Page last updated



Destruction or. . . Recycling?
based on Mark 13:1-8
Thomas Hall, preacher

I'm thinking of changing passages. Mark 13 certainly doesn’t 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 we’re 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 we’ve pulled our hand, leaving the first layer of skin behind. The words grate against us-things getting thrown down, false messiahs, countries at each other’s 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 nightmares."

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 thrown down…

…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. We’re 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 we’ve 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." It’s 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 what’s going to happen to us if we don’t 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 bomb’s 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?

That’s why it’s 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. It’s when we don’t take time to learn the rules that we start to wonder who the antichrist might be and no, it’s not your supervisor or Mrs. Anderson at Johnson Elementary, or some machine sitting in someone’s 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, it’s 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 God’s 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: Don’t 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 Bob’s 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 God’s work of rescue and mentoring. So that’s what he does-in the midst of drive-by shootings and addicted youths-he does his, or rather God’s, Mission before the End.

We know, don’t we, something that even Jonathan Schell or Carl Sagan didn’t know. That in Jesus Christ, the world really isn’t headed for the garbage heap at all. Heavens no! It’s marked for recycling. In God’s 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 isn’t measured by our achievements, or the tenacity by which we cling to life. It is measured by the one who loves us. It’s like the Taize song goes-nothing can frighten, nothing can trouble, those who seek God shall never go wanting…God alone fills us.

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." That’s the hope that Mark 13 and his apocalyptic friends can give us. Amen.