Destruction or. . . Recycling?
based on Mark 13:1-8
Thomas Hall, preacher
I'm thinking of changing passages. Mark 13 certainly doesnt have the same texture
that my favorite 23rd Psalm does. The 23rd is a soft, 100% cotton blanket that we can curl
up in when were feeling blue and alone; it comforteth us. But take a hike into Mark
13 and it feels like a piece of #10 sandpaper over which weve pulled our hand,
leaving the first layer of skin behind. The words grate against us-things getting thrown
down, false messiahs, countries at each others throats, earthquakes, and the End. My
first response to Mark 13 is to have one of those Surgeon General kinds of warnings stuck
on it: ". . . may be hazardous to your health-could result in severe
Listen again to these words of global holocaust:
not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be
countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be
earthquakes everywhere, and there will be famines
I remember one night when I was about twelve years old. I was already in bed, so I
picked up the Bible to read a few lines before dropping off to sleep. What better way to
sleep in comfort than in closing my eyes to a passage of Scripture? My Bible fell open to
the book of Revelation and for the next two hours I stared into the Bible wide-eyed like I
was gazing into a crystal ball. Beasts, deep pits, and creatures with ten heads and horns
kept popping out of the book-diseases and antichrists and blood and guts. Scared the ever
living willies out of me. Such is the kind of stuff that Mark 13 is made of. Were
dealing with alarming gospel words this morning.
During the past several weeks one of our adult classes has been trying to read the
Bible for all its worth. And weve made a discovery-that the Bible is a variety pack
of different types of literature. Our Bible contains poetry, stories, parables,
genealogies, biographies, wisdom and history. Each variety has its own "rules"
that we must be aware of when we read it. When we know the rules we can better understand
the words and meaning of what we read.
This morning we have in our hands a strange variety of Scripture called
"eschatological hope." Its the kind of writing that speaks of the end of
the world. And constantly throughout its pages we are warned like a parent elbowing a
child who is falling to sleep during the sermon-to stay awake and not to be troubled.
Woody Allen, once addressing a graduating class said, "We stand at a
crossroads-one path leads to destruction, the other path to annihilation-let us pray to
God that we make the right choice." Right. Some choice. But that is exactly the kind
of choice we face in Mark 13. The doomsday clock tick tocks away toward the End. In the
past two decades other voices have said some of the same kinds of things that Jesus
uttered 2,000 years ago. Jonathan Schell in Fate of the Earth describes in vivid language
whats going to happen to us if we dont stop the bomb. He goes back to
survivors of the Bomb on that August morning in 1945. Then he moves back into our time and
says that what happened at Hiroshima was less than a millionth part of a holocaust of what
we have stockpiled today. And he observes that "an atomic bombs massive
destruction and slaughter involves the sweeping breakdown of all order and existence-in a
word, the collapse of society itself." The End.
But this kind of morose thinking only leads to a dismal end-a feeling of helplessness.
Futility. Is that where our passage leaves us? Is that all we have to look forward to?
Some moments of life and then
and then the End-whether by Bomb or Beast?
Thats why its important to know the rules about eschatological hope. When
we know why these words were written, these very words can give us great hope in a very
bleak world. Its when we dont take time to learn the rules that we start to
wonder who the antichrist might be and no, its not your supervisor or Mrs. Anderson
at Johnson Elementary, or some machine sitting in someones basement in Europe called
"The Beast." When we pick up eschatological words, the rules include
mystery-numbers and obscure meanings, strange, cosmic things that happen. Behind
eschatological hope is a cosmic battle between Chaos and Cosmos, between God and the
forces of Evil-but God comes out the winner.
End-times passages give us hope! In fact, its the very writing that moves us back
toward the 23rd Psalm: it provides us with hope that no matter how bad and terrible the
Middle East will get between the Israelis and Palestinians, no matter how dark our own
world becomes, God will act decisively-God has and will, intervene in history. The End
will come all right, but God will be there for us to make the End a new beginning of Gods
Kingdom. To know these rules will enable us to make some sense out of the horrific
upheavals that Mark 13 describes.
Hear the Good News of the Gospel: Dont fear the End, just seek to stand hour by
hour, day by day in the conscious presence of the One from whom your life derives. Fear
more than the End, that when God sweeps in among us, we will not be doing the mission that
God has called us to do in this world. The famine we fear, the upheavals for which we wait
is not to be what frightens us. It is God we fear. Jesus urges us to be doing the kinds of
things for which we were designed to do, living our life the way that pleases God.
I listened to Bobs story only yesterday. Thirteen years ago, Bob was a highly
successful artist. Too many client parties got him introduced to several addictions, and
he became so entangled in alcohol that he totaled three cars one night. Eventually
released from the hospital and prison, he slowly at first but eventually, began to
discover that God had designed him with a Mission in mind. That sobered him, changed him,
and drew from him a deep yearning to be about Gods work of rescue and mentoring. So
thats what he does-in the midst of drive-by shootings and addicted youths-he does
his, or rather Gods, Mission before the End.
We know, dont we, something that even Jonathan Schell or Carl Sagan didnt
know. That in Jesus Christ, the world really isnt headed for the garbage heap at
all. Heavens no! Its marked for recycling. In Gods timing and plan, the world
is headed for a radical makeover. Our world is like a tree marked for removal in an
overgrown thicket in order to make room for a new and better forest.
Everything that we thought had enduring value, everything that we so ruthlessly cling
to-money, 401ks, human potential, life-has been, will be, ripped off by the One who comes
unexpectedly. Our beginning and our end are now hidden with God in Christ; our meaning in
life isnt measured by our achievements, or the tenacity by which we cling to life.
It is measured by the one who loves us. Its like the Taize song goes-nothing can
frighten, nothing can trouble, those who seek God shall never go wanting
G.K. Chesterton once said, "We now have a strong desire for living combined with a
strange carelessness about dying. We desire life like water and yet are ready to drink
death like wine." Thats the hope that Mark 13 and his apocalyptic friends can
give us. Amen.