Friday, November 16, 2012

Reflections from the Pastor – Mark 13: “The Little Apocalypse”

The the text of the Gospel here: Mark 13:1-8

God’s Revelation: Jesus
When you think of the 2nd coming of Jesus – “The Apocalypse” – what imagines come to mind?  Are they images of death, and terror and destruction?  Does thinking about this provoke fear, or confidence?  Or do you just try not to think about it?  The prevailing popular attitude about the “last days” or Jesus 2nd coming seems to be death and complete destruction.  Just think of any number of movies or books which have the end of the world as its setting – “Cloud Atlas,” “The Book of Eli,” even “WALL-E.”  Death, destruction, terror, fear, suffering – these are all the impression many of us have of the coming apocalypse.  And to this we add (taken out of context from the book of Revelation) images of judgment and the (completely unbiblical, but yet very popular) belief in a “rapture” and what we end up with is something that is indeed very terrifying.  But the central question that all of this raises is this: How does this then relate to the Gospel of God’s love and grace shown forth in the incarnation, passion and resurrection of Jesus?  The difficulty with all of this popular fear-mongering is that the apocalyptic emphasis too often crowds out the grace of God and replaces it with judgment and destruction.
This weekend’s Gospel text from Mark 13 is a section of the Gospel that is called “The Little Apocalypse.”  And as we begin to look at this chapter for an answer to our central question I want to start by defining the word “apocalypse.”  The word is a Greek word that means “Revelation.”   The title of the last book of the Bible is actually “The Apocalypse of John;” that is, “The Revelation of John.”  So it is not an event – it is a revelation, an unveiling or uncovering; it is a casting into the light that which is unknown and in darkness.” So what then is the revelation of God through Jesus?
Let’s turn next to the context of this teaching: Jesus preaching in the Temple during Holy Week.  Jesus has already entered into Jerusalem.  He has already cleared the money-changers out the temple.  He has been going to the temple to teach every day since and his teachings include (in chapter 12) the parable of the wicked tenants, the answer to the question about paying taxes to Caesar, the Great Commandment and last week’s pointing to the old woman who puts her whole life into the treasury.  And following chapter 13 we move into the story of the passion itself.  And as always, following Luther’s teaching, we must read this passage not only within the immediate context of the text but also within the context of the Gospel itself.  
Now, the temple in Jerusalem was huge and it was grand. The dome was covered with plate gold so that in the sun it was so bright that people could not even look at it. Not only that but the belief was that the Temple was the place where God dwelled.  If you wanted to be close to God, or to experience the presence of God, you would go to the temple.  “Wow,” says the awe-inspired disciples, “this place is amazing!”  And Jesus says, “this temple is going to be destroyed and these magnificent stones are all going to be cast down!”  And why, because you have placed too much importance and confidence in these stones; because God will not be confined to one place; God’s love and grace knows no boundaries.
But as usual the disciples (and Jesus other listeners) cannot connect the dots. They are shocked by the idea that the great Temple could be destroyed.  Surely that can’t happen because that is where God is!  So Peter, Andrew and John question Jesus further about it, “When will this be?  How can this happen?”  And Jesus’ answer is really instructive.  He basically tells them – “Those are the wrong questions.”  All you need to do is to “Keep awake!”  The time and place of the last days along with how it will occur are really not your concern.  You have other things to do, you have others to care for, you have a calling to follow!
This is the word for us as well.  “Keep Awake!”  Do not get distracted by those who would use fear to manipulate you, who try to distract you from your call by focusing too much on “last days” and “rapture.”  Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms not to pay any attention to their lies and nonsense.  Instead to bear these things in mind:  1.) We live in a fallen world where there is pain and suffering; 2.) God’s love for God’s creation is overwhelming; 3.) God’s love is shown forth in Jesus whose passion and resurrection demonstrate God’s commitment and love and grace; 4.) And Jesus is here with us in the midst of our struggles in the form of the disciples whom he has called to be his hands and feet in the midst of this hurting world.
The amazing and unexpected “apocalypse” or revelation of God is that God’s love is so wide and deep that God continues to involved with the creation reaching out in love to all.  Our popular imagination logically comes up with destruction and terror – but God’s apocalypse is love and grace; so many expect last days to be a time of judgment and death – but God’s apocalypse in Jesus is forgiveness and life affirming!  God’s apocalypse/revelation is not death and destruction – it is life and peace!  God’s apocalypse is Jesus!
So, our Gospel for today calls for us to continue our pilgrimage, being responsible and devoted disciples of Jesus; doing the ministry God has called on us to do.  Recognizing that God is calling us to continue to Baptize disciples, to feed the saints with bread and wine, and to extend the hand of peace and fellowship to all whom we encounter; God calls us to “take up our cross and follow!”

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