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November 17, 2015, 1:13 PM

Shine!


Mark 13:1-8, CEB
As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”
Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”
Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What sign will show that all these things are about to come to an end?”
Jesus said, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many people will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ They will deceive many people. When you hear of wars and reports of wars, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be earthquakes and famines in all sorts of places. These things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end.
 
“Shine!”
 
I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but it was early in my appointment here at First UMC Oneonta. Todd Loucks and I were meeting with the confirmation class to plan the big Pentecost-Confirmation Service. The class had been preparing for this big moment of commitment and promise. We had been talking about baptism and symbolic actions, and now were working with the class to add some personal touches to the service. So we asked them, “What would you like to have in the service?” They instantly answered, “A fog machine!” Of course. Todd and I laughed, and then we realized they were serious. “Look,” I said, “There is no theological justification for a fog machine in the worship service.” Never ask teenagers who are completing two years of theological education and reflection to theologically justify something. One of the youth immediately responded. They were about to make this huge commitment, to accept Christ and commit themselves to the church. They were moving from the ‘fog of uncertainty,’ ‘the fog of doubt,’ ‘the fog of the world’s way of living,’ and they were moving into the clarity and light of Christ. As a sign of that movement and commitment, they were enter the sanctuary from the fog of the Narthex, and into the spotlight of Christ, and walk down the aisle to the waters of Baptism. Amen! And now, our tradition is a fog machine in the Narthex and spotlights at the entrance of the Sanctuary.
 
Maybe we should do that as a congregation on Baptism of the Lord Sunday, the second Sunday in January, as we reaffirm our baptism for the new year?
 
These last few Sundays we have been spending time with Jesus and his followers in Jerusalem during the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And during these last days Jesus is trying desperately t0 pull his followers out of the fog and into the light. The disciples, from the rural regions of Galilee, are awestruck by the wonder of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. Their vision is clouded by the majesty of it all and they cannot see the new thing God is doing in Jesus Christ. They arrived in Jerusalem with all the excitement we celebrate every Palm Sunday, and upset the temple powers. The next day they journeyed to that Temple where Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and dove sellers, and upset the temple powers. Now they have spent the day at the temple where those powers have tested Jesus, questioned his authority, and challenged his interpretation of the Law. Each time Jesus turned their testing around and shone light on the corruption of the temple leadership. Just moments ago they encountered the destitute widow, victimized by the corruption of the temple, nonetheless putting all she had in the temple treasury, and Jesus lectured them on the behavior of the scribes, only seeking power and honor and privilege.
 
Jesus leads them outside, to one of the temple gates, where a disciple pipes up, in today’s reading, “Wow, Teacher! Look at these stones and these buildings! They are awesome!” Our initial reaction is to question the intelligence and hearing ability of these followers. Perhaps we don’t understand how completely impressive this temple was. The temple complex covered eight football fields. Its outer walls were approximately 15 stories high. Some of those stones were the size of my office. The temple itself was made of white marble and gold, and when the sun hit it, it was literally blinding. And this is the temple of God, where the very presence of God dwelt in the holy of holies. The temple itself wasn’t bad, its leadership was the problem.
 
But Jesus also needs his disciples to see beyond the glory of the temple. The temple was made by human hands, and it was finite. It would not last. In fact, as Mark was putting these teachings of Jesus to scroll, the temple was destroyed, or about to be. Jesus needs his followers to invest themselves in what God had sent Jesus to do, to build the commonwealth of God in the hearts of God’s people. Jesus needs these disciples to move out of their fog of wonder and awe of a building, and into the light of what God was doing in Christ Jesus.
 
Jesus certainly gains their attention. Standing in a gateway to the temple, most certainly with those temple powers tailing them to see what Jesus would get up to next, Jesus exclaims as crowds move past, “Do you see this enormous building? Not one stone will be left standing on another! All will be demolished!” Whoa! Blasphemy and sedition all in one fell swoop. It would be like someone entering the White House in Washington DC for a tour and saying, “Do you see this building! It is going to be razed to the ground! Boom!” Secret Services might want to have a word. I imagine that is why the four disciples wait until they have left Jerusalem and are on the Mount of Olives before they ask any questions.
 
What follows their questions about when and signs is the longest teaching from Jesus in the Book of Mark. Jesus, throughout, repeatedly calls the disciples to watch, to be alert, to take head. He warns about that insidious fog that will seek many ways to deceive them. It seems, at this moment, that Jesus has their undivided attention, that Jesus has pulled them out of that fog and a bit of light is glimmering in their eyes. But he can see that shining temple across the valley, and he is well aware of how the world seeks to lull people into complacency. He knows that the world urges people to place too great a value on things that are not God, even good things.
 
Jesus starts naming things that happen all too often in the world, things that have broken our hearts this week. Jesus starts naming things that rattle us, shake our foundations, and often make us want to huddle in the fog; fearful, angry, grieving. War…rumors of war. Nations fighting against nations. Earthquakes and famine. These things make us long to huddle in the familiar, turn our eyes inward to where we think it is safe, wrap ourselves in the fog of helplessness and hopelessness and despair. So first, Jesus assures his followers and us that these things are never the end, never the last word. Terrorists and bombings and loss and devastation do not get the final say. God is our Alpha and Omega, our Beginning and End. God’s final word is Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.
 
Second, Jesus takes these events that are going to happen, violence and disaster, and uses them as a wake up call for Jesus’ followers. When we witness these things happening, we spring into action. We move into the fog as beacons of Christ’s light of grace and dispels that dark fog, make it fade away. We embody the cross and the empty tomb and walk boldly into the chaos, sharing comfort and hope.
 
It has been a horribly foggy week, so many are still in shock over the amount of devastation and loss. Many right here around us are lost in the fog of anger and fear, loss and despair, and a sense of helplessness in the face of such violence. We are entering a very foggy season. The holidays are upon us. And there is such pressure to make this year’s celebrations bigger and better and brighter than last year’s celebrations. The world seeks to wrap us in fog, cloud our minds with the activities of the season, until we find ourselves worshiping the beautiful gifts God has given us instead of the Giver. But we can commit ourselves now to modeling another way, to shining the light of the Christ Child through the fog of Christmas decorations and flashy displays. There are so many people in the fog right now—struggling to move past the violence of this week, lost in the clouds of loneliness—grieving, depressed, stressed, ill, exploited, forgotten. They yearn for the light we carry within us.
 
Nations are clashing. Violence looms large. Disaster is striking for too many. Jesus calls us to action—watch, be alert, take heed! Jesus calls us to shine! Though we may not be able to do it today, literally, in our mind’s eye we take our place with the confirmands in the fog, and with boldness we step into the light of Christ…and we shine!

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