So the phone rang the other evening and it was the voice of a person well-loved in our household. He is from out-of-town and someone that we have known for over 25 years. I am expecting a conversation about college basketball, his business, the church – you know, just small talk, just catching up.
And so when he asks me about what I think of the Mayan calendar and the end of the world in 2012, frankly I think he is kidding and make some inappropriate remark.
After all the media coverage of that pastor who believed that sometime in 2011 that the end was going to come… and really since 2000 and Y2K… 2012 is the least of my worries, truly.
But he is serious.
It sounds incredible, but there is a large cut of our population that will believe just about anything. There is still 25% of the American population that believes our President isn’t an American citizen, 52% of voters in Mississippi think he is a Muslim, and a commentator in the Plain Dealer thinks that climate change is a hoax. People are led astray every day. What can you do?
But it is a bit unsettling for most of us to hear Jesus talk about the end of world as we know it.
And on the anniversary of the tsunami, and famines in Africa, and rockets fired from Gaza and drone retaliation from Israel, and the Arab Spring which is mired down in Egypt, Syria, and Iran, global warming, earthquakes, “wars and rumors of wars”… if you allow yourself to dwell in this news, it can get unsettling – you can be led astray into the unanswerable questions.
Jesus does remind his disciples and us, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father…” (Mark 13:32) … but still, it can give you pause. I may not know the day or the hour – but it seems as if what Jesus is describing is happening, now, even.
But of course, people have been trying to read the “signs of the times” since the beginning of time with no success and I suspect we will make it through 2012 with the usual tremors and stirrings and births and deaths and such. The Indians might even make the playoffs and the Cavs too – that would be an earth shattering event!
You know it is interesting when you read a passage like this one and it seems so timely, but in every generation folks have looked at this passage and said, “It is about my time.” And they are wrong, but in a funny sort of way they are right.
What time WAS Jesus talking about? His day? Remember in Mark 9:1, Jesus says; “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
I think that many believed that the Crucifixion of Jesus was going to be the end time – the time of restoration, or revolution, or time of upheaval. In Mark 15:33 we read at time of Jesus’ death: “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three o’clock in the afternoon.”
By the year 70 C.E. the Temple had been destroyed. If you go to Jerusalem today you can see one wall of the 2nd Temple and there are still stones scattered about. Anybody who was at all aware in the 30’s of the first century would know that Rome was sooner or later going to impose its power. If you want to read what happened, go to the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus.
Mark, who was writing probably from Rome in the late 60’s to a Christian community that was coming to grips with the first stirrings of persecution (64-68 C.E.), these words of Jesus were interpreted as directed to them! Now is the time! Be prepared, awake, be ready!
You see, Jesus’ words aren’t directed to only one time, the power of these words of Christ is that they are being fulfilled all the time.
Every day somebody’s world is turning upside down.
Every day, somebody is having to make their confession, speak their truth before whatever tribunals they face.
Every day, some father and mother are experiencing the “end of their world,” as a child dies. Think of the parents in Chardon – you don’t think their world has ended? That “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”(13:24-25).
Every day, people are amazed by big buildings and institutions thinking that they will never come down, but they do – September 11, 2001 and when we were visiting Greece and Turkey – thinking of the Roman might – who would ever bring that down… but in a blink of an eye – for such is the perspective of time in the sight of God – not one stone is left standing upon another.
So, yes, these words are being fulfilled now as they were fulfilled then and will be fulfilled in time, our time and God’s time and if we keep abusing the environment, and messing with nuclear weapons – it may be fulfilled in a most drastic of ways… It is not GOD who is bringing this apocalypse – we are bringing it upon ourselves… GOD is described as trying to lessen the impact, comfort the afflicted, trying to shorten the suffering.
But the key to this passage is summed up in one exhortation and its last sentence; “Don’t be led astray” and “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (13:13) Endurance – (hupo-my-nas) the one who remains (hyper remains) steadfast to the end… the one who keeps on keeping on – the one who keeps his or her eye on the prize and perseveres is the one who is saved from despair, saved from narrow thinking; Saved for faithful living, Saved for wisdom sharing. The most wise, and wonderful people I know, the most deeply faithful – have endured – have been through it, have suffered, and come out refined! They know joy, and hope, and love… Powerful witness!
The author of the book of Hebrews knew about this endurance. In chapter 11 he names those who persevered, who kept their eyes on the prize, even when they didn’t win the prize… they had faith, they trusted in the hope of the future… by faith Abel, by faith Abraham, by faith Moses, by faith Jesus – these people endured, you see – kept faith alive, kept hope alive – they kept going despite it all. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…” (Hebrews 11:1) So don’t be led astray that faith is about certainty, about facts, about proofs. Our own Lynda Bernays shared that she was reading a devotional that said this: “The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.” Faith is shown not so much in what you know, but what you do, how you endure, what kind of discipline you have when the earth is shaking around you; when you are uncertain about anything.
So much of life is just waking up in the morning and getting through. Now I know there are many marvelous, joyful, wonderful things about life, the beauty and mystery of every day, the love of a wonderful life partner, the smell of new mown grass, watching daughters play lacrosse – but really the push comes to shove when you have to endure through the shattering experiences…. I hear my parents who are 90 and 83 talk about the difficulty of growing old and for the first time in my life I can begin to imagine, to catch a glimpse of understanding about what it might be like – do I have the endurance to keep faith when it ain’t easy?
I think of young people who are seeking and searching for a profession, for a job – for a career, and wondering if there is anything out there for them – “endurance.” Keep pushing yourself – keep at it.
Keep on keeping on. I think of the characters in the book that we read together Kindred by Octavia Butler – and the slaves… how did they endure, how could they endure?
To endure you must have a sense of trust in something beyond yourself… some sense of meaning that you cling to beyond whatever moment you find yourself in…. but it is too easy to get scared, and shook up – and lose hope which leads to despair…
So that is why I am telling you about Jesus – the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame….” (Hebrews 12:2) “Consider him who endured such hostility… so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (12:3)
There is a story that I have shared with you before… of the sailboat in dead waters. And you toss your anchor as far as you can before you and let it drag the boat… you keep throwing your anchor towards the shore and you keep pulling yourself along until the current leading you home towards the shore, or the waves push you – or the water is shallow enough for you to get out and get home.
This is the endurance – that a trust in Jesus give us… Don’t be led astray – there are no short cuts – you go through what you will go through – but you keep your eyes on the shore, eyes on the prize, eyes on Christ – don’t worry about what you don’t know…. Don’t worry about if you are going to be ready – just keep on keeping on – it will be enough on the dark side of the moon as you pull yourself to the light.