Bearing Witness in Terrifying Times

Preached on 18 November 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, Year C, Thematic track

Mark wrote this gospel right around the time that Jerusalem was under attack and the Temple was destroyed.  The people he wrote it for were not just going through difficult times, they were terrifying!   The events Jesus describes to his disciples are happening now, all around them.

What does it all mean?  What do these events reveal to them about God?  People have always struggled with calamity and death and disaster and what it tells them about God and what God wants of us; from slavery in Egypt to the Exodus, to exile in Babylon, to the plagues of the middle ages, to the Holocaust, to AIDS and even hurricanes.

For Mark’s audience, is this a sign of God’s judgment against Judaism?  Was Jesus actually a false messiah?  And what about Rome?  Are their gods winning?  How do they survive when Rome rains violence and persecution and destruction on them?

In that context, Mark’s gospel and Jesus’ apocalyptic warnings may have offered comfort, even hope to the people.  Jesus addresses the question, How do we bear witness during hardship; in the face of opposition and even oppression?

Jesus warns the disciples not to be deceived by the appearance of power and safety, like in the large stones and grandeur of the Temple.  He warns them not to be led astray by fear; as he tells them of coming wars and earthquakes and famines and even persecution.

The Good News must first be proclaimed to all nations, Jesus tells them.

We bear witness to the enduring presence and love of God and the activity of the Holy Spirit by continuing to trust in that Truth and to live accordingly despite all the terrifying stuff that is happening in the world around us.

We proclaim Good News by being Good News.  Bearing witness is so much more than speaking; and in fact, words often get in the way.  Our lives, our actions, our way of being in the world must bear witness to our trust in God, to the presence of God.  We share what we have that all may be fed, all may be sheltered, all may find refuge and be safe.  This is how to bear witness to the Good News of God in Christ in terrifying times.

Today’s psalm also offers some insight.

“Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you,” the psalmist begins.  This is a song of Trust composed by a member of the tribe of Levite, the priests.

Now, the Levites, had no land of their own.  When the land of Canaan was divided among the Tribes, the Levites did not receive a portion.  That’s why the others give a share of their produce to the Levites.  When he says, “my boundaries enclose a pleasant land,” he means God.  “The Lord is my portion and my cup,” he sings.

His trust is in God.  In the totality of his life and his very being, he rests in God.  His Heart is glad, his Spirit rejoices, and his Body rests in hope.  This is about his whole being.

He takes refuge in God and trusts God to show him the path of life.  This is not simply subsistence, bare survival; no, he is singing about an abundance of life.  “In your presence there is fullness of joy!
And in your right hand are pleasures for evermore,” he sings in praise.

When we discover that what we put our trust in isn’t quite as dependable as we thought whether it is human institutions or the ground under our feet, we know we can take refuge in God.

It always feels awkward at this time of year when we have all these apocalyptic readings right when we’re celebrating Thanksgiving.  Talking about doom and suffering and judgment and end-times just as we celebrate the many blessings of life – family, friends, good food.

Still, maybe it is particularly appropriate because then we don’t have to pretend that everything is perfect; that there is no hunger or suffering, that nobody has to bite their tongue when a family member says something at the dinner table that we find outrageous, or they respond instead of biting their tongues.

Even through all that, we can bear witness; through hardship, through tumultuous, dangerous, frightening times.  We can give thanks and praise to God even then, for the abundance of grace and joy in our lives.

We can because, as the disciples learned and as Mark’s church knew, the Good News in Christ Jesus is that Resurrection is more powerful than Rome.

May we always hold fast to the knowledge that Resurrection is more powerful than any evil in the world and bear witness to that Good News through how we live our lives.