Monday, March 7, 2016

The End of the World as We Know It? Early thoughts on Mark chapter 13

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed”… (Mark 13:7a). It’s easy to look around at the world and think we are living in the end times. Wars, famine, pestilence, natural disaster – how much more can we take? Surely we are living in the end times!

When Jesus said this to his disciples, they were standing outside of the Temple (Mark chapter 13). He had just predicted its destruction. And as he predicted, in 70AD the Romans destroyed the Temple, killed most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and took the remaining Jews (and Christians living there) into captivity. I’m sure it seemed like the end of the world to them! It was certianly the end of the world as they knew it!

In the face of this upcoming destruction what does Jesus counsel? Does he tell the disciples to run and hide? To let their fear close in on them? To give in to hate and anger? NO!

Jesus says “Do not be alarmed (13:7). Do not be led astray (13:5). Don’t believe it when people get all excited and say “Messiah is here” or “He is here” (13:21). Be alert (13:23). Stay awake and keep alert (13:33, 34-37).”

Then he tells the parable of a man who goes on a journey and leaves his servants to care for his estate. They are expected to be about the master’s business while he is away, doing their jobs faithfully. They don’t know when he will return, but they sure don’t want to be caught goofing off when he gets back!

Wars and rumors of wars. Maybe we are living in the end times. And then again maybe not. There’s no way to know for sure. I have a pastor/friend who tells his confirmation students that Jesus may come tomorrow – or you may be hit by a bus! Either way, for you, Jesus has come. It’s a bit dramatic - and gruesome! – but it gets to the point: we don’t know, we can’t know. Even Jesus says he does not know – only the Father knows (13:32). Sure, there have been many who in their pride has tried to predict the date. But I believe that Jesus was cautioning the disciples against doing exactly that. Only the Master knows when the journey ends. Don’t waste time trying to figure it out. Instead, the best way to be prepared it so do the job set before you – to be about the Master’s business.

There’s a Jewish saying: if you have a sapling in your hand, and you hear that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling, then go and greet the Messiah. Along those same lines, Martin Luther has been said to have said “If I knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” Both sayings demonstrate confidence in the future that comes from trusting in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

When the kingdom of Judah was under siege from Babylon and the Exile was almost upon them, God instructed the prophet Jeremiah to demonstrate that kind of confidence and trust: by purchasing a field (Jeremiah chapter 32). A strange command – to buy a field just as you are about to be captured and carried off. Jeremiah bought that field and announced to the soon-to-be-exiles that doing so was acting out God’s promise to one day bring them back from exile. God kept that promise. God always keeps God’s promises.

Wars and rumors of wars. Famine, pestilence, natural disaster. The election of the “wrong” candidate, passing of “wrong” laws. Job loss, serious illness, loss of a loved one - anything that threatens the life we know. Each of these can seem like the end of the world. And truly, each of these can be the end of the world as we know it.

In the face of this end, Jesus reminds us to not be afraid. To stay awake, not watching for disaster, but faithfully carrying on with the Father’s business: Loving God, loving the neighbor as ourselves. Serving those whom Christ came to serve. Caring for the least, and the vulnerable – knowing that as we do so, we are caring for Jesus. Praying for “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” And always trusting in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

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