Theme: The end is coming?
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, you are the creator of all there is and we are your creation; you called us to be in relationship with you and you have never left us orphaned; be with us during calamities, both natural and unnatural, strengthening our faith and hope for the future, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Have you heard? Hollywood says we have three years left until the apocalypse.
Hollywood, always a reliable scientific and spiritual source, is basing its prediction on the ancient Mayan long-count calendar. This is a calendar which correctly predicted an astonishing number of other astrological and mathematical events. Unfortunately for the Mayans, even the best math couldn’t factor in and figure out some highly unexpected variables – like their own demise.
This ancient and powerful Mayan culture didn’t foresee the arrival and ultimate invasion of a bunch of Spanish soldiers of fortune — soldiers bearing weapons the Mayans had never seen and bringing diseases their bodies had never encountered. The advanced Mayan technology that had carefully calculated “the end of the world” on 21 December 2012, was unable to perceive that “the end of THEIR world” was only a few decades away.
Regardless of the fact that the Mayans couldn’t foresee the end of their own civilization, the Mayan prediction of 2012 as the end of human civilization has captured the imagination of popular culture. The fact that the 5,125 year Mayan calendar comes to an end on 21 December 2012 is giving bad dreams and bad thoughts to a whole new generation.
The 21st day of December is the feast day of St. Thomas. So, some doubt about all of this would be appropriate. Of course, there are dates that speak volumes just by their numbers. Here are a few of them: 1776, 1789, 1000, and 428.
We process time and give it meaning by dates. But the date that you’re going to hearing more and more of is 2012, the alleged end-of-the-world date.
People who claim US citizenship have always been particularly entranced by end-of-the-world scenarios. Maybe it is because our own national history is so relatively short. Maybe it is because our roots are less deeply planted, making uprooting less intimidating. Think here of the Shakers, the Amana society, Millerites, all of whom lived all their lives preparing for the end.
Those that jumped on the apocalyptic bandwagon have often been those who have the least to lose in the event of a widespread materialistic meltdown. Recent immigrants, already uprooted, sometimes decide to send their hopes heavenward instead of sinking roots earthward. The poorest, the disenfranchised, those pushed to the edges and margins because of race, education, disabilities or just plain poverty, have always been rich soil for the germination of apocalyptic angst.
From the ancient Mayans to Nostradamus to Y2K and now 2012, there has never been any shortage of end-of-the-world scenarios. The predictions of a “nuclear winter” have been replaced by global warming, and there is still a debate over whether the devastating climate changes will bring drought or floods to vast regions of the earth — but the general agreement among all these scenarios is, “its gonna be bad.”
The grimness of our environmental condition is relentlessly apocalyptic. Technological breakthroughs unaccompanied by spiritual breakthroughs can be apocalyptic. There is no such thing as a happy ending, apocalyptically speaking.
We have a prayer in the Great Litany in the prayer book that asks that we not, “die suddenly and unprepared.” We have a need to know when our demise is coming. And yet at the same time, even when we do know, we often deny it is going to happen soon. The disciples, from history, believe that if the temple is destroyed, then very bad times will ensue.
Chapter 13 of Mark’s gospel is often called the Apocalypse of Mark. Jesus, as we heard last week, is talking about the end of a corrupt religious system. The center of that system is the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is leaving the temple for the last time before his execution.
One of the disciples remarks about the grandeur of the building rebuilt by King Herod. He may be thinking of a time when the Davidic kingdom would be restored. Jesus popped the disciple’s balloon. “Do you see these great buildings? Those large and impressive stones will all be torn down.” Everything is transient. The corrupt system centered in the temple complex will be destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.
Then the group heads over to the Mount of Olives. We are not told whether or not the disciples talked about what Jesus said about the temple on their way to the mount. If they weren’t buzzing about it, they must have had the words swirling in the minds.
Mark tells us that Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple. There is a valley separating Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives is not terribly high, but it does overlook Jerusalem. So Jesus could look down from the Mount of Olives onto the temple complex. The temple complex was huge.
Either out of curiosity or sent as a delegation for the rest of the disciples, the inner circle of Peter, James, and John and Peter’s brother, Andrew, approach Jesus, privately. Notice that they take for granted that what Jesus said about the destruction of the temple was a done deal. What they want is some kind of warning signs that will tell them when this destruction will take place.
The first thing Jesus says is to watch out for deceivers. Don’t listen to people who will lead you astray. There will be many who claim to be Jesus’ prophet or spokesperson. They will use Jesus’ name and fool people. When wars or rumors of wars are bandied about, don’t be frightened. This is routine history. This is necessary, but it’s not the end. There will be wars. There will be earthquakes. There will be starvation. These will only be the beginnings of the things to come.
Then our reading ends with an implied, “To be continued.” We have been made part of a lectionary serial, like the ones that had many parts during Saturday matinees. (That dates me doesn’t it?) Jesus does tell them that they will undergo persecution. He also gives them more signs.
Chapter 13 of Mark is typical of Jewish apocalyptic thought of his day. The assumption is that God controls everything in the world and that the world has become so evil that God is going to set things right by wiping out what is here and starting over – a new creation.
We have heard this before. The world was so evil that God sent a flood. Only Noah and his family were spared. The people of the kingdom of Israel were so evil that God took away the kingdom and its people and they were never heard from ever again in history. The people of the kingdom of Judah were so evil that they were destroyed and all but the very poor were sent into exile in Babylon.
The destruction of the temple would be the second time the temple was destroyed. The Babylonians were the first destroyers. The new Babylon, Rome, will destroy the temple for good.
The Book of Revelation continues this same theme. The world is evil. God will destroy the world, including the temple. God will create a new earth, a New Jerusalem. Instead of worshipping God at a temple, the people of the New Jerusalem will worship God in person.
What is God’s goal for the world? Is it to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem? Is it to be satisfied with an ever widening gap between the rich and the poor? Is it to be satisfied with churches who exclude people who are different from the typical worshipper, be they of a different skin color, or of a different socio-economic background, or a different sexual orientation?
No. Again, I say no. The church is for all people. We, the church, are to love one another, unconditionally. We, the church just as Jesus did, are to reach out to those different from us. We, the church, are to stay alert and watch for the coming of the Son of Man.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, renew in us the gift of hope that in all the cares, concerns, shocks, and illnesses we receive that you are ever present and ever mindful of our needs, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Mark 13:1-8 (NRSV)
13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’a and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 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.
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 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.