Sunday, August 23, 2015

Broken Stones and End Times

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’  When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. - Mark 13:1-13

When someone travels, they often go to see the sights in the area they are visiting. I remember visits to Washington DC to visit a dear friend and her family. Invariably during the visits we would take in the sights of the area. She was an inveterate museum-goer, and so we went to art galleries and the venerable Smithsonian Institution. We also took in the more spiritual sights by visiting the National Cathedral (one of my all time favorite sacred spaces), the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and even a mosque.

I preferred the mosque to the shrine because it was richly ornamented yet there was a simplicity to it. It made guests immediately welcome by having a sign over a rack indicating that it was customary to enter barefoot, lightweight scarves for women to cover their heads, and a fountain to wash hands and face to prepare for prayers and worship. The inside encouraged silence as we sat or knelt on thick Persian carpets and took the opportunity to really look at the beautiful calligraphy ornamenting the walls and the glowing colors of the stained-glass windows. I definitely had a different view when I left than when I had entered.

I imagine the disciples had something similar as they came out of the temple. Going in, they were probably focused on what they had come to do, which was to worship; coming out, however, they probably could see with different eyes. They were looking inward as they entered, but outward as they left. They noticed the big stones that they had undoubtedly passed when going in the other direction, yet they seemed not to notice them at that time. Perhaps the experience in the temple gave them permission to take a different view with them as they left.

Jesus had said in response to their tourist-like pointing out of incredible things that all of that would be thrown down, no longer in existence, perhaps forgotten. He went on to teach them to be careful who they followed because there were false shepherds who would seek to turn them and make them like fallen and broken stones .

Jesus warned about troubling times, times that seem almost familiar to us. There have been wars, there are ongoing wars, and there are rumors of wars swirling about our heads like cyclonic winds. Certainly there have been earthquakes and famines, volcanic eruptions, floods, droughts, better, bone-chilling cold and unimaginable heat. Are these the signs of the end times? Jesus said no, they were just the beginning.

There are those who examine the nightly news, talk radio, or even the Scriptures, taking note of each time that they find something that seems to point in the direction the world is going at the moment. They are consumed with the apocalyptic, and certain that Jesus will come soon, because of all the warning signs. I received a piece of email at work the other day (not for the first time) that stated something about President Obama not finishing his second term and sent by someone or some group called "End Times." Funny, I have read and continue to read the Bible, including Revelation, and don't remember seeing any such reference. Yet there are those who think they know the answer to a question Jesus himself said he did not know. Many have tried to guess when the end times would be, but nobody's gotten it right yet. Perhaps it's something we have to act as if it were happening tomorrow, just in case.

There's certainly nothing unusual these days about finger-pointing and accusations. I don't think the news would be too popular if all they showed were dolphin or whale rescues or pictures of cute kittens playing. No, what people want to see is blood, mayhem, accidents, and disasters. Everyone wants safe world but, like passing an accident on the freeway, everybody has to slow and rubberneck to see what happened before once again speeding up and trying to make up time.

Persecutions are real. They been going on since the time of Jesus, and even before. Christians in the Middle East, parts of Africa and other places suffer real persecution: the very real potential of torture, mutilation, or death because of their faith. Christians in the United States, some of them anyway, seem to feel that not having everyone agree with them, and not doing things their way consists of persecution. Of course, they speak out freely about it and return to their safe homes and safe neighborhoods without worrying too much that some militia is going to come and mow them all down like the lawn care company does their front yard every week.

Unfortunately, persecution does exist in this country. In many places a person being of a difference race, culture, orientation or religious identification, makes them a target for others who see them as evil and seek to further marginalize or lock them away as undesirables, even if they are done no wrong at all. I wonder if Jesus had what is called a " rush to judgment" in mind when he talked about persecutions and people turning against even members of their own family?

When Jesus finally comes, as he promised he would, it's going to be too late to make any changes, to do any quick paint jobs to cover up the centuries of neglect, a grabbing the hands of people who have been marginalized or ignored in their need, and everybody singing "Kumbaya" as if it everything were totally fine, equal and peaceful. There will not be time to rush out and do the acts of kindness that should have been done long ago. There will be time to apologize, to make restitution, to make right the wrongs that have been ignored for so long. Stones will come down, not one will be left standing on top of another, and there will be no place to hide.

We look to Jesus to come and put all things right. We know it, we believe it, and we expect it. Meanwhile, here are wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, all kinds of natural catastrophes, and all kinds of human-caused catastrophes. We may try to pat ourselves on the back for what we have accomplished, but then we want to rest on our laurels for a while before making any other serious attempts. Besides, Jesus will straighten it all out when the Second Coming gets here.

We may be waiting for Jesus, but we are also wasting time. We cannot operate out of fear, but neither can we operate out of complacency. When Jesus comes back he is not going to compliment the pretty stones and monuments, the nice gated communities, the well-run businesses, and the lavish lifestyles of many of his followers. No, he's going to see children dying of preventable diseases, the mothers who walk for miles to get even semi-clean water, twigs and branches to help their households survive, and men who have watched their livestock and crops dry from lack of water. Guess which ones Jesus will gather to himself first?

Instead of wringing our hands and bemoaning what a terrible world this is, Jesus is telling us to endure but also to work to make the world a welcome mat for Jesus rather than a massive re--creation project for him to do. We are expected to do a lot of the work to prepare for that Second Coming, whenever it is. Since we don't know when that will be, it's our duty to act as if it were tomorrow and be all ready, just in case..

We have a lot of work to do, because Jesus is not going to be on a sightseeing trip when he returns.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café

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