Sermon for Sunday


The lectionary text for today is Mark 13:1-8 (prepare: it's a bit of a doozy).
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

Sermon for 11.15.15
Text: Mark 13:1-8
Title: Perspective in the Chaos
Installation of Rev. Stephanie Wood at Aurora and Trinity

Good morning! It is a sincere joy to be with you today for the installation of Pastor Stephanie Wood. Since I have walked into this place, I have been encouraged and inspired by your compassion and welcome. You are a people who care deeply – and in your midst is a pastor who also cares deeply: Pastor Stephanie. Thanks be to God! As our Southeastern Minnesota Synod’s Director of Communications, I’m thankful to be with you today. 

Today’s Gospel text is from the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the oldest of the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John collection. It’s a mysterious and confusing passage for today. At the core, it’s about a shift in perspective. It’s about stepping outside the chaos and seeing things from a new angle. The chaos of the world is something we are all acquainted with, and on Friday…with all that occurred in Paris - we were certainly reacquainted with the reality that there is chaos in this life and in our world. The Gospel text pulls us out of the chaos so we can reflect on it fully. It gives us a different perspective. 

A few weeks ago I had my annual eye appointment…the one I have to go to every year so I can get my contact prescription renewed. You know the one, right? It’s important but somewhat annoying and inconvenient. 

But it’s actually really important. Eye health is examined. Vision is corrected. During my appointment, I was impatiently waiting…as per usual…and finally it was my turn. I stepped into room one…a basic eye exam with a technician. It took about 10 minutes. Reading rows of letters. Squeezing my large head into various apparatus to ensure eye health. Then Room 2 – with the ophthalmologist. More tests. The giving of the blessed prescription. Throughout the experience, it was one opportunity after another to see things…literally SEE things…from different perspectives. Up close. Far away. Blurry. Clear. Colors. Patterns. It was important – and time well-spent. 

In today’s Gospel text, Jesus is with a few of his “people.” His “tribe.” His disciples. What we assume are some of his best friends. Peter, James, John and Andrew. They’ve transitioned from hanging out in the heart of Jerusalem out to the Mount of Olives. Jesus is giving them a new perspective on things. It’s not a large distance. Maybe a half-mile. But a half-mile is a lot when you’re talking about city and rural. Institution to countryside. Ground level to up on a hill. 

This text is in the 13th chapter of Mark and Mark has 16 chapters total. It’s the end of the road for Jesus and he’s closing in on the last supper, praying in the garden, Pilate, and the crucifixion. Up to this point, he’s done a lot of healing and teaching. He’s had a triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He’s knocked over tables in the temple. He’s reminded everyone that the two most important commandments are love God and love your neighbor. He’s watched as a widow put in two small copper coins and give up everything she had to live on. 

And that brings us to today’s passage. It starts out in “downtown temple zone.” 

“Wow, teacher,” says one of the disciples. “These huge religious buildings are totally legit! They’re giant! Wowzers. Jesus…can you even get over how crazy huge these things are?”

Then – it’s time for a sort of Gospel-centered EYE EXAM. Jesus knows they need a perspective shift and he’s gone ahead and made the appointment. And it’s going to require sitting down. 

That’s a literal detail in Mark 13:3. “He was sitting down.”

Just one of the many reasons I love the Bible…all the random details that actually aren’t that random at all. Sitting down is a different position than standing up. It’s a clue about Jesus’ actual tone in this whole mysterious, end-of-times rant. He’s not yelling. He’s not up in their faces. He’s not screaming at a crowd. 

Instead, Jesus is sitting down on a hill having a conversation with this closest followers and friends. He’s saying something like: “The chaos is real, guys. Really crazy things happen in this life and they’re going to keep happening. Faith does not preclude us from chaos. It never has."

That’s the basic summary. He talks about wars and rumors of war and earthquakes and famines and the fancy church building coming down in Jerusalem. He says people will try to be sneaky and lead them astray. It’s a bold approach that Jesus takes. He doesn’t sugarcoat a thing. He never does. Not his style.  Instead, he provides a safe environment for a frank discussion about how unpredictable and weird and chaotic life can be. And then – in a few verses later…in a section not included in today’s text…Jesus reminds his friends that they don’t need to worry. 

Jesus appears to be saying that life is messy. Awful things happen and will continue to happen. War. People fighting against each other. Whole literal people groups fighting against whole other people groups. Earthquakes. A host of other natural disasters that kill tons of people. 

Jesus is acknowledging reality. It’s interesting that these verses seem so scary and weird. Because actually, he’s just talking about the real world we all live in. Awful things DO happen. Things we can't even wrap our minds around. We all know it because we’ve all lived it. We are all living it. We are literally living it right now. Our world is living it. Our brothers and sisters in Paris are living it. The world can be utterly chaotic. 

But, Jesus seems to be leaning into the reality that in spite of all the chaos…
  • The disciples will still have a purpose.
  • We will still have a purpose. 
  • Love will still be love. 
  • Community will still be community. 
  • Gospel will still be Gospel. 
  • Healing will still be healing. 
  • Peacemaking will still have a role.
This remains good news today. 

In this text, Jesus is beginning to outline that in a world where it’s hard to know what to trust, we can SAFELY place our trust. IN HIM. As a congregation, you know the value of having safe places where we can gain perspective. 

YOU are that place. You are a sanctuary. Not just your building or your Sunday service – but YOU. As human beings. As a group of gathered human beings. On Sundays and every other day, too. You worship. You receive communion. You listen to one another. You care for one another. And now you have a new leader in your midst! Pastor Stephanie! She is so ready and eager to serve and love in your midst – as you mutually learn together about life and faith. 

Pastor Stephanie values relationships. She values heart-to-heart connections and honest conversations. She values being able to empower others. In her own words, “I love connecting people’s gifts to the needs of the world.” 

Thanks be to God that she is now in your midst – as you learn and grow together. As you care for one another. As you make time together to re-center and regain perspective. As you step out of the chaos and turn town one another. 

As a synod, we, too, seek to be an expression of our church where the Gospel is proclaimed and community is built. We seek to develop leaders, support congregations, and accompany global partners. These are our priorities. Together - the three expressions of our denomination - congregation + synod + churchwide = for the sake of the world! We partner together to proclaim the good news of God’s grace, mercy, love and peace in many and various ways. 

There will always be a million ways to get sucked into the chaos of life. Our personal lives. Our community. Our world. There will also be a million ways to regain our focus and perspective. A million ways to remember and experience grace. A million ways to serve. A million ways to embody love. A million ways to contribute to healing and peace. 

Thank you for being a sort of Mount of Olives like is described in today’s Gospel. A place to see things from a new perspective. A space to reconnect with our core. A place to learn, grow, and be challenged among other people on the journey. A place to listen and a place to speak. A people who is welcoming of new leaders eager to serve.

May the Spirit of God continue to refresh and renew you as you follow God’s leading! 

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