Each year as we draw close to the end of the Season of Pentecost (the season takes up 26 of the 52 Sundays each liturgical year) the readings get a bit “freaky”. With the wars and rumors of wars and “end times” sort of focus, I have to admit that it makes me a bit uneasy as I focus on the readings and prepare to preach.
This past week, Denise and I spent time at Columbia Theological Seminary taking a course on Ignatian Spirituality. The above picture is of a cross that hangs in the building where we attended classes and daily worship. The passages of scripture for tomorrow have been in the back of my mind and I did find myself focusing on them using the Ignatian practice of Lectio Divina. Interestingly enough, Week Three of the Spiritual Exercises has the pilgrim focusing on the last week of Jesus’ life, Passion Week in the liturgical calendar. It was pretty intense for us to spend the day on Thursday contemplating and focusing on Gethsemane and Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Denise spent the afternoon in deep conversation with Joseph of Arimathea as he took Jesus’ broken body from the cross and prepared it for burial. I spent the afternoon in deep reflection with Jesus as he suffered in the garden and wrestled with what was to come. I also wrestled with how he had to deal with the disciples who couldn’t wait with him in prayer. It was not an easy afternoon for either one of us and we were doing all of this in complete silence!
When I spent some time walking this week and this evening with the disciples and Jesus in Mark 13:1-8, I could see myself taking in the beauty and majesty of the Temple. As we were simply wowed by the impressive stones and the design of the Temple, we just had to share our observations with Jesus! What he said next though, was cryptic and puzzling. Gee whiz, Jesus, all we wanted to do was share our thoughts about the Temple and its magnificence… what’s up with the cryptic remarks about the Temple being destroyed? All of the cryptic remarks you shared with Peter, James, John, and Andrew didn’t help matters either. How did we go from talking about architecture to this end of the ages spooky stuff? What are we supposed to do with this information you shared? And this talk about “false messiahs”? How are we supposed to know what is true and what is false? How are we supposed to live our lives in this situation? Lord, you’re freaking us out…
All you have to do is look at the headlines to see that this world is a mess. All you have to do is think of places like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia (the places that don’t make the headlines as often) where horrible things are happening and people are being tortured and destroyed for their faith or simply at the hands of fanatics who have perverted the Islamic or Jewish faiths. And don’t get me started on the various perversions of the Christian faith which ranges from pastors who believe that LGBTQ people should be killed to the greedy leaders who fleece the sheep of their flocks to line their own pockets all while crowing about the so-called prosperity gospel. These perversions of faith on all sides do nothing to glorify God or Allah or Jesus… all they do is destroy people’s lives and too many cases literally kill people… all in the name of religion.
So, I get it Lord… and haven’t there always been “false shepherds” who are out for their own gain or who believe that their way is the only way and if you don’t follow their way, you don’t deserve to live? The disciples asked Jesus when will this happen and how will we know it. Jesus’ response was less than heartening. Oh don’t worry, you will see it coming… but this is only the beginning… the “birth pains” with “more to come”.
But how are we to live? What sort of witness are we to offer… especially in these troubling times? I am thankful for the portion of Hebrews 10 that are included in the lectionary for tomorrow. While it begins talking about the sacrificial system, it lifts up hope and a way to move forward. “And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says, ‘This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (Hebrews 10:15-16)
What will this new covenant and placing the law upon our hearts do? How will we be called to act? Especially in times such as these? “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
Over and over and over again… the lesson comes through… Love and encourage each other… Can you heart it? Love God and love neighbor! That is the response Christ calls us to live out. Live our lives as an offering to God. Part of the reason there is so much hatred in the world is because so many people have absolutely perverted faith. Christians… Muslims… Jews… all of us are children of Abraham. We each take our sacred texts and twist them to suit our own aims. We use our sacred texts to build walls and barriers instead of using them to break down walls and actually talk to each other and get to know each other as children of Abraham.
Politically… Economically… Racially… Sexually… Spiritually… in each of these areas we build barriers and teach ourselves to hate. Maybe I am naive. The older I get and the more I experience life and faith, the more I see both the hopelessness in the world AND the hope! In small corners and pockets, people of various faiths, races, sexual orientations, and economic strata are learning to live together and dialogue. In this dialogue, they are learning to encourage each other and work together, motivating each other to acts of love and good works. They rarely make the headlines because for some reason the media doesn’t think that such stories are interesting enough.
How then are we to respond? What are we to do when we hear of wars and rumors of wars? What are we to do when massacres happen all over the world and in our own back yards? Perhaps we are being called to do something different. Instead of turning our homes and our neighborhoods into armed camps, maybe we are being called to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Instead of buying into the myth of redemptive violence, how about living the reality of redemptive love.
Lord, help us to live into your reality of love. Help us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you. May we be transformed from a people who buy into the lies of the “prosperity gospel” and “my way or the death chamber faith” to a people who believe in the power of your redemptive love.
Dear reader, there has to be a better way… there is a better way… Shalom, Peace, Agape, Love… may God help us to encourage each other in living that better way!
Michael Moore retired from the USAF where he was a Chaplain for 26 years. He and his wife Denise live in Estes Park, Colorado where he is the pastor of Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies. He blog at https://scotsirishpadreblog.wordpress.com.