Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A greater one is coming Mark 1:1-8

Mark's gospel begins with a surpising man, a man at home in the wilderness who spoke about an even greater witness to come after him.

And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Bible : New International Version, (electronic ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984), Mk 1:7-8.
Luke and Matthew tell us more about John than Mark. Luke details his geneology Luke 1:5-25, his mother's joy Luke 1:39-45, and his father's doubts and faith Luke 1:57-80. Matthew and Luke both tell even more of his preaching and the particulars of John's call to repentence ring out in Matthew 3:1-12 and Luke 3:1-19. Luke provided key details about John's inquiries about Jesus in Luke 7:18-35 and Matthew included details about John's death Matthew 14:1-22.

Mark instead focusses on one key aspect of John's ministry--Making way for Jesus.

Mark is making a point. There's an essential message here for all believers not just preachers and church leaders. John may have been great but an even greater on is coming. I've often focussed in my preaching on repentence as John's great point, but in Mark's economy of words we hear the other point of John's preaching: someone even greater than him is coming. Mark 1:8.

As Christmas comes this year let Mark be our guide. Strip away all the floss and the glitz and focus onthe Word who comes in flesh. I walk with my daughters on the way to school past a manger scene each day. And looking at the scene I was reminded that only one person in that stable could save anyone. As John says someone great is going to come.
Thanks be to God Jesus did come. AMEN
Pax, John

Monday, November 28, 2011

Is this the end Mark 13:25-37

A little while ago a woman who I didn’t know very well, but who knew that I'm a pastor, asked me if I thought that the end-times had begun. Now that, I thought to myself, is a loaded question. So I gave her a loaded answer in reply. I told her what Jesus said, and what we hear in Mark 13:32--no one knows, except the father. But she persisted quoting the same chapter of scripture saying Jesus also said we can all see the signs and we can very well see what is going on in this world Mark 13:28-29.

This insightful woman had a great point. Every night on TV and in the paper she sees a war continuing with no easy end in sight in Afghanistan. She told me that her neighbor’s son is there and she prays every night for his safe return home. But that is not all. Every night she sees all kinds of terrible things on her TV. In our age we have become vicarious witnesses to the greatest calamities earth quakes, floods, tsunamis. The woman who was speaking with me had seen it all, not in person, but on her TV.

She has been a witness through the media to terrorism around the globe. From what she’s seen terrorism is now a threat on every continent except Antarctica. She didn’t much care for my joke about the radical penguin suicide sliders either. She was very serious about all of this and is sincerely wrestling with this very heavy question: Is the world about to end?

She told me very seriously about all the things that she sees going on even people she knows who have been impacted by hurricanes and floods. She looks at all that's going on and asks persistently, “Is this the end?”

“I don’t know” was my honest reply. I couldn’t think of much else to say to her. After I left I thought about what I should have added. We all know how that goes. Someone asks you something and you just wish that you had a great reply. I think that maybe saying something like, “Only God knows the number of your days and the days of each person on this earth. We are left to watch and to wonder and to trust that God’s love will see us through every trial and struggle.” But I didn’t say anything wise like that. All that I said was, “I don’t know.”

I am not sure if she was satisfied with my answer. She had a sincere question that grew out of her faith that she wanted me, or anybody else for that matter, to answer. But as I think about this reading from Mark and Jesus' words I am increasingly convinced that no matter if this is the last day of the earth or not that this is a great time to live out our faith. We could spend days or years or even centuries debating if this is finally the end. Or we could get on with life as God calls us to live it today. God has lovingly put us for lots of good reason. Two of the best to love God and to love the people who we share this planet with.

There is a segment of American Christianity, which is determined to know the exact date when the world will end. In the 1830’s William Miller, a preacher who lived in upstate New York, announced that the world would come to an end sometime in or around 1843. He later revised that date, based on his careful calculations and the calculations of some of his followers, to March 1844. He later revised that date to October 22, 1844. It is estimated that more than a million people heard him preach in the 1830’s and 40’s. On October 22, 1844 it didn’t end.

The fascination that American Christians have with the apocalypse didn’t end with Miller. The Watchtower association, also known as the Jehovah’s witnesses, have published a variety of different dates. Other religious groups from the Mormons to the Seventh Day Adventists and others have a intense fascination with the end of days. In the 1990’s David Koresh and the Branch Davidians believed they were the elite who would be the first called up, even before the 144,000 before the earth was destroyed. Maybe you remember Jonestown back in the 70’s or Heaven’s Gate back in 1997. These are just a few of the homegrown American religious movements who have sought to name the date when the world will end.

So is this the end of time? I’ll be honest, I don’t know. And I don’t believe any human being alive knows. So then you might ask, “What time is it?” Maybe say it out loud? “What time is it?” I believe that now is the time for us to be the church. Jesus said that we are to alert, vigilant to see the places where God is calling you into ministry. Now is a great time to live boldly as Jesus lived boldly.

Pax, John