Sometimes the assigned lessons for the day don’t seem readily connected to current events. And sometimes they do. This week happens to be one of the latter. We have readings from Daniel and Mark of apocalypse. Often we think of apocalypse as horror movie stuff. But actually, apocalypses were often written by and for people living through horror movie stuff. The apocalypse (or literally, revelation), was an attempt to reveal where God was still acting in spite of the trauma and grief all around them. So, may God give us faith to be steadfast…
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world.” That is the plea from the Prayer of the Day. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world. The prayers of the day are meant to, for lack of a better word, summarize the main themes of our readings for the day. Their main purpose of course is prayer, us thanking and asking God for guidance, for help, for faith and reassurance. But the prayer of the day especially also helps us to center ourselves for worship, gives us hints about what is to come in our lessons.
“Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world.” Our readings today deal with tumultuous times and events. Especially Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple. It’s Holy Week in our story, and Jesus and his disciples have just exited the Temple, right after last week’s reading where they watched the scribes at their prayers, and the widow giving her offering.
And as they’re leaving the Temple, this unnamed disciple just can’t help sharing his awe and wonder at how impressive it all is. “What large stones and what large buildings!” he exclaims! I always get a little bit of a laugh out of this disciple, who sounds like such a country bumpkin. Also, hasn’t he been paying attention? Jesus has just been pointing out the ways that this impressive structure has been utterly failing to live up to its ideals and intentions. And here he is, distracted by its grandeur and size.
Jesus offers a swift rebuke: Don’t be distracted by things that have the mere appearance of greatness. But not only don’t be distracted, but be prepared, because the things that seem great, that seem eternal and unchangeable, they won’t always be that way. This temple will fall.
And the community that is first hearing Mark’s Gospel knows that only too well. By the time Mark written story is being spread around, the Temple has fallen. There has been a failed insurrection. Thousands upon thousands of Jewish rebels have been crucified by the Romans. And the Temple has been burned to its foundation stones. There is war, and there is great unrest. In the midst of all of this, hearing Jesus say, “Do not be alarmed at these things” must have seemed crazy.
“Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world.” Those first-century hearers of this word are not the only ones living in tumultuous times. We can claim our fair share of that ourselves. Things that once seemed to be stable no longer feel that way. Sometimes it feels like the world is tearing apart at the seams. The wildfires in California are just the most recent, devastating example. Jesus’ words saying that these buildings, which we built to be long-lasting and secure will all be thrown down have an eerie and troubling ring. And on top of societal upheaval and unrest, we have our personal tumults. Events in our lives that turn everything upside down, that make it seem as if nothing will be right again.
And in the midst of all this, Jesus says: “Don’t be alarmed.” Don’t be alarmed, he says to his disciples on the precipice of cataclysmic change. Don’t be alarmed, he says to those first hearers of the gospel, living through war and destruction. Don’t be alarmed, he says to us, feeling adrift in the midst of large scale natural disasters, in the midst of hatred and violence feeling more present and threatening than ever. Don’t be alarmed in the midst of dealing with personal tragedy and grief.
Do not be alarmed. Put your trust, not in buildings that will crumble, not in humanmade structures that will fail, but put your trust in God. “Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world.” Is a Christian to sit peaceful and calm while the whole world falls apart around them? By no means!
Jesus’ words are not meant to keep us from caring about the tumults we face, nor are they meant to prevent us from acting in response to them. They are a reminder that our hope is in something greater than this world’s struggles and tumults. That we live in joy and confidence, trusting the promise that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us, and will continuously bring new life out of death and destruction.
Do not be alarmed does not mean “do nothing.” As to how to live in the midst of tumult and uncertainty, we can turn to our reading from Hebrews. We’ve been reading from Hebrews for several weeks, and we’ve finally reached the crux of the argument. The “therefore.” Because we believe these things about God and about Jesus, “therefore.” Because we trust that God is always with us, because we believe that God is more powerful than hatred, than evil, than even death itself, therefore…
“Therefore,” Hebrews says, “let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Provoke is usually a word we use to describe bad things. If we’ve done something we’re not proud of, we might say that we were provoked. But here, we’re asked to provoke one another to love. To provoke one another to care. To provoke one another to good deeds.
In the face of uncertainty, sometimes we don’t know how best to help. Sometimes we can feel powerless to actually accomplish anything, or feel like what we might offer is too small or too insignificant to make a difference.
But it’s not. Small things done with great love are not small things at all. Our stewardship theme this year is “Faith in Action.” When we put our faith in action, sometimes in small acts of love and kindness and generosity, we not only make a difference with that one act, but we provoke love and good deeds in others.
What do we do as Christians in the face of unrest and tumult? We don’t seek to ignore or escape, but rather we seek to provoke. Provoke this world and each other in the best way possible: to love and good deeds. Provoke one another to care for each other. Provoke one another to comfort each other in times of trial. Provoke one another to be passionate in seeking the best for our neighbors. Provoke one another to confront hatred and bigotry. Provoke one another care for God’s creation. Provoke one another to love like Jesus.
Almighty God, give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done, and always provoking each other to love and good deeds. Amen.