MARK 13:1-8As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 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.”
This is our last time reading from the Gospel of Mark for a few years. We end with a bang: an apocalyptic siren call of civil upheaval, natural disasters and the crumbling of society’s mighty bastions. “Change is a comin’!” says our Lord. There was a day when this type of apocalyptic message felt like a quaint relic of an ancient anxiety. But not today. With dire climate change reports, alarming economic predictions and the rise of nationalistic political powers we hear anew the prophecy of drastic change ahead. How is this good news? In other words, how do we stay in relationship with God and deepen as followers of Christ when we feel panic, fear and despair about the future?
As one sojourner to another, I share my spiritual path.
- Grieve the past and the expected future. Like Jesus who wept at the death of a friend, we need to cry, sob and wail for what we thought would transpire. The loss is great, so the grieving will need to be profound. If we don’t grieve, we sacrifice our children to an irrelevant past we hold onto. What are we grieving? 1) a belief that convenience is good. 2) an economic system that puts making money above all else and a belief that accumulation is good. 3) the privilege that comes from a belief that one gender, skin colour, economic status and culture is better than another. 4) a belief that we could be truly happy while being selfish, greedy, apathetic and destructive.
- When the grieving subsides and we begin to catch our breath and see through tear-stained eyes, we will begin to imagine the new life before us: Imagine having lots of friends and feeling the joy of belonging and feeling connected. Imagine feeling like you are building up rather than the impotency of recklessly destroying. Imagine feeling a state of balance between the bottom-line, the scientific, the social and the spiritual. Imagine seeing all people thrive because they can access clean water, reasonable income, suitable housing, good education and work. Imagine the simple pleasure of acquiring food for a meal and not carting home five pounds of non-biodegradable plastic!
- Take one small step toward a new and unknown future. Start small, but do something, anything.
- Seek God’s activity that is just outside our doors and awaits us. Reach out to others, talk to them about what you are doing and how you are feeling. Make the effort to connect with family, friends and the local community.
- Unrelentingly adhere to the foundations of prayer, worship and loving action. Spiritual renewal will transform your life and make possible what at first felt impossible and overwhelming.
- Share the good news! Proclaim the Way of Love in word and deed as the world awaits!
1 SAMUEL 2:1-10 As Psalm My heart exults in the Lord; I rejoice in your salvation. My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. There is no Holy One like you, O Lord, nor any Rock like you, our God. For you are a God of knowledge and by you our actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full now search bread, but those who were hungry are well fed. The barren woman has borne sevenfold, but she who has many children is forlorn. Both the poor and the rich are of your making, you bring low and you also exalt. You raise up the poor from the dust, and lift the needy from the ash heap. You make them sit with the rulers, and inherit a place of honour. For the pillars of the earth are yours and on them you have set the world.
This is a song of praise sung by Hannah after she learns that she will have a child. You can hear echoes of it in Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificant, which she sang after meeting her cousin Elizabeth. Both Hannah and Mary knew their children would be instruments of God’s grace who would serve to bring in the reign of God’s kingdom. But when we read it carefully we wonder how this song is good news. God’s kingdom promises to be a great economic leveller so that all can enjoy abundance, strength and life. This is God’s way. In the quiet of our prayer time, do we yearn for such a day? Could we sing this song of praise? Share with God in prayer or journalling where this reading chafes and challenges.
1 SAMUEL 1:4-20 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favour in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer. They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
This is a difficult reading for those who have struggled with infertility. It seems to suggest that if you follow Hannah’s example and simply pray hard enough God will provide and your prayers will be answered. But we know it doesn’t work that way. God is not a heavenly wish-dispenser. What Hannah prayed for she was also prepared to sacrifice for. What sacrificing might we be asked to make for those things we pray for?
HEBREWS 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Glad this is the last time we read from Hebrews. The writer focuses “again and again” on Jesus’ being the perfect sacrifice whose death covers humanity’s sins forever. However, the last few verses are lovely and profound: “Provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together.” What does it mean to “provoke” one another to love? (I wonder if this is rabbinical exaggeration? The Greek word means irritate.)We know well how to provoke one another to anger. We see this all around us, particularly in the current political discourse. It is a weapon used to undermine. To provoke to love would mean to create situations of trust that bring the best out in people.
In my prayer time I reflect: What makes me more loving? How can I prompt others to be more loving?