What are you afraid of? Let me ask it this way: What are things that just from reading the newspaper – or hearing the news – or talking with friends and neighbors that are cause for alarm? What do people worry about?
- Global warming?
- North Korea?
- Myanmar – ethnic cleansing
All of these are things that can cause great concern.
The first few sentences in our Gospel sound like the apocalypse – the second coming. There are cosmic signs – a Solar eclipse, comets, and the Son of Man coming with the four winds. And whenever you hear apocalyptic language like this, it often induces fear. The unknown can be a bit scary.
One of the ways that people deal with fear of the unknown is to try to explore it, explain it and demystify it. They want to understand it, assuming that if they understand it, if they can get their head around it, it will no longer be frightening. It will no longer cause fear. But Jesus says, basically – don’t bother to try to figure out the “when.” It’s not for you to know. And yet…people want to know… and somehow… thinking that if they know, then they can be prepared and if they are prepared then they will be ready and they do not need to be afraid. And so… throughout the years there have been declarations made about the “END OF THE WORLD” … only to have the date come and go with the wind. And so the date of the apocalypse continues to be elusive… and hence… frightening.
And yet… for the people who were first listening to Mark’s Gospel, this is what they were waiting for… this is what they were hoping for… they were waiting, expecting Jesus to come back soon. This was not a cause for fear – this was a cause for hope, for rejoicing!
Do any of you have spring bulbs -Tulips or Iris or lilies at your house? They are often the first to poke their heads out of the soil in the spring. After the cold of winter, I am so happy to see them. It’s like the fig tree in Jesus’ sermon. It’s an early indicator of summer – and if you are like me, it gives you a bit of joy when we see these signs of Spring each year pushing up from the ground. They are a sign of hope, not fear.
But..after telling us that no one knows the day or the season, Jesus says in our Gospel, “Beware, keep alert.” Beware. What do you think of when you hear the word “Beware” Hope or Fear? The word “Beware” instills fear – or at least high alert right? Probably because we were created with strong survival instincts, our fight or flight reactions are strong and so I think we move to fear quickly.
However, at our text study this past week, one of the pastors questioned, “How is that word ‘Beware’ translated? What is the origin of that word – or what is a synonym? One of our colleagues quickly looked it up in his Greek online Bible and surprised us all. Another translation of the word “Beware” in this sentence is “Look!” or “Be aware”. “Look” or “Be aware” doesn’t sound nearly so ominous as “BEWARE.”
“Look.” Pay attention. That’s what Jesus is inviting his disciples and us to do. “Look. Be aware. Be alert. The kingdom of God is coming… That is not a message of fear. That is a message of hope and expectation.
Earlier I asked, “What are you afraid of?” And then… more generally, what are people afraid of? And you mentioned…….
It was easy to generate a big list. To our fears – those “real” and “imagined” let me say, Emmanuel – God is with us in the midst of it all. And Jesus calls us to pay attention – to see the word of Jesus and to join God in caring for the world and God’s people in it – so that it does not need to be a place of fear and anxiety. God is with us – Emmanuel – in our fears.
Now let me ask: What are you hoping for? What does the world need?
Again, let me say, Emmanuel – God is with us in this too. The king of creation is here in our midst.
Earlier, I handed you a piece of playdough as a reminder that, as we read in Isaiah, God is the potter and we are the clay. It is a good to be reminded that God is God… and we are not. But it is also good to be reminded that God is not done with creation – and God is not done with you and me.
I’m going to ask you to do something that may seem odd. Take a big breath in…. Let it out. Breathe in. Breathe out. As long as you can breathe in – and out – the Holy Spirit – Spirit also means “Wind” or “Breath” - is present and working with you.
God does not simply put our piece of clay on a potters wheel and come out with a finished product. God invites you to be engaged in molding and in shaping your life, to be a co-creator with God. Some of you may have found ways – while listening – to mold your little piece of clay. That’s good. You see God our potter invites us to pay attention, to “Look!”; to be alert to the way that God is active in our world and then to join God in that creation, in God’s activity in the world, in our neighborhood and in our church.
Today we sing: “O Come O Come Emmanuel” Emmanuel means God with us. God is with us, present with us – always. God is with us as a potter, molding us, shaping us, leading us and walking beside us – even when we do not see God’s presence. Even in those times or maybe especially in those times that seem more fearful than hopeful, those times when we are anxious rather than eager, God is with us – Emmanuel.
And God is with us in those times in which we wait in hope and expectation for the blessings of God. God is with us, Emmanuel.
So brothers and sisters in Christ, “Look. Pay attention.” God is With Us.
Let us pray: O Come O Come Emmanuel, God be with us, bring us out of fear and anxiety and into hope and joy. Amen.