Sunday, November 15, 2009

God’s plan is for love and forgiveness

Mark 13:1-8: Hebrews 10:11-25

I grew up in the far southern suburbs of Chicago. Whatever we needed to buy was within a few miles of our home, but every once in a while, we went as a family into the Loop. I remember gawking at the height, massiveness, and abundance of the buildings. Many years later, I went to seminary on south side of the city, and went occasionally into the Loop. I still gawked, but then I noticed the beauty and variety of the architecture.
When Jesus’ disciples entered the city, they may have seen the Temple several times each year for festivals, or they may have rarely or even never been in Jerusalem before. Either way, the temple was a striking building, and they commented on it.
Jesus is not impressed by it. Indeed, he predicts that as massive as it is, it will be destroyed. Forty years later, in 70 CE, the temple was destroyed as Roman soldiers put down a Jewish uprising. The people were unable to rebuild it, and 600 years later the followers of Muhammad built al-Aqsa Mosque on the same site. So, it will probably never be rebuilt as it once was.
We can view Jesus’ next comments as prophecy, predicting that the end of the world will come when there are wars and rumors of wars, nations rising against nations, and kingdoms against kingdoms. But I don’t recall a time in history when there were not wars somewhere in the world, and usually many going on at the same time. Jerusalem itself has frequently been the crossroads of war, located where it is between Europe, Asia, and Africa.
And we can’t use earthquakes or famines as predictors of the end of the world either, since there have always been earthquakes and famines. Earthquakes destroyed the al-Aqsa mosque twice before the present building was constructed in 1035. Historically, there have been famines somewhere because of droughts and weather pattern changes, especially now with global warming, but also during the “little ice age” in the Middle Ages. 
I mention this simply to say it is not possible to predict when the end of the world will come, and what that might look like. So, what other lesson can we learn from Jesus’ words? Taken metaphorically, Jesus could be saying that existing structures must be torn down before new things can emerge.
In Jesus’ time, religion revolved around obedience to the religious laws, and around sacrificial worship in the temple. After the destruction of the temple, worship moved to the local synagogue, and people speak of the sacrifice of prayer.
Jesus could also have meant that his followers and those who refused to follow would have to part ways – reflecting that period when early Christians continued to worship with the Jews on the Sabbath, and added their own worship of Jesus on Sunday. After a time, the Jews evicted the Christians from the synagogues – a painful divorce for all.
Jesus means, some things have to be destroyed in order for new things to arise. Paul tells us there is a new creation in Christ Jesus. Everything old has passed away; everything has become new! (2 Cor 5:17) In the new creation, however we can easily observe that there is still a lot of the old ways of living hanging around. We continue to believe we can solve problems by hurting and killing each other. We continue to focus on ourselves – Luther’s definition of sin. Natural forces such as earthquakes and floods haven’t ceased.
Mark’s audience, the first believers to read or hear what he wrote, would have looked around and seen the same conditions: wars, natural disasters, hunger, unemployment, slavery. Perhaps they would have been reassured by Jesus’ words: “do not be alarmed.”
As we continue to study the prophets in the Wednesday class, we are reminded over and over again, that, no matter what is happening, God is in charge. We too can take comfort from those same encouraging words. Do not be alarmed; God is in charge.
Since we are not to be alarmed, and since we haven’t a clue when the end will come and what it will look like, and since it may have already begun – we live in Christ’s new creation – let’s turn our attention to living in the meantime.
The author of Hebrews has some helpful suggestions for us. Let us approach God with a true heart, knowing we have been made clean through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Let us be filled with hope, because God is faithful. And let us provoke one another to love and good deeds, by gathering often to worship and to encourage one another.
I recently saw a portion of an interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He mentioned that we are God’s stand-ins. Made in the image of God, we are on earth to use our hands, feet, and hearts to do what God wants us to do with and for each other.
Feeding hungry people is one way that Hope has chosen to show God’s love for all people. Angel Food Ministries provides food for anyone – from the wealthiest to the poorest – with nutritionally balanced food at reduced prices. By opening our doors to invite people in to pick up food, we let them know God loves them, and so do we.
Filling shoeboxes with a lot of small items and shipping them with a copy of the New Testament in the local language lets people around the world know Christians care for them.
When disasters happen, Christians in the US and around the world express God’s love by sending aid, in person, in goods such as food and tents, and in cash.
On a daily basis, we show God’s love to each other with a hug, with a kind word, with a prayer, with a phone call, with a gift.
In all these ways, we are God’s stand-ins.
Since there will always be wars and rumors of wars, we show God’s love by fighting for the freedom of those who are oppressed. Although I strongly object to war, and firmly believe we should use other methods for creating peace, I recognize that others have different opinions.
I am proud that my father fought in WWII, and most happy he survived. I am proud to be an American, where soldiers for centuries have fought to protect my – our – freedom from those who would take it away. Especially valuable is my freedom to worship as I wish.
Wars will not end until people, especially leaders, everywhere learn to love or at least respect each other and begin to communicate well. Old communication patterns must be destroyed so new ones can emerge. If we could get leaders around the world to communicate well, we would be on our way to becoming the world as God first imagined it, the New Creation Jesus died for.
We show God’s love – we are God’s stand-ins – when we use healthy communication patterns. It’s not that hard, but it means breaking old habits. There are four loving things we can all do. First, we can speak directly with each other, instead of about each other. Second, we can check the facts before passing on a story or judging someone. Third, we can remember that forgiveness is at the heart of everything Jesus said and did. Fourth, we can encourage each other, telling them they have done a good job.
Your challenge this week is to imagine a place – a home, a congregation, a community – where everyone loves and encourages each other. Observe when you do or don’t communicate in loving, respectful ways. Spread love, forgiveness and encouragement around and watch them grow and create a new sense of God’s beloved community, even as they destroy the old patterns.

Please pray with me. Gracious God, too often we don’t love each other as you have taught us. We put ourselves and our ideas first, and forget to ask what you want for and from us. Help us to learn new ways, here at Hope, in our homes, in our nation, and in your world. In Jesus’ name, amen