November 14, 2021
25th Sunday after Pentecost, November 14, 2021, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer
Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen.
Can you remember overhearing scary sounds from the other room? Not just when you hear the branches scraping against the siding outside your window, or the weird creaking noises in the hallway, but the times you were disturbed by hushed conversations you could almost catch through bedroom walls, the tone of worried voices talking on the phone just outside your range. You weren’t sure what the message is, but it sounded worrisome. Maybe there is a problem in the extended family, an issue for a loved one, a dangerous development in the news that could affect us. Maybe someone is in trouble. Maybe I’m in trouble.
As a kid, I would watch my older siblings to see how they reacted. Were they hearing what I was? If they seemed worried or anxious, I knew something was up. But if they were going about their regular routines and keeping their schedules, which they normally did, I could be reassured. They embodied a sense of purpose and hope, and reminded me that no matter what else was happening, I was loved, and love would hold us all.
Today, the frightening messages aren’t whispers in the next room, but too many worrisome conversations screaming at us all at once. We’re not able keep it all straight. The only thing we’re pretty sure we heard clearly is, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
Climate scientists warn that we are out of time to address all but the most catastrophic risks of global warming. The plans and efforts of world leaders over these last few weeks will only barely address the issues, and it won’t get better, just perhaps not as badly worse as it could. Inflation is on the rise. Supply chains are tied up, costs for heating fuel are rising, and empty store shelves are predicted for Christmas shopping. Political divisions and stalemates continue. leading many of us to despair that we’ll never work cooperatively as a nation again. And now, right when school aged children can start getting vaccinated, COVID rates in Minnesota have climbed back to where they were last December, when we were closed-up in our houses with no end in sight.
The times feel apocalyptic, like the world is collapsing around us, and no stone will be left on stone. Nothing remains safe. We can become paralyzed in fear.
Much of the bible was written in times that felt apocalyptic, too. Certainly, our texts for these last few weeks of Pentecost and the beginning of Advent impart that theme. Jesus shared the view of many in his culture, that the temple in Jerusalem was about to be destroyed, an idea terrified his community. In fact, the temple would be destroyed, just a generation after his death, around the time that Mark’s gospel was recorded.
Theologian Stephen Fowl describes us how apocalyptic literature such as our readings today, invite us to “focus our actions and attitudes.” He reminds us that if our home were on fire or a bus were barreling down the street toward us, fear would be an appropriate reaction directing us to respond with precise, dramatic, immediate action.
But if we live in a constant state of fear with no tools to help us respond to the turmoil around us, we can become immobilized by anxious dread. “For Jesus,” Fowl writes, “navigating one’s way through apocalyptic times requires a clear vision, faithful insight and holy patience. “Fear is the enemy of all of these practices for living faithfully.[i]”
When Jesus describes the coming wars, and earthquakes and confusion, he stays remarkably calm[ii]. Don’t be alarmed, he encourages. Don’t be dismayed. The tearing apart and the deconstruction we experience can’t separate us from the love that holds us.
Jesus will spend the next few chapters of Mark’s gospel, that is the last few days of his life, responding to his friends in the same way he has throughout his ministry – teaching, praying, sharing meals, welcoming the marginalized. When we are overwhelmed by the terrifying news arounds us Jesus replies with a steady presence, and a reminder to hold fast. He invites us to holy patience, and to deeper commitment to faithful service toward the world.
Jesus doesn’t presume a pollyannish denial of the real risks and dangers, but a dramatic conviction that no matter how much destruction we face, we are held by the God of life. Yes, our journey will carry pain, oppression, sorrow. Yet even as the book of Daniel describes, wisdom and righteousness will outshine the forces of despair[iii].
Spiritual directors remind us that one of the reasons we call so many of our behaviors, “faith practices,” is because they help us practice for our future. When we’re physically stressed, because we’re lifting something heavy, or going up multiple flights of stairs, it helps us to have regularly exercised across the previous many months, preparing us for the demands we will undoubtedly face.
Likewise spiritual exercises — those building blocks of discipleship, prayer, studying scripture, devotions, acts of service, charity — help us stay fit to face the challenges of a life of faith. Get in the habit of centering your breath in the power and presence of a God of grace, so that when the heavy challenges come to us, you’ll have tools on which you can rely. Respond to the anxious, troublesome occasions of our world with a steadfast assurance that love holds us and invites us to care for our neighbor.
“Now is the time,” we’ve been hearing this fall. Now is the time for the church to be the church, to practice all areas of our faith, so that as we meet an uncertain or frightening future.
Now is the time to share, we emphasize today. Our second offering allows us to share food with our neighbors, just in time for the holidays. Our upcoming chance to give gifts through our Giving Tree, or our ongoing opportunities to prepare or serve meals at Loaves and Fishes, our service project night at Confirmation this week, all give us tangible ways to share. Our deeper commitments to the work of ISAIAH or toward Racial Justice allow us to offer not only our financial offerings, but our time and our ability to advocate for others through uncertain times.
And in this coming week, we make our formal commitments for the upcoming ministry year at Gloria Dei. Our financial pledges give us a chance to prepare for whatever challenges we will face as God’s people in 2022. Now is the time to share from the abundance of God’s gifts to each of us.
Pledging is a faith practice of defiance. It’s a gutsy action to promise to give what you’re not sure you’ll have. But important decisions and bold commitments build us for resilience and possibility. Our pledges prepare us to stay grounded as we face the oncoming storms, trusting in a God who calls us to not be alarmed.
Someone attributed to Martin Luther the line, “If I knew I were dying tomorrow, I’d plant a tree today.” While the sentiment certainly matches Luther’s theology, it was most likely penned by another pastor some 450 years later[iv]. Regardless of who first said it, it’s a great image.
Our pledges serve like seeds, planted in the deep soil of unknown possibility. Who knows whether they’ll even take root? They may be drenched by floods, or scorched by heat, or trampled by some unforeknown threat, but still we plant, our optimistic signs of a future harvest. Our offerings might meet the needs of some project we haven’t even yet imagined or used to simply carry on the routine tasks of ministry in this place. We pledge, trusting in God’s future of grace, and in the love that holds us. “Clear vision, faithful insight, and holy patience[v].”
Poet Christian Wiman writes,
When the time’s toxins
have seeped into every cell
and like a salted plot
from which all rain, all green, are gone
I and life are leached
somehow a seed
sprouts the instant
I acknowledge it:
little weedy hardy would-be
while deep within
roots like talons
are taking hold again
of this our only earth.[vi]
We’re not allowed to peek into the construction areas of the sanctuary right now, but from what I’ve heard from behind closed doors, I’m not sure one stone will be left upon another in there. There’s something major going on behind the work zones.
There’s something major happening in our world today, too, so Jesus tells us to stay focused. It’s a birthing process. Things are being torn and moved, so that new life can be realized. Do not be alarmed. The path through these times comes with great loss and pain, but there’s a mystery in which we get to participate, and the mystery unfolds a bit each time we love one another, each time we trust the One who shapes us with the wisdom of stardust. You are loved, and love will hold us all.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Fowl, Stephen, “Waiting in Love, not Anxiety,” Christian Century, November 12, 2012. https://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2012-11/waiting-love-not-anxiety
[ii] Mark 13:1-8
[iii] Daniel 12:1-3
[iv] “Quotes of Famous People,” Martin Luther Quotes, misattributed. https://quotepark.com/quotes/1444647-martin-luther-even-if-i-knew-that-tomorrow-the-world-would-go-to/
[v] Fowl. op cit.
[vi] Wiman, Christian. “When the Time’s Toxins,” Orion Magazine, https://orionmagazine.org/poetry/when-the-times-toxins/
See also Holmes, Steve Gardner, “Birthpangs,” Unfolding Light, November 12, 2021. https://unfoldinglight.net/?fbclid=IwAR1RS0YLikGrvx7zYMS_ABE1xf-hyl_kVGNnS85L1gmpGE3qLXq4Xhq-aKY