10 September 2017

Closing Song: “Bumble Bee”, Music and Lyrics by Anders Edenroth. Performed by Beverly Shuck, Jean Townsley, Joel Morrissette, and Jody Morrissette.

The Apocalyptic Jesus Mark 13:1-27 CEV
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look at these beautiful stones and wonderful buildings!”

2 Jesus replied, “Do you see these huge buildings? They will certainly be torn down! Not one stone will be left in place.”

3 Later, as Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him in private. 4 They asked, “When will these things happen? What will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

5 Jesus answered:
Watch out and don’t let anyone fool you! 6 Many will come and claim to be me. They will use my name and fool many people.

7 When you hear about wars and threats of wars, don’t be afraid. These things will have to happen first, but that isn’t the end. 8 Nations and kingdoms will go to war against each other. There will be earthquakes in many places, and people will starve to death. But this is just the beginning of troubles.

9 Be on your guard! You will be taken to courts and beaten with whips in their meeting places. And because of me, you will have to stand before rulers and kings to tell about your faith. 10 But before the end comes, the good news must be preached to all nations.

11 When you are arrested, don’t worry about what you will say. You will be given the right words when the time comes. But you will not really be the ones speaking. Your words will come from the Holy Spirit.

12 Brothers and sisters will betray each other and have each other put to death. Parents will betray their own children, and children will turn against their parents and have them killed. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me. But if you keep on being faithful right to the end, you will be saved.

14 Someday you will see that “Horrible Thing” where it should not be. Everyone who reads this must try to understand! If you are living in Judea at that time, run to the mountains. 15 If you are on the roof of your house, don’t go inside to get anything. 16 If you are out in the field, don’t go back for your coat. 17 It will be an awful time for women who are expecting babies or nursing young children. 18 Pray that it won’t happen in winter. 19 This will be the worst time of suffering since God created the world, and nothing this terrible will ever happen again. 20 If the Lord doesn’t make the time shorter, no one will be left alive. But because of his chosen and special ones, he will make the time shorter.

21 If someone should say, “Here is the Messiah!” or “There he is!” don’t believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will come and work miracles and signs. They will even try to fool God’s chosen ones. 23 But be on your guard! That’s why I am telling you these things now.

24 In those days, right after that time of suffering,
“The sun will become dark,
and the moon
will no longer shine.
25 The stars will fall,
and the powers in the sky
will be shaken.”

26 Then the Son of Man will be seen coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27 He will send his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the earth.

The Wisdom Jesus Various sayings attributed to Jesus
20 Some Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom would come. He answered, “God’s kingdom isn’t something you can see. 21 There is no use saying, ‘Look! Here it is’ or ‘Look! There it is.’ God’s kingdom is here with you.” Luke 17:20-21

His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?”
Jesus said, “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.” Thomas 113

43 You have heard people say, “Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.” 44 But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. 45 Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. Matthew 5:43-45

One of the questions that historical Jesus scholars puzzle over is whether or not Jesus was apocalyptic. Did Jesus think that “the end” was coming? Were his views similar to those found in other apocalyptic literature of the time including the New Testament book, Revelation?

It is not likely that Jesus saw himself as a divine being or as the son of man who would come to judge the quick and the dead in the last days, but did he think there was anyone who would? Did he think the kingdom of God would be established by divine violence in his near future as the apocalyptic writers believed? Or did he have a different view of the kingdom of God?

The challenge for the historical Jesus scholars is to sift through all the sayings attributed to Jesus and tease out what ones reflected the voice print of Jesus and what ones reflected the views of others such as the gospel authors who put their ideas on the lips of Jesus.

Did Mark 13, called the “little apocalypse” go back to Jesus or was it an invention of the author of Mark? Leading scholars make arguments for both options. Bart Ehrman is a leading scholar who says, yes, Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. John Dominic Crossan is a leading scholar who says, no, Jesus did not think in apocalyptic terms.

What do you think? What difference does it make?

As far as being able to articulate a position on the historical question of whether or not Jesus was apocalyptic, I can’t be sure. I do know that the Jesus I have trust or faith in was not apocalyptic. Here is what I think is at stake and why this discussion is important for people of faith today.

Apocalyptic thinking arises when hope is lost. When the world looks so bleak, when the enemies of the good are so strong, when human activity is so feeble and compromised, that there is no hope for justice, peace, and sustainability in our future. The only hope is that God will miraculously change things. This change is always accompanied by violence, destruction, and death before a new world is created. It is magical thinking.

There is another tradition, the wisdom tradition. This type of thinking says that human beings can draw upon the divine wisdom that was established at creation and through wisdom participate in hope for justice, peace, and sustainability. This view of hope is not guaranteed but it does give us a challenge and an opportunity to bear witness to the kingdom of God already present in the world, although mostly not seen.

Obviously, we do not live in the time of Jesus and many things have changed. Jesus would not have known as we know about mass species extinction, climate change, and all the other threats that human technology has unleashed upon Earth. But Jesus might have had a good understanding of how economic systems collaborate with religious and militaristic forces to favor the powerful few over against the many. He certainly knew that. That has not changed so much.

How do you fix it? Apocalyptic thinking says there is no fix. Collapse is inevitable and that redemption is in the hands of God. Wisdom thinking says that there may be a fix. It will require human beings to awaken, learn wisdom, and work it out. God is present, but in a cooperative, co-creating way.

Moving from Jesus and the first century to the present. Are we apocalyptic or wise? I think that question is important and relevant. To put the question in another way, “Do we still hope?”

I just finished an interview with Justine Willis Toms. She is the host of New Dimensions Radio. New Dimensions has been on the air for 44 years. It airs on hundreds of stations. I would call it a wisdom-oriented program. Justine and her husband Michael created it in 1973 and co-hosted it for nearly 40 years until Michael’s death in 2013.

Now, Justine, as she says, is the head goose. Michael, she said, had been the head goose in the formation, the primary voice on the program, now she has had to become the head goose. She surprised herself that she could find the strength to do it. But she did.

She talked with me about hope. She gave me an image for emergence that one of her guests had told her. She told me about the Chinese bamboo tree. The Chinese Bamboo seed when planted will not break ground for four years. You can water it, and you don’t see any result, year after year. Then in the fifth year, the bamboo grows up to 90 feet within a few weeks.

We can learn some things from the Chinese bamboo tree. Things are happening now that we do not know and cannot see. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Thomas: “The kingdom of God is spread over the Earth but people do not see it.” Then, unexpectedly, surprisingly, like the bamboo, we may be fortunate to see what emerges. Justine said:

“When I say hope, I feel that hope is like my late husband Michael Toms said, ‘Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, but he added, it is working actively to change the evidence.’ So that is what I mean by hope. In working, like watering that seed, I work actively with a group of people for positive change, without attachment to the outcome, knowing that something bigger is trying to emerge.”

I like to think that this is the work of Southminster. We are with hope. We cannot know or see what is trying to emerge until it does, but as nature teaches us, it will emerge when it is time.

Today is welcome back, Sunday. So, welcome back! Welcome to a community of participants. You are going to hear this morning about many of the various ministries, that like seeds, we are watering. Beautiful things have emerged over the years, and we trust that like the bamboo, more is waiting for its time. Thank you for being part of this good work and may we be inspired to keep watering.