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You will want to scroll down to find the bible study for the lessons closest to the upcoming Sunday.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Advent 1.B

"So remember how you answered that question about what you would do if the world were to end tomorrow? Well, guess what? You don't need to wait. You can do those things now!"
"If the World Were to End," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

"The question for us today is—in a world of woes and suffering, when the powers and principalities have not yet been (completely) dethroned—how are we to stay alert?"

"Falling Stars, Failed States, and the Power of Advent," Amy Allen, Political Theology, 2011.

Prayer

Through all generations, O God, your faithfulness endures, and your fidelity to the covenant can never fail.  Since you are the potter and we are the work of your hands, remember us and strengthen us to the end by your grace;  that with a love beyond reproach, we may faithfully keep watch for the glorious coming of our Redeemer, and be found blameless on the day of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Mark 13:24-37
The lesson for this Sunday describes the coming of the Son of Man.  In Mark's Gospel this is a prophetic vision of the apocalyptic judgement.  It is a passage filled with first century understandings about the end time and it places Mark firmly in the tradition of apocalyptic writers. 

I remember teaching my first adult forum class at my field work site.  The class was on the Nicene Creed. When we got to the part about judgement I was asked by a leader in the congregation if I believed that Christ was going to come back and judge the world. It was a question that caught me off guard as I had never really thought of it in that pronounced a fashion. Did I believe this to be true?  Will our Lord, Jesus Christ, come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and will his kingdom have no end.? 

The man's point was that he didn't believe it and he didn't think most people believed it.  There it was in the middle of my Sunday morning class a non-believer, confronting all of us in the room with the very words we say every Sunday but don't think about and he was certain we didn't believe.

Let me tell you first that I have hope.  My normal human mind begins to dance this way and that and I think honestly that first (if I am honest)  I don't want a judgement.  Second, if I am wrong, then I want for the judgement to have already occurred and having been found guilty have now had the price of my guilt paid for by Jesus Christ on the Cross. Thirdly, just for safety, I want to believe that Jesus' Christ's mission is already complete.  (For the theologians among the crowd we do well to remember the Brunner and Barth debate on this issue as a perfect example of the divide and impasse of the varying views on this topic.)  Yes, that is what I hope, that is what my human mind wants to believe. That is indeed what my heart longs for: Jesus to be ultimately and perfectly victorious and to save the whole world.

And, having said that I want to believe in the great capacity of goodness in all human beings to live in that grace and give freely of themselves for the work of the kingdom of God and of his righteousness.

Having said all of that some interesting things begin to happen in terms of our lives with God and our lives with one another.

Over the years as I have reflected about his passage and others like it. I think something interesting seems to slip away as we deal with it - or don't as the case may be.  Sure we all want this great salvation to be true.  And, being the humans that we are we then let ourselves off the hook.  Yep!  That's right. What happens is that we let ourselves off the hook because the mission is successful, there is no urgency to act, and after all what does it really matter? 

In Mark's Gospel, and in point of fact, in all of the Gospels - it matters. It matters a whole lot.  Over time the emerging church of the first century had to come to terms with the fact that Jesus did not return as quickly as they thought - but they believed that evangelism, virtuous citizenship, mission, and service to others was essential. We can even see the change in Paul's own letters preserved in our New Testament.  Paul wrestled with the time it was taking for the second coming.  Even still, Paul inspired and encouraged people because it mattered how people treated one another and what they did or did not do.  Even the Gospels written in the later part of the first and early part of the second centuries have a different tone regarding the urgency - but Matthew's Gospel which is focused on this emerging church of the centuries offers a vision of a community that is waiting but where it matters.

Over the years there have been blossoming apocalyptic movements. Some have even birthed churches. Still others have ended in disaster.  Probably all of them have created a general public sense that thinking apocalyptically is silly at its most innocent and dangerous if taken to its natural conclusion.



Dismissal seems to let us off the hook somehow.

Over the years I have come to understand that I think it really does matter to God how we live our life on this earth. I think it really does matter how we treat one another. I do think that to the God we believe in it matters how the poor are cared for and it matters how we take care of the earth we have some measure of control over.  I think it matters to God.  Moreover, based upon our current global societal troubles (the economic turbulence of recent years, the great divide between the rich and the poor, the lack of good education, the comoditization of a person's health leaving millions without care, and the destruction of the housing market where in others make money off of what is one of the most important human needs - shelter) we should all be concerned. 

Regardless of if you or I will live out our whole lives and pass into the arms of Abraham (God willing) before the end time, or we together only have a few moments left on this earth, we are measured by how we treat and take care of others. This is and continues to be one of the central themes of scripture.

Those who go without have an urgent need today and our actions matter to them as well. 

In the immortal words of Bishop John Hines (IV Texas, and TEC Presiding Bishop) "the Kingdom of Heaven is for all people."  Some of those people are still waiting for the Good News and transformed lives and God is waiting for us to do something about it.

In this season of Advent, I hope you won't excuse Jesus' message in Mark's Gospel.  I hope you won't pretend like it doesn't matter or that it isn't urgent. I hope you won't dismiss the judgement.  Rather, I hope you will challenge your people to think about: well how is their report card with God going? If God came back today what would he say to them? You might invite them to think about the Advent Conspiracy and how we might change how we do things in our lives, beginning with today and this season.

I hope you will challenge them to see if they have lost a sense of urgent work on the part of God in Christ Jesus and his Gospel. I hope you will inspire them to see that God is hoping in us and that we are being judged by our actions.  And, by the way the people of this world are also judging us by our actions.

I can say today, "I believe."  I have come to believe the words I speak and I pray: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom have no end.  Let me work to the end of days on behalf of God and on behalf of his kingdom and his special friends the poor and those in need.  Let me hope eternally for grace enough for me a sinner of his flock.  And, finally let my work in word and action see no rest; after all, who knows when the master of the house will return?



A Little Bit for Everyone

24“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, 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, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

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