Sermon Pentecost 25 year B
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who was, who is, and who is to come. Amen.
The word for the day is apocalypse. Apocalypse means “a lifting of the veil, a revelation.” That is why the name of the last book in the Bible is “Revelations.”
Apocalyptic literature is not just found in the last book of the Bible, though. Today we read a passage from the book of Daniel, which is also an example of apocalyptic literature.
The gospels contain apocalyptic passages. Today’s reading from Mark 13 is called the “little apocalypse.” This kind of literature has always fascinated people. Even today, some people like to read books like the Left Behind series.
Or they watch movies that speculate about the end of the world. There have been 16 apocalyptic films just in the last 2 years.
Historically, apocalyptic literature comes from a view of the world that says that everything that happens on earth represents a larger heavenly struggle between good and evil. So it interprets earthly events as if they have cosmic significance. It anticipates the future on earth in light of a coming battle between the forces of God and the devil.
Apocalyptic literature tries to make sense of current events. By casting experiences in a larger framework, it is meant to give comfort to people who are currently suffering or being oppressed.
Apocalyptic literature is full of symbolism. Symbolism can be wonderful and beautiful. We can each have our own interpretation of it. We can read all kinds of things into it. Some might use it to predict the end of the world.
I trust no one here is really worried about the Mayan calendar saying the end is coming in 2012. I heard they have already decided they read that wrong.
The important thing to remember about apocalyptic literature is that it was not written to help us predict the end of the world. Jesus has told us he doesn’t even know that date.
The important thing about apocalyptic literature is that it was written to give comfort to people who are suffering. It was written to give comfort to those who are suffering.
Mark was writing to the early Christian community and they were suffering for their faith. They were being persecuted for saying the Messiah had come. They were greatly distressed that the Temple had fallen in 70 AD.
There were wars and rumors of wars. It looked as if the whole world was falling apart. It was a time when things were changing everywhere.
We also live in a time of great change. In the adult Sunday School class we studied Phyllis Tickle’s book, Emergence Christianity. She tells us that our world goes through a time of great change about every 500 years.
The most recent time of a great change was the Reformation. We date the reformation from 1517 when Luther posted the 95 theses, 495 years ago. So it is about time for another major change.
Around the year 1000, we have the great schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. 500 years before that we have the beginning of the dark ages.
500 years before the dark ages, we have the time of Jesus. The disciples and the early church were living in a time of great change. Jesus reminded them that during these times many people will come and say they are the only ones who have the truth. There will be wars and rumors of wars.
For about 150 years before each of these times of great change, there are signs that the change is coming. Look at everything that has happened in the world in the last 150 years. About 150 years ago we had the invention of electricity. Since then we have had the industrial revolution, 2 world wars, and many smaller wars.
There have been huge changes in our culture. 150 years ago, the Civil War was being fought, and slavery was legal in the South. Now, a black man is president.
Mass communication enables us to hear and see the news as it is happening. Ordinary people can send pictures and videos all over the world in an instant.
The church has changed. It is no longer the center of the community the way we would like to remember it was. Sunday School just started about 130 years ago and now it seems to be fading away.
The roles of women and men have changed. Women have been having Thankoffering services in the Lutheran church since the early 1900s. Back then it was a radical thing for a woman to speak in church. Many churches had the men sitting on one side and the women and children on the other. They let the women have a special service and talk in church once a year.
I was visiting a woman this week who said, “Remember when we used to wear dresses all the time?” It hasn’t been that many years. We cannot deny that we live in changing times.
The climate is even changing. We are all concerned about how long the drought will last here. Many people still don’t have their heat and electricity in places struck by Hurricane Sandy. There have been many more natural disasters all over the world in the last few years than we have ever recorded.
Changing times are scary. Changing times are painful. We worry that many things we hold dear are going away forever. Some people are so afraid that they feel like they are trying to hold onto the past with their fingernails.
The disciples and the early Christians lived in a time like ours, one of these times when everything was changing. Jesus tells them not to be alarmed. He tells them not to be afraid. He says the current problems, the changing times, are just birth pangs.
Those of us who have given birth to children understand what he means by birth pangs. Childbirth is painful. Labor can last a long time. When you are the one in labor, it seems like it is never-ending.
There is not just pain and anxiety for the mother and child, though. The father and the other family members share the concern. Childbirth can be dangerous. It is very hard to watch someone you love be in pain and wonder about the outcome.
Remember what everyone reminds the woman who is going through the pains of labor? They remind her she is going to have a baby. They tell her it will all be worth it. They tell her she will forget all about the pain once she sees the baby.
There will be new life. That is the good news for us in this little apocalypse from Mark. The changing times we live in are only the labor pains. It may be a long, painful, even scary time for us. But it is only the beginning of the birth pangs.
There will be new life for us. It will all be worth it. Do not be led astray. This is not the end. It is not even a prediction of the end.
This is a message of a new beginning. In that new life there will be no more crying, no more dying. In that new life we are going to be with Jesus. Amen.