We Don’t Know EverythingRev. Linda C. Moore, Guest Preacher Sunday, November 30, 2014 First Sunday in Advent Murfreesboro Baptist Church Murfreesboro, NC
Mark 13:24-37 (link)
I am so excited to be here with you today. It was an honor to be asked by Lee to do this, for two very specific reasons. The first is feeling like I’ve come full circle by being here today. Murfreesboro Baptist is where I learned about church and church community, while I was a student at Chowan. Now, here I am, preaching. The second reason is Advent is one of my favorite times of the church year, the hope, anticipation and joy that come from waiting for the Christ child. We are at the beginning of the church year, new hope, new start and of course, the anticipation of new life in Jesus. Advent is hope, peace, joy and love. So I said, “Sure, I would love to preach the first Sunday of Advent. “
But then I saw the gospel text for this week’s lectionary.
Apocalyptic scripture? On the First Sunday of Advent? Why during Advent? Why are we presented with this lectionary scripture that introduces the Passion Narrative leading to the death of Jesus Christ? It’s supposed to be about His birth.
The subject of Advent is comfortable for me. I imagine it’s comfortable for you. This is when we decorate the sanctuary, making things green and bright with light and spirit. We shop to get gifts for the people we care about. We help at the soup kitchen, buy gifts for a family in need. We know Christmas is coming and more importantly, we know WHO is coming. The baby child, born in a manger, who brings hope and light to all in the darkness. That’s the joy and anticipation of Advent. That’s the comfort for me.
Well, this scripture gets me out of my comfort zone: the Apocalypse, End Times, the Second Coming, It scares most preachers and that’s why we don’t preach about it much. That’s what the lectionary does. It gives us the chance to preach from scripture that we aren’t comfortable with, that we wouldn’t have chosen to preach from, especially as we kick off the Advent Season. This scripture may very well pull the rug out from under the Advent wreath and me – and we land in the suffering and fear of the unknown.
- Wars and rumors
- People will be led astray by false prophets and messiahs
- Nations and kingdoms will rise against one another
- Earthquakes and famines
- People will be turned to council
- Beaten in the synagogues
- Family members will betray one another
Jesus was referring to the various sufferings that will be encountered before the Second Coming. When I read that list, in the midst of all that is happening around us, I couldn’t help but think about the sufferings that are taking place today, right in front us, and just before we celebrate Jesus’ First Coming.
- Arguments over immigration
- Hunger and poverty
- Human trafficking
- Unpunished sexual assault
- Unwarranted beatings and bullying
- Teen and adult suicides
- Mass shootings in schools and public arenas
- Racial, Religious and political discrimination
- I imagine there is suffering going on in all of our personal lives, too.
And that’s just in the United States alone.
Do you remember what happened the first weeks after September 11, the day we lost 3000 of our very own people? When the country was shaken to the core, to ground zero? Everybody gathered together for prayer vigils, for community, for hope. Everybody gathered together because we loved one another, we all had something in common that day. The Sunday following, the churches were packed like it was Easter Sunday. Everybody gathered together and provided the comfort of light in the midst of fear and darkness. We came together as one country, united in spirit and humanity. When was the last time we came together as a country, united in spirit and humanity, in the midst of fear, darkness and uncertainty?
When was the last time we came together as one community? Came together as a people of Faith? As the Body of Christ? When was the last time we came together, awake and alert, together, as one nation?
When was the last time we let go of wanting to know everything, letting go of our need to control, of our need to always be right, and learn to do things together again? Without fear?
I imagine the people Jesus is talking to, his disciples; Peter, James, John and Andrew weren’t too keen on hearing that they wouldn’t know the time when Jesus would return, much less, that they would have to stay awake for it. I imagine they were asking Jesus because they knew Jesus would know the answer. Guess what? Jesus didn’t know either. This man, whom all the disciples dropped everything to follow and trust, now has put some question and fear into his followers when He said, “but about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” They now had to have faith in someone who doesn’t know, on top of the fear of the unknown.
When was the last time we let go of wanting to know everything even though we were afraid? Let go and had faith in God? Jesus had to remind the disciples of that very question and he did so with a fig tree. One of the events he called to happen, involved changing seasons and a fig tree:
“From the fig tree, lean this lesson, as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.”
It’s the same fig tree that Jesus put a curse on two chapters ago. Remember?
Mark 11:12-14 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.
Mark 11:20-24 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
And verse 25, one other directive:
‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.’
This fig tree was cursed and then it withered. Jesus said, “Have faith in God,” and tells them, “Don’t doubt your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass.” In today’s scripture, the same tree that Jesus put a curse on, will come back to life. It will be resurrected. It will become tender and put forth its leaves and summer will come. And not only that, but we are to have faith and we are to forgive. When we stand and pray, when we forgive those trespasses against us – we will learn the lessons of a fig tree that blooms.
We don’t know everything and I’m ok with that because it’s not our place to know everything. If we knew everything, we wouldn’t need community. We wouldn’t need church. We wouldn’t need God. Even Jesus didn’t know when all of this would take place. We don’t need to know everything but there is something we do know.
I am a trauma chaplain. I work with those patients and families who are in the hospital due to a life-altering trauma. I see suffering every single day. Patients are at their most vulnerable, their weakest, and their highest level of fear, in the hospital. The families are too. They are afraid and they are angry. Both are looking for control in the uncontrollable. They don’t know what will happen next. They don’t know everything, except that they are angry and afraid.
The question I get more often than not is, “Why?” My response is and will always be, “I don’t know.” I don’t know why this happened. I don’t have an answer to that question. But the one thing I do know is what I tell them, “no matter what happens, you will get through this and you will not be alone. You will get through this with strength and courage from the depths of your soul. And you will get through it because God will be right there with you. In ways you don’t even know.” It will take strength to trust in God’s guidance and support. It will take courage that will get you through the unknown.
Molly Marshall, President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary pinned a devotion for today scripture reading. Using the words of St. Augustine, she reminds us of Hope:
“Hope has two beautiful daughters
–anger to see things the way they are
–courage to change them to the way they should be.
Attentiveness is the only faculty that gives us access to God…. During this Advent, let’s be on the watch to balance anger and courage as we wait in hope, for God will show up.”[i]
If you will allow me, I have a confession to make. I’ve been lacking faith lately. I see and feel what’s been happening around us, especially in the past few weeks and I haven’t had a lot of faith in our world, in our country, in our people. In fact, I’ve been angry, so angry. Maybe many of you have too. Whatever side of the anger you’re on, it hurts to see so many horrible things are happening to people, families are suffering and humanity is dying. We have something in common, our own people are dying. There are hateful and judgmental statements and accusations made. All that is happening angers me.
Then I read this scripture, presented to me in the midst of this anger, presented to all of us on the first Sunday of Advent and I am reminded that I don’t know everything and someone else knows a lot more than me. Jesus called me (called us all) to stay attentive, to be alert and awake. That gives me hope and the courage to do what it takes to share hope, to bring hope, through help, comfort and guidance, in the midst of the darkness. It helps to have the faith that God will be right there to help us and get us through.
We don’t know everything, but we do know something. We know we can’t change what happened yesterday. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. BUT we do know that we can have the courage and the attentiveness to change what happens within us. We know what’s going on in our own hearts, in our lives and in our minds. There is no reason to deny it. We can pay attention to what we can do before the stars fall from heaven and the fig trees bloom. We DO know what we can do to change what’s going on within us. We’ve known what to do since September 11, 2001.
We know that Jesus gave us two commandments to follow. We also know that Jesus gave the directive to stay awake and alert, to be prepared, with a focus on what we can do to bring hope into a world of suffering, before He returns.
As we anticipate, the first coming, the birth of this precious child, we are reminded that every single soul on this earth was born a precious child of God’s. They were born to be our neighbor. Let us remember to stay awake, be alert and know that through the darkness and the pain, we will see and BE the light of hope, and in due time, we just might hear those words, “Glory to God in the highest and there will be peace on earth.”
Let that be our hope for today.
(c) 2014, Rev. Linda C Moore