Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Confident in Uncertain Times

The sermon on Sunday, November 15th, 2009 was titled "Confident in Uncertain Times." The preaching text was from the 13th chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

In the beginning verses of Mark 13, we hear Jesus speak to his disciples concerning the end times. Jesus mentions the destruction of the temple; wars and rumors of wars; nation rising against nation; earthquake; and famine. All of these signs were actual historical events. When the Roman emporer, Nero, committed suicide, a civil war broke out in the empire. Within the span of a year, three emporers were killed. With civil war, Rome's enemies sought to take advantage of the weakness and brought attacks from the borders. Earthquakes shook much of what we now know as Italy. Famine brought scarcity of resources to the people. Rebellion broke out in Israel, leading to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

God's people believed God to be just--those who were righteous were to be blessed and those who were wicked to be condemned. Among God's people, however, the wicked prospered and the righteous suffered. God was called unjust or announced to be silent. To speak to this dilemma of the justice of God, the theology of God's people took a temporal shift. At a given moment, it may appear that God is not just, but a time will come when God's justice will be established. This was known as the Day of the Lord. God's people yearned for the time when the will of God would be established. The fervor for the Day of the Lord is the root of apocalypticism.

Mark's congregation was an apocalyptic community. Having heard the announcement, "the kingdom of God has come near," they lived in anticipation of the Day of the Lord. Drawing on images from Daniel, historical events, such as those mentioned above, were interpreted as signs of the coming of the Day of the Lord. As they witnessed the wars, the earthquakes, the famine, and anticpated the fall of the temple, they concluded that the end was immediate. This frenzy of immediacy led them to place their trust in leaders who manifested power, spoke with great wisdom, or rallied the people. All these leaders made promises of glory to those who would follow them. Mark, in using the teaching of Jesus concerning the end times, calls his people back to the cross of Christ. This is his theology of the cross over against the theology of glory.

The temple, temple worship, and the temple cult will be obsolete, Mark teaches. The potential and promise of the "large stones" of trust will collapse. The new community of faith will be founded on Jesus Christ. Mark calls his people back to the cross of Christ and to place their faith in him.

Human beings have animal traits. When in need, we seek immediate gratification for those needs. Contentment is the satisfaction we find as the needs are being met. Gluttony is the result of having an over-abundance of resources to meet those needs. As with Mark's church, we can easily seek to fill ourselves with what lies at hand...feeding upon the quick and easy satisfaction.

Hope is not about immediate satisfaction. Hope is the trust in the future, not yet in our hands. The future is revealed to us by looking backward. Our foundation is in looking back to the cross of Christ. In looking at the cross, the future is revealed.

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