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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November 15, 2015

Gospel: Mark 13:1-8 
1st Reading: Daniel 12:1-3 
2nd Reading Hebrews 10:11-25

I've had a song stuck in my head all week. It's part of the opening credits to a show I like called “The Leftovers” about a bunch of people left behind after a mysterious, rapture-like disappearance of millions of people from the earth. The song was written by Iris Dement in 1993 and it goes like this:

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say once you're gone you're gone forever, and some say you're gonna come back.
Some say you rest in the arms of the Savior if in sinful ways you lack.
Some say that they're comin' back in a garden, bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

It isn't always easy to let the mystery be. We humans are curious by nature. We want to know how things work and how they are going to turn out. The people in the book of Daniel were getting frustrated. They were in a time of great persecution—Judaism had been outlawed, the temple desecrated, and their leaders co-opted. But they didn't see the people who were hurting them get what was coming to them. They noticed that life wasn't fair. Good things happened to bad people and bad things happen to good people and it didn't make any sense. So this is the first time that people were thinking of an afterlife. If it doesn't happen in this life that people get what they deserve, then maybe it is in the next life that people are rewarded or punished in heaven or hell. 

Maybe it sounds like they aren't letting the mystery be as the song suggests. They are actually imagining one possible end to this terrible situation they are in that might work for them.

Sterling has nightmares a few times a month. One person suggested to me that it might be helpful to have him imagine another possible ending to the dream than the scary one he experienced. He is finally old enough now that he can do that. Maybe the Jewish people here can bear their situation by imagining some outcomes that they can live with. Maybe their vision of another outcome would be enough to give them hope to go on. How can they not let the political situation of that time derail their faith and make them give up? How can they not let the injustice distract them from their focus on serving and loving God? They don't just picture the demise of their enemies, but they picture their guardian angel, Michael, looking over them, as well as the wise shining brightly and being recognized, and those who lead many to righteousness shining like the stars. In those days, folks thought the stars were angels in the sky. The heavens, the realm of God, seemed so far away, yet visible, accessible. Many people I know today, still look up at the stars and see their loved one who has passed away watching over them. Some even have a particular star they associate with their loved one. This brings those who seem far away, near enough to feel the comfort of their presence. The shining of the righteous ones is a beautiful outcome and alternate story to the nightmare they were living.

The people that the Gospel writer Mark was writing to also were in some scary times. Probably the temple had been destroyed. There were wars and rumors of wars. There were earthquakes and famines. They could picture one possible outcome to all of this—everything they new would be destroyed and their faith would falter. But Jesus offers them a hopeful picture. He tells them another ending to their story to give them hope and preserve them in faith. He says not to put their hope in things that are temporary, even impressive buildings. And he tells them that all these scary things are not an end, but a beginning. They are “but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Something new is being born. Even though it is a scary time, this is also a hopeful time. He doesn't tell them exactly what will be born. He leaves that to their imaginations, so each can take the story where God leads them, but they know it will be different from what has been going on, those who persecute them won't be in power anymore, God's good purpose will be fulfilled, something new will be born that will be good.

This week, we celebrated Veterans Day. I can't imagine the nightmare that soldiers experience in war. I am sure that they must hold a vision of a different future than the violent one they see before them in order to endure. I have heard that soldiers hold first in their minds their brothers and sisters in arms. They give their all for the well-being of the soldiers fighting beside them. Certainly, they hold in mind the welfare of their loved ones back home. And finally, they picture their country, free and bold, caring for all within our borders, protecting those in need, providing meaningful work and progress, as well as the beauty of our nation, the mountains and forests, rivers and fields. What a beautiful vision to give hope, an ending to this nightmare that they could live with and even thrive in.

And as we all watched the news all weekend, it makes us feel helpless and afraid. Maybe we picture our enemies being destroyed, but more than that I think God tells us not to lose hope, that justice will be served, and that one day we'll all sit down together at one table, understand and value each other, and live in peace and unity. It seems impossible right now. There is a lot of grieving to do, a lot yet to be sorted out. But God is with all of us as hurting people, whatever country we are from, or whatever our religion. 

Even the reading from Hebrews helps people envision a different future. Have you ever been disappointed by your priest and wondered why you keep coming to worship week after week when nothing ever seems to change and people are hypocritical? Are there times you've felt unworthy of God's love? Do you sometimes feel that nothing lasts? Do you get frustrated by all the injustice and hate all around us? We're not going to gloss over it and pretend that its all right. We're going to find a way to hold fast to hope and that is to look to Jesus Christ.

Let Jesus be your hope. Let him offer an alternate ending to the story that causes the paralyzing fear that we constantly live with. Christ is the one who always has been and always will be, the reliable one. Christ is one who judges and forgives, who invites us into his family, who knows what we're going through, who gave it all up for us. Christ is the powerful one, who is the source of all creativity, who is the breath of God moving in this world, who brings life out of death. Christ is our hope. He always fulfills his promises. He is always present with us. He is compassionate and loving.

The temptation is not to let the mystery be or to let God's alternate vision guide us, but to decide who is at fault and what all the answers are, right away. In our fear, we sometimes think that violence is the answer, swift and strong. Sometimes we move so quickly to blaming that we never look at our own complacency or our own country's roll in training killers or making weapons that destroy. It is hard to let the mystery be and say, “I just don't know. I don't know why someone would do this. I don't know the proper response that won't just make things worse. I don't know. But I do hurt, and not just for the people of France who look more like me, but the people of Kenya and Syria and Baghdad where this kind of violence is more commonplace.” And when we do watch the footage of people running in fear, that we also have in mind God's vision where there will be no more crying, where the wolf will lie down with the lamb, where all will be fed and loved.

The point is not to get distracted from our journey of faith by fearful visions and nightmares that lead us astray. Instead, if we can let ourselves picture that goal of what the Kingdom of God looks like, we won't lose our way. We'll be able to enter the sanctuary with confidence, not because of anything we've done, but because of who Jesus is and the welcome he offers. We'll be able to hold fast to our confession of hope instead of getting led astray by those who promise to save us with false promises and fancy buildings. We'll be able to provoke each other to good deeds, inspire one another to keep going, to try to make a difference. And we'll be able to encourage one another and ourselves in the process. God has a beautiful vision which God is bringing into being. We can catch glimpses of it, as God Kingdom comes, breaks into our world. It is a vision of peace and love and it isn't just a dream, but it is a promised reality that is yet to fully become, but we can catch glimpses of it. We see it when people help each other, when people share something of themselves and connect with one another. Jesus is our most clear glimpse of God's Kingdom, always inviting, giving of himself, staying connected, offering healing, offering relationship, and never blaming or resorting to violence. Instead he lived God's love until it was more than people could stand. And when we killed him, he did not come back to give us what we deserved, but loved us and claimed us God's precious children.

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