Proper 28 (33), Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
14 November 2021
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
My maternal grandfather had the good fortune of sitting out WW I in India. Jackie’s paternal grandfather spent it in the trenches of Belgium. He survived and returned decorated but to my knowledge never told anyone for what he had received his medal. When asked, his standard answer was, “for peeling potatoes.”
That alone gives us insight into the horror of war and that even though he returned from a war the Allies had won, he did not return undamaged.
Aside from having suffered the trauma of war, he was exposed to mustard gas, which made him move away from his family in Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron to Milestone Sakatchewan as the dryer air that was better for his lungs than the high humidity of Ontario. Still, he died of cancer that had formed around a shrapnel wound before Jackie was born.
In response to a question posed by Peter, James, John, and Andrew about when the destruction of the temple Jesus had announced would occur, Jesus speaks of great calamities, of wars, of famines, and of earthquakes. Some have read these words as God’s announcement of terror, terror sent by God.
These are words that may make us anxious and they may add to the anxiety we face over the effects the industrial post-enlightenment world has wrought upon climate and the natural world.
Jesus does not say that earthquakes, famines, and wars are sent by God. Jesus simply says that these things will come and that we should not be alarmed by them because this is the world in which we live after the fall. After the fall means that the world is marred by sin, and therefore is not as God had intended it (despite its beauty), and that the world is longing for redemption. (Romans 8) The terror of war Jackie’s grandfather experienced in Belgium was extraordinary, and yet in the large scope of history, it was regrettably normal.
The volunteer chaplains at KPU will do another online conversation about living in anxious times. Reflecting on the subject it occurred to me that having a bunch of spiritual leaders speak about living in anxious times may suggest to the prospective audience that we, each from our own tradition, may provide techniques that will help us deal with our anxiety. And techniques are somewhat like self-help strategies, the things my counsellor tells me to do if I am overcome by fear. I am not sure if self-help strategies are the first thing a Christian pastor should bring forward. Not because there may not be good and effective strategies but because self-help may suggest that I just need to pick myself up by my boot straps. Self help does not require a relationship with the living God and that’s why self-help will not be enough, not for the existential crisis of the world.
And so the first thing I might say is that Christians are part of a community we call the church, the body of Christ, and therefore, we do not face our fears alone, including our fears about the world. And not having to face our fears alone is a great gift, for one of our greatest fears is that we are alone, and when we are alone, the world becomes overwhelming. But we who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection are not alone. And God sends us out to be with others so they also would not be alone.
You may have expected me to say first that we are not alone because God is with us. And that is true. But God is with us in community, in the body of Christ, in the worship of the church, and the celebration of Holy Communion, of the Eucharist. God is not a mascot we carry with us, but God is with us in the community of the church, which includes the prayer of the faithful for one another. The Christian always lives in community, even when we cannot come to church anymore, for the community remembers us and we are in conversation with the saints who have gone before us.
In his answer to Peter, James, John, and Andrew, Jesus describes the world as it is, and by describing the world as it is Jesus robs us of the ability to live in denial, to find our anchor in accomplishments, acquisitions, or the relative stability we enjoy, or in the idea of a God who wants exactly what we want, as Joel Osteen would tell us.
Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel is the last chapter before Jesus’ passion, and so we may view chapter 13 as an instruction to the disciples in regards to what comes next. It’s an instruction to pay attention.
John in his gospel records the farewell speeches of Jesus. In chapter 16 Jesus says to the disciples, that he has said these things to them that they may have peace. These things are the sending of the comforter, i.e. the Holy Spirit, about being re-joined with Jesus, about the love of the Father. And then Jesus says, “In the cosmos you have suffering; but take heart – I have conquered the cosmos.”1
Jesus directs our and the disciple’s attention away from the temple (which, by the time the evangelists wrote, had been destroyed), away from wars and earthquakes, not because they do not matter, they do, which is why Jesus came, but because the world as it is is not the place where we will find peace. Peace we find in God.
And if we can only find peace in God, then self help practices will not help much, though they may help a little.
Wishful thinking will also not be of any use, for we cannot wish the world better.
The only healing there is for the world is in Jesus, who gave himself, so that we may find ourselves in losing ourselves, and find ourselves in him.
There is no doubt that the times in which we live are anxious times. If we notice this only now it is not because it is a new experience, only that it is new to us.
Peace is not found in going back to what we remember as normal, though there are many past normals I may prefer to today’s normal. But peace comes to us in the gift of Jesus who gave himself for the world. We share in God’s peace in proclamation and Holy Communion, i.e. in Word and Sacrament, and in our prayer for one another and for the world. And the peace of Christ not only surpasses all understanding but it enables us to share it in our service to one another and the world.
May we, in these anxious times, live in and into God’s peace, so that we may bring peace to the world.
1 In the translation of David Bentley Hart, The New Testament – A Translation, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press 2017.