Good morning. It is wonderful to be here with you this morning at OSA. I am grateful to Pastor John for inviting me to share the Word and to all of you for your warm welcome. I am so glad I can be here worshipping with you on this 25th Sunday after Pentecost, or, as I personally think it should be called, Apocalypse Sunday.
In our texts for today- both in Daniel and in Mark, we hear some pretty intense revelations about what is in store for us. Anguish. Wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Famines. The end of the world. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear street corner preachers shouting that the world is ending while I am just trying to make my way to the train, I’m not overly convinced. Or when I turn on the news and hear about those special folks who come out of the woodwork every few years to initiate the countdown to the last days, I kind of go woohoo those guys are nuts. That’s not my Christianity. But then there are Sundays like this one. When the texts for our worship are kinda like that. And when our scripture points so powerfully to the reality outside our church doors that we cannot continue our usual practice of ignoring apocalyptic Jesus.
It’s so grim. And yet, somehow, our text from Mark for today is the Gospel – the good news. Though it is hard for us to understand in our context, apocalypse in the context of the Bible is good news. Because these passages we find in Scripture foretelling the end of the world emerged out of communities for whom life was so unbearable that they could see no way out except through God turning everything upside down. The community that produced Mark’s Gospel, for instance, was violently persecuted, tortured and killed under the Roman emperor Nero for following the way of Jesus. So for them, the idea raised by these texts that agony and suffering was in store frankly was not that scary – because they were already living it every day. Instead, they took profound comfort in the promise of God found in these texts – they were reassured by Jesus’ assertion that though the world seems to be falling apart around them, all is not lost. “The end is still to come.” Do not be alarmed, Jesus tells them, the end is not in the hands of Nero. It is in the hands of God, who will bring about a new day of peace, justice and hope.
Living as we do in relative peace and privilege here in the U.S., it is hard in many ways to identify with the persecuted communities for whom these books were written. In fact, in many ways, we so-called “first world” folks share more in common with the empires that Mark’s community hoped God would topple than we do with oppressed. And yet, we too know what it is to feel anguish and terror in the world around us and see no way out. We know what it is to witness innocent people killed in a borderless war that has spiraled so out far of control that everything we do only seems to make things worse. We know what it is to see our own children shot senselessly in our schools and to have nothing be done about it so often that we have come to believe that nothing can be done. We know what it is to see black churches burning while many continue to deny that racism persists in this country. We weep helplessly as violence begets violence, fear begets fear, despair begets despair. So often, it feels like there is now way out.
Sometimes, it feels like the end of the world.
But Jesus tells a different story. To his disciples who are about to lose their messiah to crucifixion, to Mark’s community in the throes of persecution, to a world beset by violence and terror today, to each and every one of us wherever we experience despair, Jesus proclaims “do not be alarmed - the end is still to come.” The end is still to come. It is not in the hands of evildoers or persecutors or fear mongers. The end is in the hands of the God who has claimed us, the God of new beginnings.
There is pain in this world. But in Jesus Christ, the pain of this world is transformed from the pain of dying into the pain of new birth. Entering into our fragile, human body, God entered into the midst of the struggle of this world. That God who died at our hands and rose among us in love – that God is in labor. It is so hard to see but God is laboring all the time amidst the debris of shattered windows, bones and hearts to bring new life into being. Some of our doomsday preachers and terrorists claiming to act on God’s behalf would have us believe that God afflicts the world with suffering to punish sinner and bring about redemption for those who love God. But Jesus proclaims to us that in a world filled with suffering, God never ceases to move redemptively out of love ALL OF us. For the ones who love God and the ones who don’t. For the crucifiers and the crucified. For the victims and perpetrators. Loving with love that no hatred can overcome. This is our hope and our lifeblood. God refuses to allow terror and death to have the last word.
In just a few short days, Jesus will be betrayed, arrested, abandoned by his friends, tortured, killed and buried in the tomb. He knows this will happen but he continues down the path, never ceasing to proclaim the good news of God’s redeeming love for the world. Trusting that new life is on the other side of even the most horrific death. So on the Mount of Olives, he warns the disciples, and he warns us: this road will not be easy. Not for you or for anyone. But instead of hiding out in fear or shutting your eyes, you are invited to walk with me into the messy, painful realities of this world and to tell the truth about God’s love that cannot be defeated. To resist the tyranny of violence and terror that tells us to let fear dictate our lives. We are invited to seek peace in the midst of endless war. To pursue solutions where the world tells us none can be found. To build bridges, to reconcile, to love. To proclaim the good news in word and deed to the hopeless and despairing: this isn’t it - the end, God’s new beginning, is still to come.
Today, Jesus tells us a hard truth: this world can be a painful place, full of anguish that no one should have to know. On this apocalypse Sunday, let us look that truth in the eye. Let us weep with those who weep and cry out to God for healing and justice for all this world. And let us also to grab firmly to the hope that is our inheritance. Because the future is sure already in Christ, the one who was and is and is to come. Our tortured, killed and risen Lord who with his very life assures us: the end is still to come. The stone will roll away. The God of life is laboring in this world. What we think is the end is just the beginning of the birth pangs. God grant us the courage to push with you in your labor of love.
Becca Seely is pastor of The Vine NYC, a worshiping community of college and graduate students in New York City, and the Executive Director of Lutheran Ministries in Higher Education, a pan-Lutheran non-profit committed to supporting campus ministry throughout the Metro New York area.