End Times?

Scripture: Mark 13:1-8

Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Presbyterians don’t usually discuss the end times; therefore I found it interesting that Jill Duffield, in her weekly electronic newsletter on behalf of the Presbyterian Outlook, commented on today’s passage from Mark with some eloquence. She writes,

“Wars, civil wars, natural disasters, famine. Check, check, check and check. I can read the headlines and spin the globe on any given day and see Jesus’ signs of the End Times [emblazoned] in print or pixels. I confess, I am alarmed. Even if these are the birth pangs of the new life, new era, new God-thing on the horizon, I am alarmed. I have no idea if these are signs of the End Times. We Christians have been waiting a long time. We’ve been in labor for millennia with no pain relief in sight. All has not been thrown down. The world order of the rich getting richer and the poor getting trampled remains.

The recent climate report that detailed how we are about to fall off a global warming cliff alarms me. The images of starving children in Yemen, babies of skin and bones, alarms me. Reading stories of people risking their lives, leaving all they have, walking to our border in order to escape poverty and violence and terror, alarms me. Another mass shooting and another and another. I am nothing but alarmed right now and this promise of a birth somewhere in the sometime future does not assuage my ever-growing anxiety… Jesus, how can you tell your followers, “do not be alarmed”?

But first, I need to stop in the temple while it still stands and pray like a drunkard alongside Hannah. I need to beg for new life, for hope, for relief. I need a reassuring word from Jesus, yes, but also from Eli, from a fellow believer with more perspective and a little more confidence that you will do what you promise. I don’t care how foolish, crazed or uncollected I appear. I am feeling foolish, crazed and uncollected. I need to pour out my heart to you for a while, lament those crushed by poverty, drowned in the natural disasters, left to die in deserts, dance floors and war zones. Do you hear, Lord? Eli? Can we talk in private, because I have some questions about the End Times and about our times and I’d like a few answers, please. I am … deeply troubled and I know I am not alone in that sentiment right now.” [1]

Well, that was pretty eloquent, wasn’t it? Do I have any agreement out there? Maybe an “Amen” or two? I would like to elucidate a bit more on that, however. Mark’s passage for today is echoed in both the other two synoptic gospels. Matthew and Luke both have culminating upheavals in their accounts, “predictions of political unrest, natural disasters, and persecution of the community of believers.”[2]

The term “apocalypse” that we might hear used with talk of “end times” refers to complete and utter destruction of everything we know and hold dear. However, as Jesus is speaking about the coming of the Kingdom of God, what this passage actually describes is a closing of one era and the ushering in of a new.

Ah, we are a bit more familiar with that, aren’t we? There was the great Boom-time post WWII when veterans came home from the war and engaged in rebuilding of America and establishing family dynasties. There was the fermenting – in more than one way – of the 60’s with all kinds of experimentation and alternate living styles. Vietnam, the cold war, the Berlin Wall coming down, the internet, Twin Towers, smart phones, Afghanistan, Iraq…

It’s actually hard to pin-point what age past behind and when the digital age we currently live in actually began; but the smart phone age started in 2012, just two years before I was ordained in this Sanctuary on Christ the King Sunday, four years ago. So where does that leave us with today’s text?

“In two quick scene changes, Jesus moves from the grandeur of the temple to the Mount of Olives directly across from it to proclaim impending destruction. In keeping with other apocalyptic literature, Jesus uses signs and events of [his] day to signal the coming of the end of the current age. Yet with this end is the birth of [a] new age. Remarkably, in the midst of the predictions of destruction, if not annihilation, lie the seeds of salvation.”[3]

If in such times as these we are witnessing the planting of seed for a harvest not yet come, then shouldn’t we be a hopeful people? Hopeful people take the signs of the times and pay them only as much heed as is needed to till the ground, plant the seeds, and wait until spring brings new growth bursting forth from the tomb of winter’s sleep. Meantime, how do we live in waiting? Winter is a good time to ruminate deeply on life and its messages. A good time to consider what it is like to move from darkness to light, from alienation to community, from guilt to pardon, from slavery to freedom, from fear to assurance.

Let me lay another sheet down on the blueprint of these end time scriptures. You have heard me preach on occasion before concerning the Age of the Spirit, how a spiritual upheaval is being superimposed upon our current existence. We hear about spiritual but not religious people and hyphenated persons of faith who patchwork together a quilt of their spiritual sojourns. They seem to take something from all the spiritual traditions of the world, some from here, some from there, something from East, something from West…and then weave a blanket of spirituality around themselves of some form or other. Well and good, at least they are searching, knocking, seeking, perhaps even finding. But as our door opens unto them, it is of paramount importance that the best of who we are is represented at all times. We are the hands and feet of Christ, now, so let us serve the world Jesus loved so much he came to save. Let us, above all, offer hope.

“Whatever time it is, we are not at the end. That means we hope. That means we need to meet together. That means we pray. That means we provoke one another to love and good deeds. That means we stay with the pain, breathe and hold fast to the One who gives us a Son who never turns away from the hurt of the world. That means we relentlessly work for peace no matter how persistent the violence, we help those in the middle of disasters, natural or otherwise, we feed the hungry and care for the sick, knowing that’s how we want to be found whenever Jesus returns and whenever our end, or the End, comes.”[4]

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Jill Dufield, “Looking into the Lectionary,” Presbyterian Outlook, November 12, 2018 (http://pres-outlook.org/category/ministry-resources/looking-into-the-lectionary/).

[2] Emilie M. Townes, “Theological Perspective, Mark 13:1-8” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jill Dufield, “Looking into the Lectionary,” Presbyterian Outlook, November 12, 2018 (http://pres-outlook.org/category/ministry-resources/looking-into-the-lectionary/).

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you ever think about the End Times? What does it mean to you? How is your life shaped by Jesus’ words in this week’s Gospel reading?
  2. Are you alarmed? If so, why? Is being alarmed unfaithful?
  3. The Hebrews text admonishes Christians to meet together. How are you meeting together and what difference do those gatherings make for you? Others?
  4. How do we provoke one another to love and good deeds?
  5. Have you ever prayed like Hannah? Was there an Eli present to hear and counsel you?
  6. Have you ever been in the presence of one who was deeply troubled? How did you respond?

Household Prayer: Morning

Dear God, Empower me to encourage others for the glory of your name as I go throughout my day. In Jesus’ name I ask it. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Dear God, Thank you for keeping me throughout the day. Grant me a night of peaceful rest, and put a song of praise in my heart when I wake in the morning. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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