Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ordinary 33, Yr B 'it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine'

Some thoughts for this coming Sunday....
Psalm 16 
Mark 13: 1-8
Hebrews 10: 19-25 

Was involved in a 'flurry of emails' style discussion the other day with a friend and noted the apocalyptic delights awaiting those of us who tend to follow the lectionary cycle for preaching.  I remember saying 'well, you've got to love the apocalyptic readings... no, really, you do... nobody else does.'  

Readings this Sunday include Mark 13: 1-8, in which Jesus predicts such cheerful matters as the destruction of the temple, wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines and alien invas... um, maybe not the aliens bit.  But certainly the pre-cursor signs signifying the end of the world as we know it.  

So what are we to make of all of this stuff?  My sense is, that when it comes to such readings, folks like La Haye and Jenkins with their whole money-spinning 'Left Behind' business have a lot to answer for. But they are not the first ones to jump on the doom and gloom bandwagon - they follow a looong historical path.  Johnny Knox made fine use of judgement and apocalypse [having moved on from Order of Excommunicaiton, I'm now working on his Order of the General Fast - oh happy day] and so it goes right back to the early church.   What I've always wondered is why this particular path continues to be walked down... but then, not only is fear good for business, it's a useful form of social control.  What conveniently seems to be forgotten is hope.  

So even in the midst of terrible things, as I read the passage from Mark, what strikes me is not fear, but hope.... Jesus says 'do not be alarmed'... it's sort of the textual equivalent of carrying a towel with the words 'don't panic' printed on it [not being one to resist a good Hitchhikers Guide reference wherever possible!].  Teamed up with the latter half of the Hebrews text, [Hebrews 10: 19-25] the reason not to panic can be seen.... 
Although things can appear to be awful - things collapsing, wars, violence - 
we have confidence to approach God, and we also have hope, because He who has promised is faithful.
While a normal reaction on reading apocalyptic literature might be one of fear, the actual purpose is often the opposite: it's to instil hope.
It's to remind us that God's in charge.
The Mark passage talks of 'birthpangs' - it's not the end... it's a new beginning.  
And the writer to the Hebrews talks of 'a new and living way.  

These passages are hope-filled passages, not fear-filled passages... 
They're about: 
transformation and restoration,
and also reconciliation...
the healing of old hurts. 

Teamed up with the psalm for the day, Psalm 16, we get a picture of who we have faith in... believing in God who:
we cry for protection and God is our refuge;
we seek wisdom and God gives good counsel/ instructs us; 
we feel abandoned or afraid and we are reminded that God is constantly at our side and never lets us go;
we despair and God teaches us to rejoice and makes our hearts glad [and not in a Pollyanna kind of way];
we are lost, or not quite sure of the way, and God shows us the path of life.

Change will come - and that can make us a little fearful.
Change will come - that's always been a given in a finite universe.
But that change is in the hands of the One who holds all things and who is faithful, and who loves us.
That change will be a radical transformation of all we've ever known. 
To steal a line from Star Trek: 'it looks like life, Jim, but not as we know it....'  

The end is just the beginning, and that beginning is greater than our wildest imaginings.  
The 'Day' is approaching.
The 'end' is nigh.
'It's the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine'

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