TO THE RESCUE?
Rev. Dr. Joyce Antila Phipps
Old First Church November 14, 2021
Daniel 12: 1-3; Mark 13: 1-13
The Jesus Book and Gift Store on Route 22 has a bumper sticker for sale that reads: “In case of Rapture, this car will be empty.” Totally apart from misreading certain passages from Hebrew prophets and combining them with statements attributed to Jesus such as the one we heard this morning, it takes quite a bit of chutzpah to make such a statement about yourself.
End times. Different images appear when we hear those words. They include everything from the Timothy LaHaye novels, which, by the way, are so badly written that one could hardly even attribute the word novel to describe them, to internet predictions of when the Second Coming will actually occur.
Predictions of the end of the world and the Second Coming have been around since the time of Paul, who wrote fifteen to twenty years before this Gospel was put to pen. The year 1000 CE was thought to be the end of the world, but it went on.
And, here in America in 1844 Baptist preacher William Miller led a group of people waiting for the end of the world, but it didn’t come. Miller just told his flock he had miscalculated the dates he had figured from Scripture. They accepted his explanation of what became termed the “Great Disappointment” and became Seventh Day Adventists who still end their worship with the phrase “Until the Lord comes.”
What it is difficult for us to realize is for many living in the time Mark was written, it did seem like the end of the world. But first, a little background. A short history, I promise you.
It would be an understatement to say that Rome had a hard time trying to rule Judea and Galilee, the areas we now call the Holy Land. Most people lived on the edge of starvation, and resented paying any tribute to Rome, collected by the so-called Jewish leaders – we would call them collaborators, a Vichy government.
Droughts in the 40s and 50s made matters worse. Both Peter and Paul had already been killed; the small Christian communities had already left Jerusalem, having been thrown out of the synagogues. Nero’s taxation policies exacerbated the situation and when the Roman governor Gessius Florus plundered the Second Temple in the year 66, a large scale revolt broke out.
To make a long story short, by the year 70, just before Mark’s gospel was put to pen, Rome brought in an army, razed Jerusalem, massacred its remaining inhabitants, and destroyed the temple. It seemed like the end of the world.
Believers who now called themselves Christians had been handed over to councils, expelled from the synagogues, and were put to trial before officials. If they did not renounce their beliefs indicated by sacrifice to the Emperor, they were tortured and killed. Families really did turn in other family members to be sure if only to save themselves. It was a really terrible time.
This is, of course, not our time, not at least here in the United States. True, there are those who see themselves as “persecuted,” groups that preach a radical message not of love but of rigid boundaries and inflexible thinking. The people in this group are unable to accept the changes that have occurred in American society and the world as well.
It’s the reason why such ideologies as the QAnon have caught on. When people cannot deal with the change around them, they create conspiracy theories to explain why the world is the way it is. QAnon may be the more extreme example, but it is unfortunately not the only one.
The Nazi-like marches of the pseudo-macho right wing are, I believe, a response to the broader societal changes that threaten traditional gender roles A famous historian once said that the challenge of any society was what to do with its young men.
Just as the Nazis had ideas about the relationship of men and women, so did the men – and if you look at the photos, the marchers were male – who were more than simply a political statement on white nationalism, although that was certainly a central element. Their cry of “Jews will not replace us” was more than anti-Semitism. It was a cry to go back several hundred years in societal relationships.
The statements in Mark’s Gospel do have relevance to us today in spite of the fact of two thousand years between the Gospel and us today. The writer calls us to watch, to take care. There is no definite time of when we must stop watching, for “the end is yet to come.” Mark’s Jesus does not predict a date but a way of living in a world where there is hostility to the radical transformation of society into the kingdom of God.
This passage must be seen not only in its historical context but in the deeper meaning it can bring to us today. We are called to live as a people transformed by the way of life we are called to live by Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout this Gospel and the others, there is a single message: if we are to live as Christians, we must radically alter our relationship with the powers that try to control our lives.
We are to live in resistance to the powers that call us to worship wealth and to ignore the rest of the world. We are to live as if this world we inhabit really matters. We must change our ways of living by consuming less, sharing more, and that cuts across every political issue from the environment to sharing vaccines and health care to food to literally everything we do.
Quite frankly, it’s not easy to change the way we live, not for me or you. When I think about these pages and put sermons to pen, I feel judgment on my own life as well as on the priorities of society. I question my own lifestyle, my own priorities. I pray they are not found wanting.
Let us come to God in prayer: Holy Mystery of our lives who calls us to be your servants, help us to live as you would want, as we are called to live by Jesus of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord. Amen.