Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Reflection
November 18, 2012
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 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 birth pangs. Mark 13:7-8
I had hoped it would end Wednesday morning. I had assumed that life would go on, that the sun would rise, and God willing, a new day would dawn. I had prayed that Americans of all ilk and persuasion would agree that we need to pull together now to help those in need, feed the hungry, to live into a new economic reality, and to agree that we need to take better care of this amazing planet with whose stewardship we are entrusted.
But no! Anyone with a social media presence or multiple cable channels quickly found out that fear and hate-mongering were alive and well. This week’s lessons speak a word of truth and hope in a climate of unwarranted fear and loathing. How divided are the faithful in your congregation? How concerned are some segments of your community? Do folks really believe an entire nation is slouching toward Babylon in a hand basket or careening without hope over a metaphorical cliff?
The distinct smell of fear lingers in our cultural air, and the putrid smell of hatred is not far behind. I’m not trying to mix politics and religion, but I think it is important to think about this week’s lessons (ala Barth) with our iPhones in one hand and faith in the other. The proverbial elephant is in the room, so we might as well sit up and take note.
In Mark’s gospel this week, the disciples marvel at the majesty and grandeur of the Temple. Prior to that Jesus has addressed issues of power, misplaced priorities, and justice–more specifically the lack thereof. Not much has changed. Humans still misplace hope in power, money, and might. Life is still chaotic. In spite of our great scientific and technological advances, many of the world’s people are oppressed, live in poverty, and suffer great violence. Wars, rumors of war, famine, and earthquake continue.
Whether it’s the apocalyptic vision of the Archangel Michael from the book of Daniel or Jesus’ own pronouncement, both lessons remind us that we are not alone in our fearful response to what we perceive as frightening and world-altering events in our own time. Whether it’s a fiscal cliff, a Mayan calendar, a terrorist attack, a super storm, or other disastrous event, we must hear the words of Jesus: “Do not be alarmed.”
Instead, we are to be alert and watchful. We are to rely fully on God, and we are to care for our neighbors as ourselves. We are not to let widows, orphans, and others on the margins suffer want. We are not to go off alone wringing our hands, reacting to every provocative and distorted tweet and post that crosses our screen. We are to be the people of God and be about God’s business in this world–right here, right now.
Yes, instead of playing into the ratings-motivated media moguls’ and power mongers’ hands, we would do well to listen to the words of the author of Hebrews:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (10:23-25).
This is no time for fear–or loathing. Jesus bids us not only to remain unafraid, but also compels us to confront the hatred, the suspicion, and the darkness of this present age. Now more than ever people need to hear the good news and need to find communities of faith where they are welcome, where they can come just as they are. Let us sing songs of joy and hope, and let us act with courage and conviction. Blessings on your preaching and teaching.
The beautiful hymn/prayer “Goodness is Stronger than Evil” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship 721) is a perfect selection for this day’s worship. You’ll find an instrumental version of it on YouTube played here by David Schipper. You will also find a wonderful clip here from the BBC of the South African National Eistenddfod champion Fezeka High School Choir singing at the end of this 11:04 minute clip. The entire clip is worth watching.
If you have a jazz worship, click here to check out pianist Jaz Knight’s “Psalm 16” from his first album The Psalter.
Why not have a frank discussion with youth about their concerns ? Are they worried about climate change in the wake of recent weather events? How do they respond to polarizing political rhetoric? What tools are available to them to discern facts in the face of competing claims to truth? How do the words of Hebrews 10:19-25 help us to live without fear and with strong faith?
These are tough lessons for children to grasp since apocalyptic literature and Veggie Tales don’t tend to go hand-in-hand. Consider focusing Psalm 16:11 from the Easy-to-Read Version:
You will teach me the right way to live. Just being with you will bring complete happiness. Being at your right side will make me happy forever.
Teach the children how to turn this verse into a prayer, and talk with them about how God teaches them to live well. Talk with them about how following God’s ways leads to happiness both now and forever. Consider creating motions to use with your one verse prayer, or invite someone who knows sign language to teach this verse prayer. The more senses you involve in the process, the better the learning will be.