Maintaining a Non-Anxious Presence
November 19, 2006 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 13:1–13:8
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
"Looking for a Miracle"
Psychologists help people to distinguish between good stress and bad stress. Much of the stress that we often want to alleviate is considered to be bad stress. In a given year, if one changes jobs, loses a loved one to death, moves to a new community-all of these occurring in one year will amount to bad stress in an individual's life. On the other hand, the threat of receiving a low test score can be good stress that will motivate a student to study or to finish an assignment on time. There is also good urgency and bad urgency. "Tyranny of the Urgent" is when we are so carried away by the urgent, that we don't really have time or the focus to deal with the important. Stress and urgency can turn us into very anxious people. Anxiety becomes infectious, and spreads like wild fire, often with very destructive results. Maintaining a non-anxious presence in the midst of stress and urgency has a calming effect not only on us, but those around us. In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus tells his disciples about the end times, and about Jerusalem's destruction. This must have created some stress for them, causing them to become anxious and fearful. Many people become stressed and anxious when they think about the end times. B ut Jesus tells us: "Do not be alarmed" (Mark 13:7). With these words of Christ before us, the theme f or today's message is "Maintaining a Non-Anxious Presence." May the God's rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus' sake.
Today's Scripture readings point us toward the end times and the last things. That first reading from Daniel speaks clearly about the resurrection of the dead: "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Daniel 12:2-3). Centuries before Christ, God's prophet foretold of the resurrection of the righteous to life and the resurrection of the unrighteous to condemnation. Today's psalm also speaks of resurrection: "My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the pit" (Psalm 16:9-10). The second reading from Hebrews reminds us of the importance of coming together for worship and prayer, encouraging one another: "And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25). That great and final day is approaching, but we don't know when. How, then, should we live?
Mark 13, the chapter from which today's Gospel lesson is taken, is often called the "Little Apocalypse." The word apocalypse means to unveil or disclose. The "Little Apocalypse" is here in Mark 13; the "Great Apocalypse" is the book of Revelation. What Jesus is unveiling or disclosing is the last things. Let's set this in context. Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem where Jesus will, in the very near future, be betrayed by one of his own, handed over to his enemies, and die upon the cross. For now, Jesus and his disciples are walking around Jerusalem, and for most of them, this is their first time in the big city. They're from small town Judea and Galilee, and have never seen anything like this. They're standing around the temple, marveling at the massive stonework that had been under construction for years. "Don't be too impressed," Jesus tells them. "It's all coming down, and there won't be one stone left on another." Talk about stress and anxiety! Later on, in private, some of the disciples ask Jesus for specifics: "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are to be accomplished?" (Mark 13:4). Jesus describes signs that will precede that last day: wars and rumors of wars, false messiahs, earthquakes, famines, and more. It would be easy for us to be very anxious about this, and become paralyzed with fear. What Jesus said to the disciples then, He says to us now: "Do not be alarmed." How, then, should we live?
Jesus' words about the temple and its destruction were terribly fulfilled in 70 A.D., when the Roman general Titus and his troops leveled the city. Mark's Gospel was written for non-Jewish believers, most likely living in Rome in the middle part of the first century. They were living through the persecution of Nero. Their very lives were on the line. Jesus' words were-and are-a call to persevere, to "remain steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58). How, then, should we live? We should live as people whose future is secure! How often are we weighed down with debilitating fear and paralyzing anxiety? Our anchor and rock is Christ Jesus, who loves us and gave himself for us. When our world comes crashing down around us, in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters and other events that shake us to our soul, has the Lord abandoned us? Will he suddenly leave us in our hour of need? Not only will He not leave us, He has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). With the promise of Jesus' presence to the very end, through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, strengthened through Word and Sacrament with fellow believers, we can be that non-anxious presence to one another, and to the world.
In today's second Scripture lesson, the writer of the book of Hebrews notes that priests stood before God in the temple (Numbers 16:9; Deuteronomy 10:8). Their posture of standing indicated that their work was never done because they were continually offering sacrifices, day in and day out, for the sins of the people. There were no chairs in the temple as we're told: "Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sin" (Hebrews 10:11). In contrast to this, Jesus sits. "But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sin, 'he sat down at the right hand of God'" (Hebrews 10:12). The sacrificial work of Jesus our great High Priest is done. The offering of his own life blood for our sins is complete. "He sits at the right hand of the Father, and He will come again to judge the living and the dead." Though the world may look like it's spinning out of control, Christ Jesus is in control. In Him, we can have a non-anxious presence about today, tomorrow, and the Last Day. May God help us to do this, for Jesus' sake. Amen.