Sunday’s sermon: Eyes Wide Open

boys eyes

Text used – Mark 13:1-8, 24-37

 

 

  • We’ve all heard the stories, right? Or maybe even lived the story – that one in which a young child puts glasses on for the first time and is amazed by how much he or she can see: the individual leaves on the trees, birds flying up in the sky, the words on the signs as Mom or Dad drives down the highway.
    • Hear people talk about the shock and awe of the finally experience clear vision → clarity they didn’t even know they were missing until their eyes were literally cleared
      • Sometimes that new, clearer vision is jubilant and exultant
        • Exclamations of joy
        • Smiles from ear-to-ear
        • Laughter and giggles
      • Sometimes that new, clearer vision is shocking and even overwhelming à videos of people who have spent their whole lives severely color blind trying on those special new glasses that allow them to see color for the first time – powerful videos (can’t watch them and not cry) → people (old and young)
        • Exclamations of disbelief
        • Weeping
        • Also laughter and joy
      • No matter the reaction, it cannot be denied that the clarity of vision is a life-altering thing.
  • And so it goes with our Scripture reading this morning. Today, Mark gives us two short stories of Jesus bringing sharp, unrelenting, undeniable clarity to the disciples as his odyssey toward Jerusalem and the cross and crucifixion draws to a decisive and life-changing outcome.
    • 1st portion = Jesus speaking of destruction, ruin, and dire predictions
      • Section begins with an innocent-enough observation from one of the disciples → all sitting around together on the Mount of Olives (just under 2 miles from the outskirts of Jerusalem) and admiring the beauty and splendor of the city
        • Text: One of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”[1]
      • Jesus’ response = grim (to say the least): “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”[2]
      • Later, a few of the disciples (Peter, James, John, and Andrew) seek Jesus out looking for further clarification: the when and the how, the signs that will indicate the coming of this end → But if they were looking for reassurance and a brush-off answer, they came to the wrong place: Jesus’ answer is only full of more troubling events and distressing scenes
        • Deception from false prophets and teachers
        • Wars
        • Earthquakes
        • Famine
        • In short: suffering – text (Jesus): “These things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end.”[3]
          • Spends more time in the chapter (in the part that we skipped over) going into more detail about that suffering – suffering in relationships, suffering specifically for their faith in Jesus as Christ
    • Culminates in 2nd part of the reading = Jesus describing how the Human One (Mark’s code name for the Messiah) will return “in the clouds with great power and splendor.”[4] → And underlying all of this apocalyptic speech is Jesus’ mandate to the disciples (and, by extension, to us) to stay alert. To keep awake. To be attentive and vigilant. This is why Jesus is trying to bring clarity to the disciples in the first place with all these predictions and apocalyptic prophecies: to help them be prepared for the time when Jesus will come again, to give them focus and purpose and a mission in the face of the terrible things that Jesus knows are coming just around the corner: betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion).
      • 2 ways that Jesus illustrates this point of clarity and preparedness
        • First, the fig tree = encouragement to be attentive to the signs and in the same way you would be attentive to the signs of the changing seasons → But to this attentiveness, Jesus adds a pretty hefty caveat: “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows.”[5] → Jesus is encouraging the disciples to strike a balance between watchfulness and unhealthy preoccupation, between passion and obsession. Watch for the signs, but don’t ignore the world around you. Yes, watch for the signs … but don’t make that the only thing you do because not even the Son of God knows when he himself will return.
        • Drives this point home with 2nd illustration = household with the master gone and the doorkeeper in charge – Jesus: “Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping.”[6] → Jesus is basically warning the disciples (and, again, the rest of us by extension) to not get caught unprepared, to not get caught careless and distracted, to not get caught sleeping on the job. Because we do not know when the Messiah will return – even the Messiah himself doesn’t know that! – but when he returns, we should be ready.
  • Name the elephant in the room with these Scriptures (as with all the apocalyptic Scriptures): can sound bleak, stark, and very doom-and-gloom
    • And they can sound like that because … well, they’re apocalyptic texts. They speak of the end times. They’re supposed to shock and startle and even distress us a bit to shake us from our complacency, especially in this day and age. But especially in the midst of all that we’re facing today:
      • Pandemic
      • Supply shortages
      • Social distancing
      • Shelter in place order
      • Economic instability
      • Some of the most politically divisive times many of us can remember
      • In the face of all of this, our text can feel particularly uncomfortable. I know there are end times theories flying around the internet – theological conspiracy theories, if you will. And hear me clearly: I do not think that is what’s happening in our world right now.
    • But it’s exactly for that purpose that I want to encourage you to think of this passage not as a portent of terrible things to come but a call to action, a call to mission, a call to spend the time we have on this earth – however long that might be – working and speaking and living and loving for the message of the gospel, even (and especially!) when it feels like the world is crumbling around us … because that is exactly when the world needs to hear that reassurance of God’s love and grace the most. So stay alert. Keep the faith, yes, but also, share the faith because God knows, friends, that our neighbors, our communities, and our world are in need. Amen.

[1] Mk 13:1.

[2] Mk 13:2.

[3] Mk 13:8.

[4] Mk 13:26.

[5] Mk 13:32.

[6] Mk 13:35-36.