Saturday, November 29, 2014

Waiting and watching in the already, not yet times

Mark 13: 24-37

It seems to me, and to many others, that in this gospel passage Mark has stitched together three almost opposite thoughts.
The first thought is that at some time in the future, something amazing is going to happen. This is an apocalyptic image, of Jesus coming to earth in glory and gathering in the faithful ones.
The second thought is that such a coming is imminent, as near as next spring, before those who are alive now die. Somehow, even though heaven and earth pass away, Jesus’ words will live on.
The third thought is that no one knows when all this will happen, not the angels, not Jesus, only God the Father.
So, something huge will happen, it may be soon, but no one can know when it will be. In the meantime, therefore, keep watch so you don’t miss it.
This passage in Mark is called the little apocalypse. It reflects the beliefs of the Jewish people of the time, that things were so bad, God had better come soon and fix things. When life is really hard, we want God to come and make it better. When life is really hard, we want to escape it and go somewhere else.
As a young mother of two boys, I remember occasionally wanting to change my name to anything but Mommy, and to run away to a hotel for a few days. I was so overwhelmed with the demands of parenthood that I wished I could run away from it all. Of course, one hug changed all that, and I was ready to stay home with the boys for years and years.
The gospel passage repeats the warning, keep watch, stay alert, stay awake. Watch for simple signs such as new leaves in the spring. Those new leaves bring the promise of good things to come: warmer weather, rains to water the new growth, fruit, and seed.
For Christians, the new season brings in God’s kingdom/reign. We have a choice, based on this gospel text. We can go about our lives in despair at the way conditions are, waiting for God to come and fix it, or we can look with hope for signs of the reign of God already here.
We live in an already-not yet time. Jesus has already returned, he has risen from the grave, and sent the Holy Spirit to be his on-going presence on earth. And the best is yet to come. We want to describe it, to explain what it will be like, but we need to remember God loves to surprise us. Whatever we are expecting, we can count on God to have a different response to our needs.
Instead, while we are waiting for Jesus to come to us in glory, let’s work on being alert to the signs of the reign of God that is already here among and within us.
On a recent episode of the TV show Blue Bloods, there was a young man who seems to have been wrongly accused of a crime. The squad tries to resolve the situation, but the community is very resistant to what appears to be the truth. They organize a series of protests. Toward the end of the show, Police Commissioner Frank Reagan goes into the community to talk with a woman he believes to have been an eyewitness.
She claims she doesn’t know anything. When Frank presses her, she tells him about her life in that community. She has three sons, now in their late teens and early twenties. They are good boys, good students. They never do drugs, have never been involved in any trouble. Yet, they have all been stopped numerous times by the police and questioned. Local police treat all the residents of the community the same, as if they are all guilty. Frank shares a story that helps the woman see a fuller version of the situation, and agrees to be a witness.
In communities all over America, there are communities like this. There are signs of the reign of God breaking in through folks like Frank who want all people to be treated fairly and justly. Justice is already available, but not yet available in equal amounts for all people.
Bullying is a hot topic in our culture lately. We have begun to recognize its prevalence and its many forms. It happens in school and in the playgrounds. Bullying happens on the internet and in the office. It happens in churches and in prisons. It happens in families and in nursing homes.
For centuries, even millennia, the prevailing method for child-rearing was spare the rod and spoil the child. Spanking, whipping, caning, ridiculing and shaming, were all considered appropriate methods for teaching children right from wrong. These practices were handed down through the generations. Today, we have begun to stand up against bullying wherever we find it and to identify more and more forms of it in our society. This is another sign of the reign of God in our midst already but not yet fulfilled.
The reign of God is not just for people but for all of creation. Here in the Nature Coast, some folks complain that they have to drive their boats slowly. They get tired of watching out for manatees and other critters in the rivers. But God loves even the manatees and wants us to care for them as well as we care for our children. This struggle between human desires -- to do what we want to do when we want to do it – and the desire to honor God by caring well for God’s creation is another sign of the reign of God in our midst already, but not yet complete.
The reign of God is present already in so many smaller and larger ways. We just have to look for it.
In a time when it is not popular to attend worship and give money and time to God through a specific congregation, here we are doing just that.
We do our bit in saving animals by adopting one or two abandoned pets from the shelter.
We make quilts and fill shoeboxes so that those who need to know they are loved by God can hear the message.
We feed the hungry as we participate more and more in SOS, by filling the food basket, by making cash donations, by volunteering our time, and lately by exploring whether we should be a satellite site for SOS.
We make Christmas happy for several needy families by purchasing and wrapping gifts, and we find it easier to notice those who are in need.
In the planning for the Christians United gathering on Tuesday, I tried to put together an email list. I sent out a trial message to the group. One congregation asked to be removed from the group, since they had no wish to be involved. Other churches are eager to join together as Christians from different traditions. We are already one in Christ, but not all of us want to be reminded of it.
As last week I reminded us to not take for granted what we have, this week we are reminded to be constantly on the look-out for the reign of God among us already, but not yet complete. Be aware of signs of God’s love and justice and care for creation in your midst. Look not just for signs of Jesus coming in power and glory, but also for signs of Jesus coming in the minutiae of your day to day lives.

Please pray with me. God of glory and God of the tiny signs of love in our midst, be with us this Advent as we wait once again for your coming. Amen