Ordinary 33 Mark 13:1-8 Being There: Lauris Edmond. p 128, Earth's Deep Breathing
Video available on YouTube, Facebook
I have to own I am not a fan of readings such as the gospel this morning that comes from what is often referred to as Mark's ‘little apocalypse’.
I think that is because it reminds me of my teenage years walking up Queen St when is seemed every corner had its ‘end time’ preacher proclaiming the end of the world, reminding passers by how little time we had left to repent and prepare to meet our maker!
On reflection, it seems our world of today is in an even more dire situation than it was then!
Now days it is not just hearsay, we have experienced for ourselves fires and floods and stones tumbling down, we have heard and have seen videos of famine and homelessness, of mass migration and vitriolic posturing by world leaders and religious leaders warning of dreadful things and urging division and discrimination and self-protection – all the things that Christian fundamentalists such as the old street preachers told us signaled the end of the world. I found it very scary when young then dismissed it as 'crackpot' when an all knowing teenager!
Amongst Biblical scholars there is discussion as to whether this apocalyptic style portion of the gospel we know as Mark was written by the same writer who compiled the rest of the gospel or if it is instead a later insert. That doesn’t matter to me, as I’ve mentioned before, my discipline is to address readings head on and not skirt around the ones I don’t like!
So how can we address this reading today, small portion though it is of what is a chapter, seemingly, about the end of the world as it was known.
Context makes all the difference! And knowing something about the context of Mark's time helps us understand the gospel and be provoked to think about these verses in relation to our own time.
We’ve heard how the time of Jesus, and the years following his death, was one of turmoil and oppression for the people of Judaea. How there had been numerous uprisings and revolts responded to by the Roman governors by bringing in thousands of soldiers to keep a lid on things. The religious leaders, based in the glorious gold and marble and fine-wood Temple, were accused by the people of being in cahoots with the governor and his soldiers. Consequently they were not loved and not respected by the general population who were finding life more and more difficult as a result of the heavy taxes, and the diversion of food to feed all the soldiers and the Roman administration – to say nothing of temple taxes and strict purity laws. Thousands of protestors and ‘revolutionaries’ were crucified during this time and the preceding decades, including Jesus, for their preaching and teaching against this Roman oppression and the Temple collusion.
So, what if we take a lesson from other parts of the gospel, in particular the parables, and turn the whole account on its head?
What if, instead of hearing it as a warning of the end times and perseverating fearfully and resignedly on that aspect, we hear it as an account included in the gospel to bring comfort and hope, a call to get ready for action, for change?
Is this possible do you think?
· Certainly life and hope is what I want to preach, not death and despair; not passivity and helplessness;
· Certainly life and hope is what I believe the sweep of biblical teaching offers – notwithstanding the difficult passages of judgment and death.
· Certainly life and hope is what we seem to need in our own time of despair and world turmoil and predictions of a heating planet and daily news of increasing selfishness and evidence of despair.
· Certainly we need good-news in our time as Marks contemporaries needed good-news in theirs.
The writer of Mark seems to be convinced that things were just about as bad as they could get.
Then comes the Son of Man, a child of the people, their representative, in all the glory of a redeemed, liberated future.
If we are watching out for a child of the people today, for those who offer us a caution or a message of hopeful change, if we are prepared to engage openly with others who may be different from us; if we are willing to listen to their message and reflect on its capacity to benefit the earth and earth creatures such as us; if we are willing to cast our lot with this Son of Man and resist all that destroys and dehumanises and divides … then things will change for our communities and our world too. Hope and life will be sustained; life will be restored from impending death; resurrection will come to the earth and its creatures; we will find community and a just and peaceful future together.
We have just concluded Living Wage Week, you will have seen the billboard and its message. Overcoming systems that have produced the wealth gap that divides our increasingly unequal society is one practical way life and hope can be restored to a significant number of families and people struggling for fair pay for the work they do. Your support is necessary if this movement is going to bring the change it is working for. So watch and listen for those who are in places and can make decisions to pay people a wage sufficient to live on – be that in your own work place or in local government or central government, ensure those who provide services for you pay a living wage to their staff.
Keep your ears open for how we can support a sustainable environment … public transport to reduce fossil fuel emissions; reducing the amount of meat you eat; refusing plastic bags; if you have space try growing lettuce and tomatoes; planting trees instead of cutting them down and nurturing our green spaces, our bees and our birds; supporting however you can those people who are doing what you can't do yourself but would like to be able to.
Pray – bring into focused attention the changes you live for and the people whose lives matter to you.
As Advent approaches and we are challenged to 'read the signs' of the times and to be the change we pray for, I encourage you not to be overwhelmed by the size of the task – the stones of our temples of finance and inequality, despair and disregard for a sustainable future, certainly do look huge, but, our imagination, our faith, our story of hope and of life from death – our capacity to bring about change when we work together is even bigger.
We were called into a community of hope and struggle, those who will be baptised this morning are joining our ranks, and together we will move into a future bringing hope and redemption with us.