A sermon preached on the twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Year B) on November 18, 2018 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY. You can read today’s scripture here. If you’d like to listen along, click the play button below.
We’re finishing up our reading of Mark’s Gospel today. We’ve read as Jesus sought to teach his disciples how Love, not power, is God’s way. How the ways of the world will be undone by the Love that is God. And we read how the disciples struggled mightily with that understanding, as we continue to do to this day.
Then we read how Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem. And Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and pointed to the oppression of the poor by the temple leadership. Jesus performed these actions to help us understand that the temple had exchanged Love for power.
And this power is the very subject of today’s lesson from Mark’s Gospel. Because Jesus promises that this power won’t last. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Because true power comes from Love, not from violence and oppression, not from acquiescing to the ways of the world, not from vengeance or spite.
Love will always be the loudest voice. Love will always throw down the stones of the temples we build. Love will always be the final word.
Although, Love is sometimes a difficult path that requires much from us. It requires us to give up our desire to blame and our need for vengeance.
I remember when a white supremacist with a gun walked into the prayer meeting of a church in Charleston SC about three years ago. And I remember being horrified and stunned upon hearing of the crime he committed – the massacre of 9 black men and women. And I remember, in the aftermath, hearing the voice of one of the survivors saying, “I forgive you.”
In a world where violence and death reign, Love is the final word.
In today’s reading, Jesus takes his disciples and sits down opposite the temple – in opposition to what the temple represented. And he says, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”
Now, remember that Jesus lived and taught during a very fearful time. Jewish people had been living under an occupying force known as the Roman Empire for several generations and the tensions were heating up in and around Jerusalem. The people were desperate for a warrior messiah – one who would conquer their enemy and expel them from Jewish lands to reign as king of the Jewish state so that Jews could be free from oppression.
When we read historical accounts of first century Palestine (or, rather, what would come to be known as Palestine), we learn that there were other people claiming to be the messiah at the same time as when Jesus was teaching and gathering followers. There were many others ready to take up the call to build a Jewish army and lead a rebellion against the Roman Empire. There were many others who were willing to use violence.
During desperate times, we all know the desire to seek vengeance, to react out of a fearful place and exact pain, impose death, to meet violence with violence. It can be tempting to think the answer is to build walls and buy guns and draw lines in the sand, especially when our leaders speak words of hate and terror designed to whip us into a frenzy of fear.
This is not all that different from what Jesus was experiencing. And instead of trying to lead an armed rebellion against the occupying force, instead of hunkering down and hoping it will all go away… Jesus goes out, unarmed.
And he heals both Jews and Gentiles.
He feeds both Jews and Gentiles.
And he teaches both Jews and Gentiles.
And then he sits his disciples down in his final teaching and warns us, saying, “Many will come in my name… and they will lead many astray.”
Voices of fear. Voices of shame. Voices of hate. Voices of anxiety. Voices of death. These will all come. Indeed, they have all come. They all tempt us. And they all lead us astray.
It is Love Incarnate that always brings about the Reign of God.
Being a disciple of Jesus means that we commit ourselves to Love. And I don’t mean nice thoughts and prayers… I mean an active love that is Love Incarnate. The Body of Christ alive in the world, living into the way of Love. Acting in love, being in service, reminding ourselves that we are all here to take care of one another… these are paths that lift us up as much as they lift up others.
If you think you have nothing to offer or if you believe that the world owes you something, I invite you to stop listening the voices of fear and shame. Because if we don’t commit to walking the way of Jesus, we risk losing ourselves to the god of hate or indifference.
And, my friends, those are gods that have far too many followers right now.
It is Love that is the final word.
I’m not sure I could muster the kind of love that looks at the face of a white supremacist terrorist who has just killed 9 of my friends and family and say, “I forgive you.” I’m not sure I would be able to rise above my own pain.
But that’s the task, isn’t it? That’s how Jesus leads us, isn’t it? To rise above our own pain because it is Love that will ultimately heal us.
When society wants to seek revenge, Jesus tells us to love, to forgive, and to heal one another. When the culture says to make a profit, we are called to make sure people have enough to eat and a place to live. When the self-important and conceited run the system at the expense of the poor, Jesus explains the system must be thrown down.
The way of Love, which is the way of Jesus, is one of crossing borders, feeding hungry people, welcoming the stranger, lifting up the lowly, offering forgiveness, healing our pain, and helping to heal the pain of others.
Jesus offers his final teaching in the Gospel of Mark in today’s reading, telling us that in the midst of the world and all its ups and downs, changes and chances, beginnings and endings…
when we have mass shootings almost every day and devastating wildfires caused by the changing weather patterns of climate change and all the other daily occurrences that bring us to a near-constant level of outrage…
in the midst of all the fear-mongering…
our messiah, our true messiah is found in a very simple teaching,
“Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”
In this we will find solace and healing. In this we will find hope.
I saw an interview a few months ago where 3 of the survivors from the Charleston massacre were interviewed. One of them was the wife of the pastor who was murdered that day. She was asked where she was on her journey of forgiveness. And she admitted that she goes back and forth – sometimes she gets angry but she keeps working at it. She keeps working at it because she knows that one day Love will be the balm that will finally heal her heart.
Love is the final word.