A Sermon for Proper 28; 1 Samuel 1:4-20, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25, Mark 13:1-8
It all started with PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. I saw their productions of
- Morse, an Oxford homicide detective who loved music, was terrible at people relationships, including his bosses, but was a strangely good detective.
- Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective who applied scrupulous details of minute observations, science and cold logic to the art of detective work solving crimes and mysteries no one else could.
- David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot Agatha Christie’s immaculate, finicky detective whose little gray cells plunged the depths of people’s behavior to solve the most baffling murders.
- I have seen Christie’s Miss Marple, as played by Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan, and Julia McKenzie, whose intimate knowledge of English village life is the lens that allows her to uncover the most obscure slice of peoples’ behavior and reveals the killer in otherwise intractable murders.
The years the fascination with all these stories lead Angie and me to stumble across Murder in Paradise where a series of quirky English Detective Inspectors lead the homicide squad in the English territory of Saint Marie an island in the beautiful blue water of the Caribbean Sea. The Inspectors’ quirky behavior and obsessiveness with the tiny out of place details don’t appear to match good detective skills any better than murder matches the vision of paradise; nonetheless, it leads to uncovering the clue that reveals the killer.
The dissonance in all these murder mysteries matches the dissonance in this morning’s Gospel story. The disciples are enthralled by the Temple in Jerusalem. And it is awe inspiring, with its gold-plated sides soaring some 164 feet high, built of massive stone blocks weighing two to four hundred tons each. The Temple is the symbol of Israel’s pledge to God, and the divine-human interaction within her walls holds all creation together (Gaventa and Petersen). Jesus’ response is as unexpected as any of the detectives whose stories captured my attention. The disciples and we expect Jesus’ agreement after all the disciples’ observations are correct. Yet, Jesus says, Nothing, will be left standing, all of it will be destroyed. When I heard that this was today’s Gospel, my thoughts immediately went,
- Murder in Paradise,
- Paradise Lost,
- Paradise California.
Paradise California is a city of 26,000 thousand people engulfed by fire last week. 9,800 homes, many businesses, and a school have been destroyed. As I wrote Friday evening more than 60 people were dead, more than 600 were unaccounted for, and those numbers are growing. By Saturday morning the reports were 61 dead and 1011, unaccounted for. When the fire is out, there are not enough homes in the county for families who lost homes to live in. I think one school has burned, and there is concern where students will go, when school reopens, hopefully, Dec 3rd. The death and destruction in Paradise are is inconceivable as thinking about the destruction of the Temple.
The paragraph that follows Jesus’ prediction, of the Temple’s destruction, is often known as The Little Apocalypse. The disciples want to know how to know when this will happen. Jesus gives them various warnings about being misled by false messiahs, and rumors of war; he speaks of nations and kingdom rising against nation and kingdom, earthquakes and famines; he might as well have added wildfire. His teaching continues until Mark begins his version of Jesus’ Passion.
All of this leaves us feeling as if we are in the depths of despair. It is not unlike the characters in all those murder mysteries, thinking it seems hopeless, feeling that the murder will never be solved. But Morse, Holmes, Poirot, Marple, and serial quirky English Inspectors stay true to themselves. The last thing we hear Jesus say is the hopeful word This is but the beginning of the birth pangs (Cruz). It evokes an image of divine midwifery, working for good, but we have to pass through the birth canal (Epperly). It evokes that lesson from Job; divine causality is questionable, but God’s presence is assured. Danae Ashley hears Jesus telling his disciples, and us, not to get all caught up in the in the chaos of rumors and destruction. They have just one calling, we have just one calling, to preach the Gospel (Ashley). In the context of actual war, earthquake, famine, and fire, I’m reminded of the saying attributed to St. Francis Preach always, Use words when necessary.
Now an observation about jumping from Jesus’ apocalyptic vision concerning the Temple’s destruction to the wildfire still burning Paradise Ca. It is very likely that when Mark wrote his Gospel story, the Temple and all Jerusalem had been burned to the ground by the Romans in response to a Jewish uprising. Mark’s community would know firsthand the complete destruction of Jewish life, centered around the Temple’s sacrificial system. It is reasonable for Mark to hear more clearly the words of hope Jesus spoke. Yes, our world has been destroyed. But remember Jesus’ promise. This is not the end. Such chaos and destruction are never the end, because God is always present, and that presence is the power to become who we are called to become. Such chaos and destruction are never the end, because Jesus is returning, and that hope is the power to be who we already are, children of God, marked as Christ’s own forever (The Episcopal Church 308). If the chaos and destruction of the Temple are never the end, then the burning of Paradise and the destruction of other wild fires, hurricanes, snow, and other storms, the disruption of empire versus empire, politician versus politician, Disney vs AT&T, mammon versus truth are never the end.
There are many ways for each of us to respond to the Camp fire burning Paradise CA, the destruction of hurricanes Florence and Michael, the rise of political incivility, the increase of hate speech and crimes, the risks of wars and insurrections, the stress of economic hardship in the midst of what we are told is economic growth, and just plain ole everyday life. Each of us will know our calling through prayerful discernment; it is ours to decide to respond. All of us know the hope of Jesus’ resurrection given us through Baptism. Each of us chooses, to allow the fear arising from chaos and destruction to define how we act and who we are, or ~ to reach out to resurrection hope and use its divine power to define how we will respond to chaos and destruction.
We can be who we are called to be. And the truth is, we, right here in Blytheville, in Mississippi County we are being who we are called to be. I am on the boards of a some of local service organizations. One has received generous community support as they recover from dramatic losses during the flood of the late spring rains. A local business has been giving their customers the opportunity to select from a list of local nonprofits to receive a portion of their sale. Both are examples of using the power of divine hope to respond to the challenges of life right here, right now.
Each of us is seeking to do the work we are called to do; we are becoming the people we are called to be. We are embracing and ever holding fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, as this morning’s collect calls to do. The birth pangs are not over, but their presence reveals the new heaven and new Jerusalem are already, if not quite yet, right here, right now.
Ashley, Danae. “Journey Through Grief, Pentecost 26 (B).” 18 11 2018. Sermons that Work. <episcopaldigitalnetwork.com>.
Cruz, Samuel. Commentary on Mark 13:1-8. 18 11 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 11 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.