Living in the Spirit: Led to Righteousness
Rev. Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: MARK 13:1-8
1As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For 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.”
My son and I have very different perspectives on a few things in life–he might say more than a few, but I have time to bring him around to my ways on those things 🙂 One is that he hates surprises… and he is very difficult to surprise actually as he does his best to figure things out–he will say let’s play 20 questions so I can guess my birthday present! Or for Christmas he will send me a text with the EXACT link to the EXACT item that he wants and it is NEVER a good idea to deviate from that link. This is similar to our different perspectives on magic as well. Like surprises, John has always tried to figure out the magic. When he was little after he saw his first magic show he wanted to not just see more magic, but to BE the magician. He needed to figure out the tricks. And once he did we would be summoned to the living room to watch the show. He has never been distracted by illusion, but always willing to create that distraction and illusion for someone else.
Me, I am all good with surprises and magic. I have no problem with anyone giving me a gift that they thought of and took time to present at any time and I am perfectly thrilled with a party that I didn’t plan. I enjoy magic shows because they give them the opportunity to let go, sink into the illusion and let the magic happen. I don’t need to know how it’s done and I am completely gullible and will never figure out what the slight of hand was or who or what is being used to distract me from seeing the truth.
In the cases of surprises and magic, distraction is a gift and blessing. A way of letting go and being in the moment. There are other types of distraction that aren’t so helpful. For instance, I am actually easily distracted. Not because I can’t focus, I can focus quite well actually as long as the room temperature is correct, I have a cup of coffee, the sun is shining correctly through the window in a way that is pleasant and warming not directly in my eyes, and as long as no one interrupts me. Once I am taken away from a task or a focus I find it very difficult to find my way back–which is why, when writing a sermon for instance, it’s best if I am not in my office where Pr. Michael can open my door at any time 🙂
Jesus words today are ones that have this distracting potential to veer us off in the wrong direction where we may have trouble finding our way back to their heart, core and intention. The gospel text sounds like prophecy, prediction for disaster, the world is ending at any moment and you need to be ready or else. Our minds take off at the speed of light to our own newspapers, the situation of our own governments and those across the world, natural disasters, genocides and wars. We look towards the devastating fires in California, the executions of Christians or Muslims or Jews or other religious groups across the globe, the exit of Britain from the European Union, elections, campaigns, and wars over territory, races and faith and in light of this text we think–it’s a sign, the end is near, the world is about to turn in a way that we are not so sure we want it to turn. It feels like stones are turning. It feels like nothing is sacred or permanent or lasting. Change swoops in and our grounding and foundations seem to begin to fall.
This doesn’t only happen in the big picture. It happens in the small one as well. We can get distracted by our work, laundry, a rumor, our bank account, the weather, a change in a place we love, and argument or miscommunication, or a loss of the way something is or the way we want it to be. We can get so caught up in fact, that we aren’t momentarily distracted or inconvenienced, but we are instead headed down a road of fear, anger, sadness, even self righteousness. And then it looks and feels and seems like some big stones are overturning and in our way.
A few years ago when this text was read in worship, Pr. Michael removed the altar from the sanctuary as a way to show that which we can see as permanent is not in fact what is lasting. This is what it was like for those who were living and worshiping and following Jesus at the time Mark was written. This text is not a prophecy, it is a story of a people and their experience. The temple had already in fact been destroyed. Their rabbis and religious leaders had been killed or sent to exile. The beauty of their place of worship and trade and gathering and the very HOME of God was gone. The stones of their foundation had fallen, turned over, and that was all their eyes could see and the people where there in a time and place where their grounding was shaky, even gone, and they had been stumbling over the stones that lay all around. It is very hard to find your way back from this kind of distraction. So like an altar being removed or an experience of not knowing where to see God, we are called to turn our gaze and look not for lasting permanence in anything other than God.
Jesus’ says–do not be alarmed. Do not be distracted or disillusioned. These things that are gone, they are not the true stones on which your life, your faith, your being and calling to the world are built. Through me, God is here and will be here and while all of these things are as painful as birth, new life will come. The temple may be gone and you may be in exile, scattered, and full of fear–but God goes with you. God is not limited to a temple or a stone or an altar or way of worshipping or certain prayer or certainly not to one sermon 🙂 God’s promises is limitless and will not be broken.
See these were not words of doom and gloom to those who gathered in the aftermath of war. These are words of hope. Promise that new life is coming and springing up. I brought my little lime tree with me today as another point of reference. It got neglected in the early fall. I had great hope of it growing and springing forth life but it just looked dead, except one little piece of green at the bottom of the stem. So I put it in the sun and have given it water and little by little green has grown and leaves have sprouted and while what is above them looks dead, new life can and will come.
So it is with God. Jesus here beckons us to know that the happenings and turning of the world, the good and the bad, are real but they are also not fully true. Even as we may find ourselves in a strange land or on shaky ground, it is true that even as the temple was not the heart of God’s work or way of being with the people neither are the foundations we create for ourselves. God went to be with the people in exile and God promises to come and be with us in ours. Living as people of faith is an act of bravery and daring in today’s world just as it was then. Jesus turns us back towards God, a God who has never and will never turn away from us. So our hope rests in this unchanging love of God and the permanence of this grace in the world. As our memory verse this month has guided us-Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness-we can turn our eyes over and over again to the promise of new life for all the places of pain and brokenness in our world where we walk together and that is where we will find our way back and see where the kingdom of God dwells.