Rev. Sarah Buteux
November 14, 2021
Proper 28, Year B
To watch this morning’s service, click here. The sermon begins at the 22 minute mark.
You all know I’m a little type A.
Ok, you all know I’m a whole lot of type A, which means that I’m a planner. I like to take the long view, get all my ducks in a row, and make sure that everything is covered and done ahead of time so that if anything goes wrong – which it inevitably will – I will have the capacity to fix it.
Even my plan B’s have plan a) and b) subsections. Which, I admit, is a little over the top. But, on the whole, isn’t really a bad thing, because it typically means I’m someone you can count on to get the job done. And I like that about myself.
But one of the dark sides of being a planner is an unhealthy fixation with how people handle themselves when things go really wrong; like tragically wrong. Because of that fixation, I’m someone who lives on moderate to high alert at all times.
Whenever I find myself in an unfamiliar place, I scan for exits and places to take cover. Whenever I sit down on a bus or a plane, I think about what I would do in the event of a crash. I don’t have a full on zombie apocalypse plan, but the fact that my house came with a bomb shelter was perhaps more of a selling point than I care to admit.
And if I’m reading the news and I see a headline about something terrible that has happened – shark attack, food poisoning, bridge collapse, acute appendicitis – it’s all but impossible for me to look away. I feel compelled to read stories like these so I can learn from what happened and maybe, just maybe, make it out alive someday if I’m ever, say, attacked by a crocodile or stranded on a deserted island, eat some bad Romaine or stumble into quicksand; one of which has actually already happened to me and not for nothing, but I’m still here.
Which is all to say, I fully understand why the disciples would press Jesus for more detail when he oh so casually lets it slip that that big stone temple over there… the one they’re all so very impressed with… is slated by the Fates to come a’tumbling down.
I totally get why they want more information. I would too. Though I also think it’s interesting that they ask Jesus on the sly. Mark tells us that a little while after this prediction was made, while all the disciples were taking five on the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John, and Andrew approached Jesus privately and said, “Tell us,” – not the rest of the guys, but us- “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”
I think it’s interesting because even after all of this time with Jesus, these guys are still trying to get ahead. They’re still looking for inside information in order to gain whatever advantage they can. They understand that bad things – even unbelievably catastrophic things – can and will happen. They know that people will die when they do. But if our heroes just have the head’s up, maybe they can be among the lucky ones who come out on top.
After all, “Forewarned is forearmed,” right? “To be prepared is half the victory.” These guys are still in it to win it, but Jesus hasn’t come to play. He knows the temple is going to fall… and he’s already over it. He knows his own death is imminent and he’s not changing course. Notice, if you will, how thoroughly Jesus evades their question. He is much less interested in the question of when the end will come and much more focused on the question of who:
Who will you be when it all comes tumbling down?
Who will you trust?
How will you handle yourself when everything goes to hell and it’s you in the hand basket?
Will you give up because it’s the end or will you see it as a new beginning?
Will you run from the pain of death or bear down and breathe through it like it’s the pain of birth?
Will you resign yourself to the darkness of the tomb – to paraphrase Valerie Kaur – or recognize it as the darkness of the womb?
Because, you see, the question of when is really irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. Bad things are going to come. God knows the world is always ending for someone, somewhere. But God also knows that what looks like the end for us is never really the end for God.
So chin up, says Jesus. Don’t be alarmed. Be aware. Keep awake.
Friends, this gospel was written during the Jewish revolt that really did lead to the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E.. Mark was laying down the words of Jesus for people back then like bread crumbs of hope in the darkest forest imaginable. The world as they knew it was really and truly desolated.
The Romans tore down the temple – the holiest of holy places- and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Judeans. It was awful – as awful as anything you can imagine – and yet, it was not the end. It was not the end for Judaism or for the followers of Jesus, because in spite of it all, the people who survived kept the faith. They stayed true to themselves, true to one another, and true to God.
This passage is sometimes called Mark’s little apocalypse, and I think you all know by now that apocalypse doesn’t mean the end of the world. It means…? Anyone? “Unveiling,” right. The apocalypse isn’t about the end of the world as such, but what is revealed to us when the world as we know it is turned upside down by violence or disaster.
In times of great distress and persecution, Biblical writers would employ vivid, poetic language to describe the forces and challenges arrayed against them. Prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and even Jesus, would you use intense imagery like stars falling from the sky or the moon turning to blood, images of earthquakes and warfare, to acknowledge how upending such times are. And as such, apocalyptic narratives are always distressing to read.
But the curious thing about apocalyptic literature, if you look closely, is the hope that lies at its core.
It is the hope that God will eventually come through in a mighty way such that when the dust settles, the tables will be turned, the mighty who have abused their power will be brought low, and the meek will inherit the earth. Think of Hannah’s song or Mary’s magnificat. Beneath all the death and destruction lies the hope that a remnant will make it through to see a new dawn, a new day when God’s love and justice will prevail.
When you think of it like that, I think it’s clear that we’ve been living through our own little apocalypse for awhile now. Not as intense as the one back in 70 CE, but still tough. Friends, back when Trump was elected, it felt like the end of the world for a lot of people around here. I remember how we gathered at Edwards the night after the election for a candlelight vigil. We weren’t just disappointed, we were distraught. We were scared – and rightly so – for the most vulnerable among us: for the newly insured among us, for the undocumented among us, the LGBTQ among us…scared even for the earth itself….
But what has been unveiled most especially for the privileged among us – and I include myself in that group – is that the most vulnerable among us had been suffering all along. The upending of our world opened our eyes to the depth of harm that is caused daily by the disparities and inequalities that go hand in hand with race and gender and class and status in our society.
The #MeToo movement, ICE raids, Nazis in Charlottesville, mass shootings at Mother Emmanuel and the Tree of Life, Parkland and Pulse, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd… Covid. God knows the world is always ending for someone, somewhere, but over the past few years we have watched it end over and over for far too many, watched as they have fallen like stars from the sky.
The veil has parted wide enough for more and more of us to see our own complicity in systems of oppression and inequity, and it has been both hard to watch and almost impossible to look away.
And yet right there, in the abyss of grief and anger and loss, we have found our best hope.
We have seen that people can learn and change and do better. We have seen the many and creative ways we can show up for one another. We have built coalitions among churches, mosques, synagogues and organizations like the Workers Center and The Truth School.
We built a local sanctuary network right here in the valley to protect Lucio and Irida. We have masked and we have marched for racial justice, for women, for the environment, for each other.
We have read books, and sat through workshops, divested and re-invested, diversified and re-prioritized, and we are not done yet. The world has not been re-made anew, not yet, but to quote Arundhati Roy, we have come to believe that “another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, (we) can hear her breathing.”
First Churches, if there is anything I have learned these past 7 years, it is that there is no group of people I’d rather face an end of the world with than you… As much as I would like to know more about what impossible challenge is coming for us next, I also know, deep down, that more information is not where my hope lies.
My hope is in God and my hope is in you. You give me hope in the midst of the struggle. You give me the strength to bear down and breathe when I want to throw in the towel. You give me the courage to take a stand when all I really want to do is run for the hills or lay down and die. When I think of who I hope to be or who I want to stand beside me when my time of testing comes, I can think of no better people than the ones I find here.
People like Jane, who can organize a kitchen clean up with military precision. People like Peg who watches every dime here at the church and yet still finds time to send cards and make visits to the people too ill or too vulnerable to come out for worship.
Rachel who is pulling our children’s ministry back together with grit and good cheer. Rebecca who has held the choir together though covid and brought music into our lives when singing has been the most dangerous thing we can do!
And Bill….my goodness folks, if you had any idea the number of hours and the depth of care and planning this man has devoted to our building these past few years, you would have made him mayor a few weeks ago.
I think of all of you who have marched around the ICE building with me or volunteered to help with sanctuary or made a meal for someone who was healing or rang the bell or wrote to the editor or have kept our community strong and centered by showing up on zoom to pray and to learn.
And all of you who have made a way when there seemed to be no way, not once but twice, for our unhoused neighbors to find shelter in our city. I could go on and on, pew by pew, name by name, soul by precious soul.
I’m so proud of all of you and it fills me with hope every time I worship with you. Friends, I don’t know what challenges we will have to face next. Some days I can barely cope with the challenges we’re facing now.
But I know I stand on a foundation stronger than stone, a sure foundation grounded in love for God and the love of this congregation, and I trust that comes what may, it will be enough. Thanks be to God. And thanks be to all of you. Amen.