proof that the end is near…Hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and earthquakes are sure signs that Jesus is due to arrive on the next cloud…When tragedy strikes someone is ready to blame it on the end of the world! That is not the message Jesus wants us to hear…The disciples are eager for an “insider tip” on when the end will come…I think that’s the issue with all the claims on the Internet…Throughout the ages people have wanted to know the future and boldly claim they are privy to some secret revelation showing them the true end time…Jesus doesn’t answer the disciples’ questions directly and he offers us no “secret revelation”…Instead He sends us in another direction – one that does not focus on the destruction of the Temple, the end of the age, or the Second Coming…Jesus wants us to move forward focused on our mission to be witnesses for the Gospel TODAY. Does this mean Christians should ignore biblical references to the end of days? Absolutely not…It simply means that this should not be the focus of our study and our living faith…Living faith should be aimed at living, not worrying about when the end will come…Christians are called to be prepared for the Second Coming because it will come when we are unaware, so we need to be ready all the time…A big part of being ready is living the life that God calls us to live…This is a life of mission and witness, not one of doomsday prophecy and hoarding.
So how do we survive the tragic events of our lives? What do we do with a devastating cancer diagnosis or some other catastrophic illness? How do we react when a landmark building crashes to the ground killing thousands of people? Can we process the aftermath of natural disasters, loss of life, and loss of innocence? How do we live in the midst of competing voices, full of passion, who claim these to be the signs of the end? I think that Jesus is telling us to remain calm in the face of the unsettling realities of this world…Natural disasters and human-made catastrophes are part of the world in which we live…Evil is rampant in the world, it affects the earth, and it produces its own terrors…Jesus tells us that the false prophets, the wars and rumors of wars, the earthquakes and famines are all just the birth pangs of God’s ultimate return…But, these “signs” should not become our focus…Things may seem like they are falling apart…It might appear that anarchy is taking over…We are frustrated and even worried about what will happen next when we are surrounded by the many things that come against us…The point that Jesus makes is that the core of our faith – GOD – will hold fast and our anchor will not give way. We might be amazed to discover that, when we take our eyes off the doom and gloom of worrying about the End of Days, we still have much faithful work to do in the Name of Jesus Christ…Like most rumors, the Rumors of War should be taken with a grain of salt and we should spend our time doing the “right now” work of building God’s Kingdom today. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen