What About Tomorrow?

March 13, 2016           Mark 13:1-8, 24-37     What about tomorrow?

We’re on the cusp this week. We are reaching the end of Jesus’ teaching. Next week we will experience the raucous event of Palm Sunday when things ratchet up to a fever pitch. It’s the beginning of the end and the disciples can feel it. Yet their question to Jesus reveals that they think it’s just an end that’s coming – not a beginning. Essentially today they ask Jesus this question: What about tomorrow?

The disciples in Mark don’t get the best ink. They just don’t get it. Yet, instead of picking on them, I find it’s much easier to simply join them. Because I find my life of faith is filled with questions or, more often than not, faithlessness or laziness or missing the obvious or needing it explained one more time. Sometimes I just plain forget God’s promises through Jesus Christ. Or I claim to not see them at all. And it’s always revealed through my life – how I react in a situation, how I think about the future. And it’s almost always in the rear view mirror that I see how God was active in an interaction.

Today we meet Jesus and the disciples in the temple. If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem and Palm Sunday, the Sunday we read about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, is next week. Mark is such a swiftly moving book that the narrative gets Jesus into Jerusalem before the church season can catch up.

So Jesus and the disciples have just gotten up from where they’d been sitting in the temple, across from the treasury. They’ve just watched a widow give out of her poverty and Jesus has just remarked on this great travesty, that the church would bleed this widow dry. They get up and make their way out of the temple and, perhaps in an attempt to make small talk amidst this tense and terse indictment of the temple, one of the disciples looks around and says, “gosh, isn’t this temple just really, really big? Isn’t it awesome?” Awkward small talk!

I mean, what do you say after you’ve been hanging around with Jesus all this time and now are in the city where he’s told you not once, not twice but at least 3 times that this is where he will suffer and die at the hands of the government and religious officials. Ever since they’ve entered Jerusalem, Jesus has been criticizing the religious establishment with veiled stories of fig trees and wicked tenants and not-so-veiled critiques of the scribes, saying pointedly: “beware of the scribes  – they like honor and respect but devour widow’s houses and pray long prayers for the sake of appearance.”

Perhaps this unnamed disciple thought a little small talk would get Jesus to simmer down a little bit. Instead, Jesus speaks to the disciples’ feigned or real awe of the Temple structure by telling him that the stones don’t stand a chance.

But it’s really not about the building, is it. I am asked at least once a week when River of Hope will build. It’s always these 2 questions together: “How’s it going? (the hidden question is: are you growing?) When will you build?” Most people who are not pastors are shocked when I say, “I hope never. But if we do, we’ll build a community center.”

The gifts of not owning a building are many. There are a few mild inconveniences but mostly it’s a gift. It forces me to not be tied to a building that I define as church. It encourages you all to imagine where you are called to serve, where you are to go out, what church looks like in Hutchinson, at work and at school at home. It encourages us to meet in public and pray for the people who serve us in restaurants. To realize the church is not limited to us but in fact includes all of life. It encourages us to be church in public. It frees us of fundraising for a new roof or a furnace that went caput.

Yet, not having a building doesn’t mean we don’t get church wrong. We take our eye off the ball all the time. We get worried about finances and taking care of our own. We get worried if we’re “doing it right.” We get worried about us and our own and forget about the needs of others.  We turn in on ourselves.

Today, the disciples turn in on themselves ask Jesus for certainty. For details. To give them the scoop. But they ask about tomorrow forgetting about the reality of today.

We are just like the disciples too. Each of us can get swept up in the whirlwind of the worries of the day, swearing we are seeing signs of end times: Donald Trump; 70 degrees in March; Donald Trump; the Syrian refugee crisis; North Korea, Donald Trump; cancer in babies and senseless, unending gun violence.

And we, just like Peter, James and John, and Andrew lean in toward Jesus and we say, “is this it? tell us how it’s all gonna go down – cuz this can’t be it, right? Are these the signs? What about tomorrow?” And Jesus leans over to us, just as he did with Peter, James and John on the Mount of Olives and instead of calling out Donald Trump he speaks to our life of faith, our reality right here and now:

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 birth pangs.

Jesus says to us that the end is still to come and then that’s when it will all get started. Something new is coming from this ending. The birth pangs have just begun which is what the commotion is all about. A whole new thing is on its way. And you won’t want to miss it. Keep awake, he says. Don’t get overwhelmed and tricked by all the chaos trying to convince you it matters more than what God can do, is doing, has done.

And then, perhaps knowing this is last bit of teaching, Jesus can’t help but slip in one last parable about a man leaving his home and his slaves are in charge while he’s gone. And he says this about the return of the master: Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

Now – It’s as if Jesus has laid out the time schedule for the disciples and for us to keep awake in the coming weeks: Because it’s in the evening Jesus gathers with his disciples to eat together one last time. Then at midnight, Jesus is betrayed in Gethsemane, his disciples asleep. Then comes cockcrow when Peter abandons Jesus, denies Jesus. And then dawn when Jesus is sentenced to death. And we’re all asleep. We’re missing the beginning of the end. We don’t see it. We can’t hear it above the roar of political panic; we can’t hear it over the promise of money in our betrayal. We can’t see past our own fear. We can’t imagine God would work this way.

We miss what the cross means all the time. We don’t see the cross coming as the end and the new beginning. We miss it when we get consumed with the worries of the day, the chaos that seems to signal end times, and forget about the freedom we are given through the cross. Freedom of Christ to live lives amongst the chaos, certain of the promise. This freedom in Christ frees us from the confines of church structure and hierarchy to share the love of God through Christ Jesus and to grant that same freedom to all who we meet and love. What a gift we’ve been given.

Are we asleep? Or are you too worried about tomorrow to sleep?

Keep awake, Jesus says. For the promise of Jesus in your life won’t wrap up things in a tidy ending. The promise of freedom in Christ rips things open. Starts new things. That chaos doesn’t stand a chance.

The end is coming – it’s the end of the world and you won’t believe what’s on its heels.

The end is here, just as it always has been.

Keep awake. You’re not gonna want to miss this.