Thursday, November 12, 2009

Everything Crash

Based on some things going on in my community, I'm going to take the Mark passage from the lectionary to preach with this coming Sunday. This is unusual for me, because Mark 13 is all about the apocalypse, and even though that seems to be a popular subject for preaching in this part of the world, I've typically viewed it as dicey material for sermons. (I did take a Jewish Apocalyptic literature class in college, and have taught bible studies on Revelation in churches--I don't ignore those sections of scripture, but have also viewed them as too prone to be heard literally to be used in a sermon.) Apparently, there is a church in my community that is getting people all worked up about 2012 and the end of the world. The movie 2012 also comes out this weekend.

So, I'm going to delve into Jesus' description of the apocalypse in this passage with special care to work in Jesus' admonition that "no one knows the day nor the hour." Jesus also says that those who claim to know are leading people astray (mark 13, 21-23,) so I'm calling the whole notion of whipping people into a frenzy about the apocalypse a bluff and a con, and questioning the motives of churches that indulge in that kind of stuff. Also, it may do well to dispel some of the theories about 2012, which can be found on wikipedia.

The whole 2012 thing was brought to my attention last year or so by a friend who wondered what I thought about it, being a minister and all. At that point, I hadn't heard of it at all and then found that a movie was in production, etc. etc. Unsurprisingly, the Movie Promotion channel (Discovery Channel) has done a whole slew of shows about 2012 too. (as they did with "the technology of Batman" and "Legends of the Crystal Skull" in anticipation of other movies). I wonder if they get paid by the studios to run those kinds of programming prior to big movie releases?

Jesus speaks of "wars and rumors of wars" and natural disasters as being "merely the birthpangs" of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps our role as Christians is to be a "midwife" for the kingdom. There is also "birthpangs" imagery in Romans 8: 22 that I may link to this text, to speak about "Creation herself, groaning out in birthpangs for her redemption." And the lectionary choice of Psalm 113 also has childbirth imagery as well. "He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!" We are those who are called to minister to the suffering, to stand in the midst of wars and famines and cataclysms and "share the gospel." (As Jesus says in Mark 13 must happen.)

I'm not referring to "sharing the gospel" as simply telling people about Jesus, I'm referring to it as showing people Jesus, showing people the gospel. "Faith without works is dead," says James.

So, in short, the idea of the apocalypse shouldn't prompt us to sit around and obsess about all the speculations that are proffered by the latest con artist preacher. (I say "con-artist" since preachers should know that stoking the flames of people's fears and anxieties about the End of Days is a cheap trick for cheap faith. If Jesus says that even he doesn't know the day nor the hour, then what would prompt a preacher to have the gall to believe that he or she does. Jesus himself warns against these kinds of cons in the passage. I admit, speculating about the apocalypse has an allure. It is mysterious. It is fun. It is intoxicating. And some people who are intoxicated on speculation about the apocalypse spew out some of the most hateful and anti-Christian things I've heard.

The idea of the apocalypse should instead prompt us to action for the sake of Christ. Jesus says "Be alert!" (Mark 13: 33) Being alert doesn't mean alert and alarmed about latest prognostications about an occasion that we can't possibly fathom, let alone predict. "Alert" means "awake" and "about the tasks that we were left with." That's the summation of the whole passage, in the parable about the man leaving his house to the care of his servants. We don't want to be caught sleeping or daydreaming.


  1. I'm glad you are preaching on this. If responsible preachers do not talk about apocalyptic, plenty of others are, and generally not in helpful ways. We avoid this kind of material at our own peril.

  2. Anonymous12:13 PM

    Great post. I agree that for many it is an entertaining diversion to speculate about the apocalypse. Jesus warns against that.

    I like the midwife imagery. Maybe I'll steal (I mean "borrow"!) that someday. I also like Brandon's comment. He's right. There are lots of folks willing to preach about it in unhelpful ways.

    I found a useful quote from Fred Craddock (in the Luke volume of the Interpretation series of commentaries, p.248) as I was preparing for the First Sunday of Advent: "The life of disciples, after all is said and done, is not one of speculation or of observation but of behavior and relationships."

    Good luck with the apocalypse!

  3. The sermon went pretty well. Seems it was one of those topics people were really wondering about. One of my members asked me as I walked in the back door, "Preacher, what is the Methodist belief on 2012?" I told him that most pastors would say that it is a con, and that just happened to be what I was preaching on that day! You can hear it if you want or read the notes at: