<You can listen to the sermon by clicking here. Also, I should point out that I take no responsibility for pronouncing Taoist philosopher Wei Wu Wei’s name correctly. My apologies for undoubtedly butchering it…>
November 15th, 2015
Are you ready?
As Jesus came out of the temple (after watching passersby contribute to the treasury), 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 these buildings be thrown down, 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 birth pangs.
My Anxiety is Killing You
God of all time,
Teach us your time.
Time of quality, of repeat
Time of resurrection
Time of good endings and newness.
And forgive us, Lord, for our impatience
In your time,
Daniel Smith has written a book called Monkey Mind that is all about his fight with an anxious life. In an interview with NPR a few years ago he talked about the difference between fear and anxiety. He said, “fear is located in the present, whereas anxiety is a state of nervous vigilance that’s oriented toward the future, some threat to your well-being that’s located in the future.
He goes on to say, “(Anxiety) affects the entire system. It affects you physiologically, it affects you cognitively, it affects you emotionally. It’s a real holistic — not to put too nice and calm a word on it — emotion.”
I think he’s on to something here. But not only does anxiety affect an entire human system, the human body, it also affects an entire body of humans, entire systems.
Indeed, I think our school system here in Chicago is an anxious system. So is our housing system, as we have Christians marching to keep Lathrop Homes open in North Center. So is our tax system and budgetary system. And need I mention our national political system? And now in light of Paris, and Beirut, and Baghdad…well, we’ve never not had an anxious system when it comes to terrorism. These anxious systems are made up of anxious individuals who, collectively, deal in death.
Indeed, my anxiety can kill you. Don’t believe it? Live with someone for a while. See if their anxiety doesn’t infect you, and yours them. See if it doesn’t kill that date night you had planned, or that future you were making together, or that good time you were having.
And, truly, we know the anxiety of others kills others. This weekend was just another reminder in a library of reminders.
The disciples in the Gospel story today are anxious. They come out of the temple, Solomon’s temple which, it was said, would last forever, and they say, “What great stones and buildings!” They marvel at what is around them. To which Jesus, the perpetual Debbie Downer in this part of the Gospel of Mark says, “Don’t be too impressed. It call comes tumbling down.”
It makes disciples anxious and so they sit at the Mount of Olives and ask quietly, “Tell us about the future; when will this happen?” And Jesus reads their anxiety, their preoccupation with the future, and shocks them into the present with this apocalyptic language of wars, famines, rumors, earthquakes…and then this last big ominous statement, “These are just the beginnings of the birth pangs.”
It’s a wonder they kept following him around. None of that sounds awesome, nor does it sound anxiety relieving.
Taoist philosopher Wei Wu Wei (whose real name is Terence Gray, but that’s not as cool) wrote, “All preoccupation with the past is guilt. All preoccupation with the future is anxiety. Both keep you from being present.”
And here we find the anxiety ridden disciples marveling at the buildings, the strength of the past, and then becoming preoccupied with the future when they realize that all things come to an end and want to know when they will come to an end, and we have Jesus sitting in the middle of them trying to shock them back into the present by saying all these incredible things that seem like they would mark the end of all things, but then throwing in that curveball: the end with God is actually just the beginning.
And it’s not that “When God closes a door God always opens a window” type of platitude. As the internet meme says, “When a door closes, just reopen it. That’s how doors work.”
No, it’s more like “Hey, with God there is no need to worry about the future because, even as all things end, God promises resurrection and new life.”
Beloved, let that shock us back into the present!
Because anxiety can infect the whole body, even the body of Christ here.
I know that keenly. My anxiety in the technology age has caused me to check email constantly, even late at night in the past. It’s a habit I’ve had to do away with…it was killing me. People’s anxiety for late-night emails to me was killing me. Greg McKeown, the writer of an excellent book entitled _Essentialism_ wrote that he was afraid that the engraving on his tombstone, instead of saying, “Beloved father and husband” or “He loved his family” it would say, “He checked email.” I fear that, too.
But let’s not pretend we don’t have reason to be anxious about the future. As individuals in our private lives. As citizens of the world. But also as a body of Christ, as Luther Memorial.
We’ve had some wonderful successes this year at Luther Memorial: plans for a future of newness and renovation and many new folks in our doors and a bright future of awesome ministry here. But then we’ve also had some hard setbacks too: an impending pastoral departure. The unexpected and sad and confusing departure of Briana, our choirmaster. Our youth director making a career move. All of these things that we sometimes assume are like the structures of a building, mighty stone upon mighty stone of a spiritual framework, all come apart.
And then we have rumors, and we have people uncertain about the future, and what will be next…
Listen again to Jesus, “These are but the birth pangs.”
That sounds ominous, but it is actually comforting. It’s a shock to the system of an anxious body to bring you back to the present reality: something new is being born.
This is all a way of saying to you, the body of Christ as individual bodies and as a body collective: something new is being born. And remember the angel who we’ll read about in just a few weeks when something new is being born! “Fear not!” the angel says. Fear not the present; be not anxious about the future. Because my anxiety is killing you, and yours is killing me, and, by God, there is work to be done now.
Because refugees still flee around the world because their present is so bad they’ll risk their lives to have a future. Last night hard workers put on a concert here, Luther Memorial in conjunction with Tzedek, the Jewish community meeting here, and raised $7000 to save refugees. Refugees who are fleeing the kind of destruction we heard about in Paris on Friday.
Because children are still shot on our streets, being denied a future, and we haven’t talked much about that lately but we need to again because our babies need to be safe.
Because there is anxiety around race in this nation, an anxiety that deserves to be named and talked about to move us into the future and the church, the people of God, can help that conversation to happen.
And there is conversation that needs to happen here that hasn’t yet, but will soon. Anxiety that needs to be named and discussed and love and grace and forgiveness and heartache and headache that need to be worked through in the reality that stones have toppled.
The church, when it is doing its godly work, can help humanity, can help anxious bodies, can help anxious systems hold tension well. Can keep individual anxiety from infecting a whole system.
Can remind us that in God’s kingdom we have resurrection thinking instead of death-dealing anxiety.
And if you doubt this is true, remember your scripture. This part of Mark takes place on the Mount of Olives, right? What else happens on the Mount of Olives in scripture?
In this section of Mark, Jesus warns the disciples not to be led astray. The disciples think Jesus is talking about the end of the world, but he is actually talking about the end of his life. They will be led astray. In the Garden of Gethsemene, the little garden at the base of the Mount of Olives. They will flee, and Peter will try to start a war by cutting off a guard’s ear. Do you remember?
But Jesus cuts off the rumors of that war by going with those who would arrest him.
And the nation of Rome will rise up against the Jewish people as the “King of the Judeans” is crucified by the Roman prelate Pilate on a hill outside of the city. And in Matthew’s gospel this is purported to have caused an earthquake. And even as the disciples ask “When will this all be accomplished?” in this part of Mark, the gospel writer John has Jesus’ final words being, “It is accomplished.” In English we usually say, “It is finished” but the better Greek translation is “accomplished.”
And the crucifixion was the birth pangs of a God who was birthing resurrection life for a world intent on killing itself and one another, a birthing process that is both accomplished and still in process as we, here, the anxious body of Christ who are led astray by the latest false hope or distracted by fear, who are in the midst of wars and rumors both in the wider world and within our own bodies, are shocked back into a present reality that is infused with God’s grace and love as you, anxious you, are named as a loved one.
A loved one who needn’t worry about the future or feel guilty about the past because there is godly work to be done in the present, and Jesus is met here and now, and God’s resurrection promise redeems our past and ensures our future so we can meet God in Jesus here and now. Always here, and always now.
The Christ who held the tension of the world on the cross between two outstretched hands that reached out toward the past and out toward the future, who held the present tension in his heart, who broke that anxiety with a resurrection that promises new life for all of us, does not bid us to be led astray by worry about the future, by rumors or wars or any of that. Don’t let my anxiety kill you, or yours me. Let us trust that God desires more for us and from us.
Christ was birthed from the cross, the ultimate tool of intimidation and anxiety, birthed from the tomb, that ultimate prison, into new resurrection life to assure all of us that we can live now unafraid of the future.
Something new is being birthed. We are the midwives. Let us not be anxious about what is being birthed, but simply attend to the birthing.