The Tenacity of HOPE; The Discipline of LOVE

November 15, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
The 25th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 28 
1 Samuel 1:4-20; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8

(Gospel text is provided at the bottom of this post)

You may have heard me refer to Mark’s gospel as the “action adventure movie” of the New Testament. Jesus is constantly on the move, going from town to town. Folks gather ’round wherever he is and he heals them and casts out demons. Even when he tries to get off for some time to himself, they find him – his compassion compels him to respond to their needs.

But today, we’ve reached the part of Mark’s gospel that sounds more like Mad Max, Independence Day and Armageddon all rolled into one!

It all starts innocently enough. Up until now, Jesus and the disciples have been traveling around Galilee, in small towns and the countryside. They’ve now entered Jerusalem and Jesus has been teaching in the temple.

AncientJerusalemAs they leave the temple, the disciples marvel at the large buildings all around them – the grandness and permanence of this holy place. The place where the Hebrew people make pilgrimage for great feast days. The temple that held God’s presence.

But, as Jesus hears the disciples’ wonderment, instead of marveling along with them Jesus turns and informs them, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When the disciples ask for details, the message gets even more grim:

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.

samuel-doctorian-patmos-revelation-great-earthquakeHe talks of Wars and rumors of wars… but then says “do not be alarmed?!”

Nation will rise against nation? Kingdom against kingdom?

Earthquakes! Famines!  Do not be alarmed???

Then, with one sentence, Jesus explains why they don’t need to be alarmed. He says: This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

With this one phrase, Jesus points to something new.

New birth. New Life.

This is an interesting contrast to a couple of weeks ago. Amid the story of the raising of Lazarus, Ceci spoke about death. She noted not only the death of people in our lives, but that there are many kinds of death that we experience. Loss of relationships, loss of jobs, a child moving away, loss of a dream or aspiration, the realization that life hasn’t turned out the way our 20-year old self imagined it would be.

hqdefaultYet for as many deaths as we will experience, we have the ongoing hope of rebirths. And just as was the case during actual child-birth, with each birth there are birth pangs.

1266422401000As any mother knows, or anyone who watches the PBS drama “Call the Midwife” for that matter, birth carries within it a tolerable pain. A pain that is willingly endured for the sake of the promise of new life on the other side of the struggle.

temple destructionReturning to the gospel lesson, to put this story in context, the writer is actually telling of something that has already taken place. By the time this gospel was written the temple in Jerusalem had already been destroyed. The Jewish people, and with them the early Christians, had been run out of Jerusalem. They were cut off from what had been the center of their Holy Life. Their connection with God is seemingly severed. They are scattered and wondering what on earth is next.

Yet in naming these times, these struggles, as “birth pangs” there is a promise of hope in the midst of this struggle. Jesus’ words “do not be alarmed” provide assurance that although these things of permanence and seemed importance will go away, have gone away, that is not the final word. New Life is coming, still!

Just as the contractions of childbirth can be exceedingly difficult, they evoke hope and promise of new life! That is where we find our HOPE.

download (1)In his book “Tomorrow’s Child: Imagination, Creativity, and the Rebirth of Culture,” Brazilian theologian and philosopher Rubem Alves puts forward the question “What is hope?” (1)

His own answer supposes in part that

“…imagination is more real, and reality less real than it looks… And that in a miraculous and unexpected way, life is preparing the creative events which will open the way to freedom and to resurrection.” He then makes the observation that “suffering and hope must live from each other.

I believe that the endurance of Hope amid Suffering is at the heart of today’s gospel, and continues to speak to us today.
paris-violenceWe see so much around us that is troubling, heartbreaking. The horrific acts in Paris on Friday are all too fresh, and the pain of them, and confusion they cause, unavoidable. This is but one example of us hearing of nations rising against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms; there are earthquakes and famines.APTOPIX_France_Paris_Attacks__mewingajc.com_1_1 Refugees across the globe flee dangerous homelands – risking their lives in the hope of something new. The bombardment of these stories of real suffering can be so overwhelming that it’s easier to just turn off the noise and go back to bed.

And we have personal turmoil, too, that is all too real. Struggles we may face in relationships, with work, navigating grief, even enduring the holidays – which for many may be quite joyous, albeit chaotic, yet for others are times of sadness and loneliness.

When we feel the scale between suffering and hope leaning too heavily toward suffering, how can we reclaim hope?

Like the early Christians who were trying to find footing in their own time of confusion and suffering, they looked to see what new life they could bring forward out of the birth-pangs. They kept moving forward toward the “What’s Next” of the early church. They began spreading the good news of God’s love and the gift of Jesus’ message to all people. Some were persecuted for this work, yet they persevered in the hope of the resurrection. With the hope that God’s dream can come true, even if they wouldn’t see it in their lifetime.

We, too, are called to strive to bring about the kingdom of God’s love into the world. By loving God and loving our neighbors, we put kindness ahead of all else, even if that kindness isn’t returned. In this way, we pave the way for the re-imagined world God wants – without war, terrorism, famine, injustice or loneliness.

In HOPE, we live into a life of love.

According to Rubem Alves, it is this hope that keeps us committed to the un-seeable future. He says:

hqdefault (1)So let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret of discipline. It is a refusal to let our creative act be dissolved away by our own need for immediate sense experience. And it’s a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren. Such disciplined love is what has given saints, revolutionaries, and martyrs the courage to die for the future they envisage. They make their own bodies the seed of their own highest hopes.

May we be the seed of hope and love for those around us, and for those who will follow for generations to come.

seeds_of_hope_by_iiisawiii-d4b5sc7

Gospel Text:

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.” (Mark 13:1-8)

(1)  Ruben Alvez, “let us plant dates” from Tomorrow’s Child: Imagination, Creativity, and the Rebirth of Culture, 1972, New York: Harper Row. Accessed November 12, 2015 on website: At the Edge of Enclosure, http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/proper28b.html.

One Response to “The Tenacity of HOPE; The Discipline of LOVE”

  1. Jim Greenwood said

    Great sermon. Great title. “They make their own bodies the seed of their own highest hopes.” Great line. Huge faith required for that kind of sacrifice.

    Take care. Best to Alice. Love you,

    Dad >

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