Let me share a sampling of the headlines I encountered on my preferred online news outlet yesterday. Of course, many pointed to the terrible attacks on Paris, but there were many others:
- Nightmare in Paris: Terrorists Kill 150
- ISIS Claims Responsibility, Calling Paris Attacks ‘First of the Storm’
- Tour bus crashes at S.F.’s Union Square: 20 hurt
- No City Is Safe While the War Is On in Syria
- Police: Clues left in slaying of pastor’s wife
- Woman pleads guilty to lying to get Boston Marathon benefits
Pair this day-to-day experience of headlines filled with uprisings, terrorism, natural disasters, and of all types of catastrophes and misdeeds with the Gospel reading we heard today and who wouldn’t lean toward wondering if we are seeing signs of the end of times?
If you consider the time and the place where Jesus and the disciples found themselves, it’s little wonder that Jesus and his disciples grappled with these issues. First, let’s consider where this text falls in the book of Mark. Just last week, we heard Jesus’ teaching about the Widow’s modest offering and how it pleased God. Immediately, as so often happens in the Gospel, the disciples lose track of what Jesus has just said about the Widow and are dazzled by the towering presence of the temple. Jesus basically says, “Don’t be too impressed…it’s gonna end up as rubble.”
It’s important to note, though, that he never really does say WHEN it is going to happen… even if you read to the end of this very long discourse, the longest talk that Jesus does about the end of time. All he says is that nobody knows exactly when.
It’s also important to consider the historical context. In Jesus’ time, there were many self-proclaimed prophets, and many would-be messiahs. There were, I’m sure, many people who followed these false prophets, who believed that they were doing something new.
Meanwhile, let’s think about the Gospel writer. Mark’s Gospel, historians believe, was written around 70 CE. In Judaea, between 66 and 70 CE, there was a war between the Jews and Rome, sometimes called the Great Revolt, where the emperor basically looted the Temple treasury. At the end of that war, the very same temple was destroyed, thrown down and it was leveled, left without one stone on top of the other. It’s unclear whether the author of Mark’s Gospel, when he was writing knew, yet, that this had happened or simply felt the unrest that foretold that something big was brewing, but from our place in history we do know.
From reading the headlines in our own times, we know that times haven’t changed that much. The world is still grappling with issues of wealth and poverty. We are still trying to end violence and create peace. We are still struggling with who is powerful and who is weak. We are still grappling how to reconcile worldly values with a spiritual vision.
That’s what the headlines tell us. As for the end of times, Jesus already told us that we simply don’t know the timing. We don’t have to worry about social and political turmoil. Certainly, we have to address it as we can wherever we find ourselves, but no single person will be able to end it.
Where can we go from there? These are difficult readings… but I think that perhaps the most important word in the entire reading is the very last words we heard. Do you remember what it was? Birth pains.
So what is being born? Certainly not the end of the world. That’s where the hope lies. Something new is being born, something that aligns itself with God. The exciting part is that because we are in this in between time between was is happening right now, and what is being born, we get to be part of that. Perhaps, in some way, we will even be midwives to it, helping it to come into the world and begin its life.
How do we do that? In the next verse (one that unfortunately we don’t get to hear), Jesus said this: “The good news must first be preached to all nations.” That is where our task as Christians lies: to preach the Gospel. Perhaps, that might sound as scary as the whole end of the world thing, but it’s not.
We do it in the Episcopal Church every single day…and I know that you all do it in this parish. You do it every time you host your Autism-friendly free jazz jam and Azure family night to support families who are living with autism. You do it with your mid-week seniors lunch. You do it as you invite others in the wider community to worship with you. In those moments, we are letting a whole bunch of people, who are beloved children of God, know that God loves them. That is the heart of the Gospel message.
This message of love is the one that your resident artist experiences as she finds a home for her creativity in this place. It’s the message that we share as we reach out to friends who are sick or in trouble. It’s the message that you bring to the community with your Village Project that supports youth and children and with your support of the Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon groups every week.
You are a community who loves and breathes the Gospel message of love and care. And of course, there’s always an opportunity to do more: to invite a friend to church, to offer a listening ear even if we are scared that what we’ll hear will be hard, to go the extra mile when we see someone in need. We are in the midst of the birth pangs, helping the Kingdom of God to be born. It’s bound to be hard work.
Best of all, we don’t have to leave the headlines to the newsmakers and news reporters. We can write our own headlines. Try these on for size:
- The Sound of Jazz is the Sound of God
- Azure: the Color of Autism & the Color of Holiness
- God-Centered Approach Teaches New Lessons to the World
- New National Motto: All Are Welcome
- Message of Love Transforms the Whole World
What do you want your headline to be? What does God want to have born into this world?
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, San Francisco, on November 15, 2015.