Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, Year B
November 18, 2018
Lessons: Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people trust God and put their hope in Jesus’ promises, even in the darkest of days and times.
Key Scripture: Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 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. Hebrews 10:23-25
What happens when all that you hold dear, everything you claim as sacred, and all hope to which you cling seems lost? This question has been front and center for me as I watched and read recent news: Eleven worshipers slaughtered at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, massive and deadly fires raging in California, the death of twelve people at the Borderline Bar and Grill (not far from one of the fires), and the tragic shooting of Jemel Roberson, yet another black life taken. And that’s just here in the United States!
This same question was surely on the minds of the faithful to whom Mark’s gospel was addressed. The Jewish revolt against Roman occupation had failed miserably. Worse yet, the temple—the spiritual heart and center of Jewish life—had been desecrated and utterly destroyed. Imagine the sense of despair, the pain of loss, the scent of fear, and the shattered lives in need of an infusion of radical hope and deep remembrance. To this broken audience the gospel writer penned his apocalyptic words of vision and promise.
We twenty-first century Jesus followers hear these words in our context, in the midst of our own fears of an uncertain future and painful pining for a church past glimpsed fading in the rear view mirror of time. How will we hear this gospel? Will we hear it in the same sense of the Greek word apokalupsis (“revealing” or “uncovering”) from whence it is derived? Or will we relegate it to a trite future vision that lets us off the hook from participating in the healing of the nations?
Next week concludes the church year with Christ the King Sunday and the end of our time with Mark’s gospel. We are come full circle with this lesson and its message of hope and charge to be alert and let no one lead us astray. Yes, the times are uncertain. Suffering and pain are real. The path forward appears fraught with danger, and destruction just over the horizon. In spite of all of this, whether self-inflicted or inflicted upon us, we have Jesus. We are not alone, and death and evil have already been defeated. The reign of God is breaking in all around us; signs are everywhere for the one who takes time to notice, who pays attention.
Advent is on the horizon. It’s time to wake from whatever binds us in complacency, to pay attention, to beware and remain focused on just who really is Lord of all. By all means mourn and honor your grief, but do not give in to despair. These birth pangs will eventually give way to the glorious birth of something new, and we get to be a part of watching and midwifing it forward. No, we can’t see the new thing yet, but know dear friends that it is coming. Take heart. Stand firm and courageous. Lean into your call to love God and neighbor, to do justice, and work for good in all the earth. Yes, the world is about to turn; this much is certainly true.
Consider hymns like “The Canticle of the Turning,” “Goodness is Stronger than Evil,” “It is Well with my Soul,” or “Come Ye Disconsolate” today. Here’s a wonderful piano version of the latter two hymns performed by Richard Smallwood.
This is a day to both comfort and charge God’s people to move bravely into a new day, confident that the Spirit goes with them and that Jesus is on the way—restoring and reviving all of creation. Consider focusing on Hebrews 10:23-25 as a commissioning and sending.
How do we live in uncertain times? Youth today feel tremendous pressure and concern. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 24. Use the lesson from Hebrews to talk about the powerful antidote we have to counter fear, bullying, persecution, and anything else that threatens to bind us.
Make sure, too, that you are providing mental health education and resources for congregants. Only by removing the stigmas, shame, and silence can we effectively minister to those who are hurting. Congregations must work to become safe places where we can be vulnerable and real with one another. Our children and youth need us to stand with them and offer support.
This week’s focus verse is brought to you by the unusual book of Daniel!
Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3
Most children will associate the book of Daniel only with the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. Today’s short reading is one of encouragement for people who are short on hope and long on despair.
Ask the children if they have ever felt afraid or confused. Most of them will be able to share an experience or feeling with you. Tell them that this is a promise to those who are faithful and that like so many other faithful witnesses throughout history (including Daniel!), they too can shine with wisdom as they increase their faith and walk with Jesus. You might even have them lead the congregation in a rousing version of “This Little Light of Mine.” Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week’s lessons remind us that we are also called to steward hope. The church is one place where hope should be found in abundant supply. This week consider how you can best use your time, talents, and resources to be a steward of hope in uncertain times.
Stewardship at Home
What’s the best way to counter fear and anxiety in uncertain times? Remember that you are a beloved child of God and that nothing can change that AND take some simple action to make the world a better place.
Check out this story of the retired carpenter who put his skills to good use by constructing and placing simple wooden crosses at sites of mass shootings. Greg Zanis lost his father-in-law to gun violence, and this was how he turned his mourning into healing. Over the last 20 years Zanis has built and placed about 20,000 crosses.
What simple actions might you take? Can you use your baking or cooking skills? Art, music or poetry? Writing cards? Coordinating vigils? Passing out pocket packs of tissues? All of us have some way to help heal this world. Remember Bishop Desmond Tutu’s words: “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate…”
Here’s a look back at our 2015 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/11/hold-fast-keep-the-faith/
And here’s the 2012 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/11/no-time-for-fear-or-loathing/
Photos: Governor Tom Wolf, Tex Texin, and James Trosh, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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