I realized, recently, that I have a habit of compulsively searching for good news. I have a deep-seated fear of being thought of as a Debbie Downer in conversations, so whenever I vent to someone, or break some bad news, or discuss some awful aspect of the world, I try to tack on something good, however small.
Traffic was horrible, global warming threatens us all, and the American healthcare system is a waking nightmare. (But cat vs cucumber exists!)
I have 3 conference calls in a row, hosted by people who don’t understand the value of keeping their phones on mute when not speaking. (But, know what’s awesome? The Great British Bake-Off!!)
The good things never cancel out the bad–life doesn’t work like that–but they do help keep focus on something other than the refrain of “EVERYTHING IS AWFUL” all of the time.
But lately, the struggle to find good news has been harder than normal. My parish is dealing with several parish leaders’ health crises, one on top of another. Couple that with the spotlighting of racism at Mizzou, and the violence around the world, and by the time word broke about the attacks in Paris, I was about done. I was ready to crawl under my bed, and listen to Hamilton** until the world decided to get its stuff together.
Then, you know, I had to preach.
There are times, hopefully brief, when good news is difficult to find. And I’m not a preacher who believes that the job of the pulpit is to dispense sunshine over everything. Preaching should be truthful, since Jesus is, y’know, the Truth–so ideally, preaching should name where we are, name where God is, then take a guess at where we’re called to go next.
So, easy stuff.
Anyway, here’s what I ended up saying.
November 15, 2015
Ordinary Time, Proper 28
Every year, when we approach these propers, I think that surely, this will be the year when they seem out of place. When the world will be so quiet and blissful that the oncoming of Advent and the prophet’s lamenting and calling for justice will just seem off key, because the world will finally know a moment of peace and wholeness, and all we’ll have to worry about is actually who’s done the Christmas shopping.
But every year, when I read over Jesus’s warnings about the end, and the destruction of the temple, and wars and rumors of wars, I wonder again if he had access to Twitter. Or some sort of first-century social media. Because every year, this idea of a world on the verge of collapse seems all too familiar.
As it does today. Yet again, we’re witnessing violence and bloodshed around the world–the attacks in Paris Friday night, the attacks in Beirut, in Syria, the earthquakes in Japan, and the hatred that seems to be fester everywhere you look these days. Not to mention the smaller, more personal earthquakes that affect us as well. It’s a lot. And it’s a mess.
And it has made me wonder several times this past week how soon we could colonize Mars, because that seems like a nice option.
In this equally-scary sounding gospel, Jesus and the disciples are still hanging out in the temple, where they were last week. And they’ve just witnessed one of those small earthquakes. A poor widow (poorest of the poor, last of the least) came in and gave away the last of what she had, to support a rich and exploitative temple system. Jesus is upset–wouldn’t it have been better if one of the rich priests had given more, instead of this widow giving away all she had?
And in response, they have this conversation here. The disciples marvel at how large, how fixed, how immovable the whole thing is–the Greek here (yeah, I know, but bear with me. Because I’m going to talk about the Greek again.) The Greek here can be read like the disciple is frustrated, and not just in awe. “Good grief–how big this system is! How immense!” How could it ever change? It’s too big. It’s too broken. It’s too much to hope for.
And then comes Jesus’ apocalypse.
Here’s the thing about apocalypse. Powerful people never write them. Not real ones anyway. Powerful people, who have all the money, all the power, all the control, never want the world to change in major ways, because they like the world as it is.
The people who write apocalypses, stories where the world changes so dramatically as to seem like it’s ending, are people who have no money, no control, no power. They’re people who have nothing, and are getting kicked around by everything and everyone. Because apocalypses are built around the idea that when everything has gone so terribly wrong that there’s no hope left, God will still come and save God’s people. God will still turn the world back around. Because nothing is too big for God.
So when confronted by the enormity of the corruption in the Temple system, which is basically their entire socio-political structure at the time, Jesus assures the disciples that it’s huge. And it’s wrong. But God is still working and God is still here.
In fact, there’s something weird about his little apocalypse speech that he gives. (And here comes Greek lesson #2!) The verb tenses start changing around from future to present to future and back to present. Which is not really what you’d do, if you were Mark (or whoever) writing a speech trying to foretell coming events.
Scholars think that one possible reason for this is that the writer wrote this part while the Temple was actually being destroyed, while there was a massive war on–when the Jewish people rose up in revolt against Rome, and got destroyed as a result–another small earthquake. And so, the events described here aren’t misty in the future–they’re happening to Mark’s audience. They’re happening now. The audience is living through their own apocalypse–their own enormous big, bad thing.
So it’s in response to an actual war that Jesus gives this speech, reminding them that God is still here and God is still working, and the story isn’t over.
Wars aren’t new. Violence like we’ve seen this week isn’t new. The human capacity for brokenness isn’t new. Suffering and death aren’t new–and we are faced time and again by problems that seem insurmountable, unfixable, and intractable–in the world and in our own lives.
But what we are promised today is that we have a God who will stay with us through the earthquakes. Through the wars. Through the upheavals of our lives. We have a God who will stay with us no matter what comes.
Because even though this world can be scary, and it can be, And even though we can face the worst problems imaginable, God-in-Christ promises that none of this is the end–that God will bear with us through even the worst of it to make a world that is not broken, that is not scary, but that is whole, and fully redeemed.
And that is where we place our hope.
**Just through ‘Room Where it Happens’. I’m not an emotional masochist. One does not listen to ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ or anything after, and expect to feel better about life; one listens to that and pulls the car over because you’re sobbing too hard about historical figures that you’ve become very emotionally invested in.