November 18, 2018
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity
(Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:24-32)
Fidget spinners. You've heard of them. They are one of the hottest toys of 2017. It was thus that I countered people should take one of our wooden pocket crosses to use when one feels the need to fidget.
The fidget spinner has generated controversy -- some schools ban them as a distraction. But over time, the fad will fade and fidget spinners will gather dust along with hula hoops, troll dolls, Beanie Babies and jelly bracelets.
Not that fads are limited to children. Adults are equally susceptible to fads. Two words: pet rocks. Over a short period in the mid-1970s, 1.5 million pet rocks were sold. These smooth stones were sold in cardboard boxes with a nest of straw and breathing holes. They were rocks! And sane, normal people -- teachers, lawyers, stock brokers -- went to work, and they had a pet rock on their desk. Go figure.
That’s okay. I have had the “fad” of collecting plush Mickey Mouse toys for years and haven’t stopped yet. When I die, they will not come with me, so one has to wonder why I “waste” my money. I guess I am like anyone else - human. I suppose it’s not a “fad” if I am the only one doing it.
Still more recently (within the last 20 years), these fads have come and most have gone: Razor Scooters, Livestrong wristbands, WWJD bracelets, Heelys, flash mobs, "Vote for Pedro" T-shirts, speed dating, cupcake stores, "Angry Birds," "Words with Friends," "Duck Dynasty," Tebowing, boy bands, Furby, oxygen bars, pogs, the "Macarena." Well, okay, some of these still pop up occasionally.
Fads. All of these things. So what is a fad?
Dictionary definitions include: "An intense but short-lived fashion; craze; a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group."
All of which brings us to fads connected to the Bible, especially to passages describing the return of Christ. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says that "the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory."
Keep your eyes open, says the Bible. "when you see these things happening, know that he is near."
The apocalyptic elements of Scripture -- Daniel, Revelation and some of the words of Jesus -- have been seized by some theologians and preachers in an almost “faddish” fashion. We know from church history. The Anabaptists of the 1530s in Münster, Germany. The Millerites of the early 1840s who took to the mountains by the thousands to await the return of Christ. The frenzy in the early 1970s that attended the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth. The Branch Davidians of 1993. The Left Behind books and movies. Y2K. And this list only scratches the surface of apocalyptic fever that has raged through the human community over the millennia. There are many who view our present state of the world is the beginning of the “End Times.”
More recently -- 2011 -- the "End Times" and the return of Christ caught the attention of the world. A radio preacher named Harold Camping studied the Bible and came to the conclusion that the world would end May 21, 2011. After sharing this prediction with his listeners, he used millions of dollars of their donations to put his message on 5,000 billboards. Camping estimated that 7 billion people would die.
May 21 came and went with no return of Christ. Camping's followers expressed astonishment and disappointment. Some denounced him as a false prophet. He amended the date to October 21, and the world still didn't end. But it didn't really matter -- the fad, the fever, had subsided.
Camping should have read verse 32: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
Clearly, fads come and go, whether they involve fidget spinners or biblical prophecies. But the truth is, nothing really endures. Jesus himself said that absolutely everything will pass away, including "heaven and earth."
The question for us is this: What, then, will not fade and disappear? Everything will come and go. Except -- wait for it -- the word of God. Jesus says, "My words will not pass away." The word of the Lord is our solid foundation in an ever-changing world, so every day we need to "Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming." (Mark 13:35)
Our challenge is to move from fad to foundation. As we approach the season of Advent, let's build our lives on something more solid than a pet rock.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers words that are foundational for the Christian life. Unfortunately, the gospel of Mark does not include this important set of teachings. Mark tells us that Jesus "went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee," (Mark 1:39) but then he skips over three chapters of teachings that appear in the Gospel of Matthew.
So Mark is not a big help when it comes to the words of Jesus. Better to turn to Matthew, in which Jesus says, "offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow." (Matthew 5:39-42)
Such words are difficult to hear and to follow. Jesus begins by saying, "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,'" (Matthew 5:38) and this makes perfect sense to us. After all, we live with a justice system which generally follows the conventional wisdom that the punishment should fit the crime. It only seems fair to take "an eye for an eye."
But the immutable and eternal words of Jesus point to a different reality: God "makes his sun rise on the bad and the good." (Matthew 5:45) In this reality, everyone, evil and good, righteous and unrighteous, is a child of God. God loves all of his children and provides for them, whether they are saints or sinners.
Our job, as Christians, is not to follow fads that tend to lift some people up and bring others down. Instead, we are to try to love other people as God loves them, seeing the image of God in people who may look very ungodly to us. Drifting into sarcasm, Jesus asks, "For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?" (Matthew 5:46). In other words, if you only love your friends and family members (and even that is hard sometimes!), what have you accomplished? Anyone can do that -- even the corrupt tax collectors of the Roman Empire.
"offer no resistance to one who is evil," says Jesus (Matthew 5:39). Jesus is not being soft on evildoers here, but is teaching that resistance can lead to an escalation of violence. Nelson Mandela took this approach in South Africa when he said, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."
"hand him your cloak as well," says Jesus. "go with him for two miles" Matthew 5:40-41). Show your neighbors that you love them so much that you will literally give them the coat off your back. Demonstrate that you are seeing God so clearly in them that you will walk a great distance with them. Such generosity is not faddish; it's foundational.
Look an oppressive Roman soldier in the eye and see the image of God in him. Carry his gear farther than the law allows, so that he will be forced to see you as a person, not a pack animal. Make him so uncomfortable that he will have to wrestle his gear out of your hands and take it back to avoid breaking the law! The words of Jesus are foundational, and at times they can be funny.
"Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow," says Jesus. "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:42, 44). In each of these commands, we are being challenged to see other people in a new light -- in the light of Jesus' words. As we walk in this way, we begin to see our neighbors as children of God, and as people who carry inside them the image of God.
None of this is easy, but it is the key to following the words that last forever. What Jesus says is never faddish. Instead, it is foundational for Christian living.
Fads, by definition, will fade. In fact, everything is doomed to disappear.
Everything except the words of Jesus. When everything else goes out of style, his teachings are worth keeping.
I want to leave you with one last thought. In the fall of 1939, C.S. Lewis gave a sermon at Oxford University where he taught.
As Lewis took his place behind the pulpit, Poland had just been invaded by the Nazis. The young men of Oxford were wondering what would become of them. Would their generation follow the example of the one that preceded them: so many of them pouring out their life-blood "on Flanders fields"?
Some were wondering whether the dire events splashed across the newspaper headlines were harbingers of the end of the world. Could Adolf Hitler be the antichrist?
What wisdom would this middle-aged professor share with those elite young scholars, many of whom would soon trade their academic gowns for army uniforms?
His response was in a sermon was titled, "Learning in War-Time."
"You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether," Lewis admitted, "of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say 'No time for that,' 'Too late now,' and 'Not for me.' But Nature herself forbids you to share that experience. A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God's hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment 'as to the Lord.' It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received."
--C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Essays
Might I suggest that as we go through life we take from C.S. Lewis a little of his wisdom as we attempt to live as our Lord commanded us to so do with one another. Fads come and go, but the Word of the Lord remains the same and forever.
Let us pray.
That we may have strength to resist unwholesome fads and to apply these longings toward God. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are enduring extreme hardships and have given up hope, that they may be comforted and that we will encourage them and help them to find hope in Christ. We pray to the Lord.
For those who are homeless and others who have insufficient protection from the cold, that they may be kept safe as winter weather approaches. We pray to the Lord.
For grace poured out and received among us; to stand with the poor, the immigrant, the vulnerable and the prisoner and to lead the many to justice. We pray to the Lord.
For all leaders and citizens; for the ability to listen to one another with genuine humility, to reach across the divisions in our midst and build consensus to promote the common good. We pray to the Lord.
During this Thanksgiving week, for grace to step beyond the duty of routine and the frenzy of busyness to cherish the many gifts that are ours, to be mindful of gratitude as a way of life. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, Jesus reminds us that our lives are finite and will one day come to an end. We pray for the wisdom to live each day as if it is our last and to treat all we meet as we would wish that we ourselves are met by you Father on our Day of Judgement. God, you show us the path of life, help us daily to choose to bring light to the darkness. May compassion define us and love guide us as we await that day and hour when time will no longer matter and all will be transformed in your eternal grace. We ask all these things through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA