This is the beginning of the birth pangs? Really? Exactly how long is this labour meant to last??? was my first reaction when I read this Gospel text this week.
This reading follows directly after the one we heard last week in which the widow gave her two copper coins to the temple offering – and Peter suggested (I think correctly) that by doing so, she was participating in a system of her own oppression.
Jesus and his friends have come out of the temple and are checking it out from the outside. Now I have never seen these temples for myself, Jerusalem is not a place that I have yet been. But from all accounts, we are talking about huge stones – I imagine the tires of mining trucks huge – if you’ve ever seen them they are ridiculously enormous – I don’t make it to the rim of them. Not that I am all that tall.
So in words that sound like and probably are, protest speech – Jesus is saying that these enormous stones will not be left standing together. This place is coming down.
What I hear him saying is: this place and the system that it represents, the very one that the widow was both supporting with her tiny offering and that would take all that she has – it is going down.
Jesus has come to show us a new way to be. But getting there is going to be painful and terrible and destructive because the systems that are in place are systems that everyone participates in knowingly or not and that kind of change is hard on everyone even if they would benefit from it. Like the woman who wants to give to the temple offering likely because of her faith but then supports a system that in the ends does not support her or women like her. It’s complicated and likely that no one gets out without having participated in some way. Sound familiar?
This is our story too. And the destruction of these I think sounds way easier than actually doing it. Remember Exodus? Remember Israel wanting to go back to slavery because the wilderness was actually far more trying and the journey was taking far longer than they had anticipated.
The passages that follow tonight’s reading invoke famine and war and families pitted against one another.
Mark’s gospel’s apocalyptic text feels particularly poignant in our world today. And I keep wondering – has it ever not been?
I mean, just because we don’t hear it on the news doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. And I couldn’t turn the radio off on Friday night, I just sat and listened as CBC played the same interviews over and over and talked about the people hidden in book stores and the dead and I knew that this is just the story that they chose to tell, that this story is not unfamiliar in places like Beirut or Bagdad among others.
But then there are possible good news stories in places like Burma. And I get all tied up into knots as I read my facebook page searching for some light or some pithy meme to share that might make us think or see things in a new way or whatever…
So really, I am so over this labour already.
Let’s get on with the new tomorrow already. The one that has us truly loving our neighbour and sharing our things and making space for each other and helping the poor and not buying into oppressive systems and where we just don’t care about red cups, because please, for the love of God…. This is ridiculous.
And I am wondering how, as your preacher and priest I am supposed to come up with good news here. The end of these systems – the ones that oppress and kill and do not see everyone as beautifully made in the image of God creatures, the end of those systems is still to come.
But I will not walk away from this text without seriously considering our role: because we get to choose – always. We, who hear about these things, do not get to play victim and say that we are powerless because we are not. We get to choose who we follow and why and what that looks like.
Jesus says to his followers, ‘Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he’ and will deceive many.” But we know what Jesus sounds like.
Jesus sounds like: do not participate in unjust systems, Love your neighbour – like really love them, even when they don’t look like you or smell like you and your neighbour is not just the person who lives in your neighbourhood your neighbour is also fleeing their country because it is no longer safe for them there, because the world is much more and so much bigger than just what we see.
Jesus sounds like: lift your head up and pay attention to what is happening in the world and not just what the news is telling you, because injustice doesn’t just show up on our televisions.
Pay attention to what you are doing with your money and where you are putting it and who you are giving it to and what they are doing with it.
Jesus sounds like: pay attention and you get to choose whom you follow and do not be deceived. If it doesn’t sound or look like love, then it probably isn’t Jesus.
And not fluffly bunny love. Love that stands for love’s sake. Love because God loved us first; Love that is strong enough to roll away really big stones.
I am thankful that the good news in our community is not only mine to share. That we get to share it with each other. Because honestly, Jesus loves you because God loved you first and you get to choose how you live into that, is truly the best I can come up with tonight.
That if we continue to choose to live into Love then things are going to change – they have to. I have to believe that.
Anne Lamott, who is one of my favourite authors wrote the following in a piece that she posted on Saturday. I shared the whole thing on twitter but the bit I want to read to you tonight sounds like this:
Today, we try to keep the patient comfortable–ourselves, our beloved, the poor.
We’re at the beginning of human and personal evolution. Whole parts of the world don’t even think women are people.
So after an appropriate time of being stunned, in despair, we show up. Maybe we ask God for help. We do the next right thing. We buy or cook a bunch of food for the local homeless. We return phone calls, library books, smiles. We make eye contact with others, and we go to the market and flirt with old or scary unusual people who seem lonely. This is a blessed sacrament. Tom Weston taught me decades ago that in the face of human tragedy, we go around the neighborhood and pick up litter, even though there will be more tomorrow. It is another blessed sacraments. We take the action and the insight will follow: that we are basically powerless, but we are not helpless.
I have no answers but know one last thing that is true: More will be revealed. And that what is true is that all is change. Things are much wilder, weirder, richer, and more profound than I am comfortable with. The paradox is that in the reality of this, we discover that in the smallest moments of amazement, at our own crabby stamina, at kindness, to lonely people who worry us, and attention, at weeping willow turning from green to gold to red, and amazement, we will be saved.
These are the beginning of the birth pangs, Jesus says. And as any of us who have birthed an idea, a thought, a sermon, a tiny human, knows that these things often take way longer than we want them to.