- First Reading 1 Samuel 1:4-20
- Canticle 1 Samuel 2:1-10
- Second Reading Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
- Gospel Mark 13:1-8
Most of us here are old enough to remember more than one doomsday cult or prediction. I am certain that, if we were to look hard enough, we would always eventually be able to find one, but every so often, one comes to national, or even global attention.
In my lifetime, the first I really remember was Y2K, so named for a software problem born from programmers who wanted to save some time and space and so left out the hundreds or thousands place in dates, which, we were warned, could cause all sorts of mayhem. Others felt that the turning of the millennia would be marked by the return of Christ, or perhaps the beginning of a period of tribulation.
We had a series of them about ten years ago, first with Harold Camping and his American Family Radio declaring that the world would end on, if I remember correctly, May 12, 2011. He, his group, and his doomsday prediction received national attention. I even received a call from a friend who was hoping that I, as a seminary student, could tell her how to best prepare herself in the few hours she had left.
Obviously, to those of us still here more than ten years later, May 12 came and passed without incident. As is often the case when these events come and go without incident, Harold Camping went back to his sources to check his math and made a new prediction, sometime in October of the same year. That day also obviously came and went, but then we had the whole Mayan prophecy thing. This particular doomsday scenario stemmed from the fact that hundreds of years ago, a group of Mayans carved a calendar into a large rock, and as is inevitable when writing dates on a finite surface, eventually ran out of room. This banal explanation, however, was not enough to keep the 2012 Mayan apocalypse from getting widespread attention and even a major Hollywood movie.
Jesus, of course, saw all this coming. Elsewhere in scripture, in passages often read on the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus tells the disciples that no one, not even Jesus himself, knows the hour or the day. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus warns the disciples, ““Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs”
Jesus knew and warned us that these predictions of doom will occur on an almost predictable cycle. People will look for cosmic answers to mundane events and can then be swept away. Once people have been swept away, they may become provoked to apathy. Why try to save a world that is already doomed? Why try to improve someone’s life if it will just be cut short tomorrow, or next week, or next month?
The unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews knows this as well, and perhaps was thinking of today’s passage from Mark as they wrote: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 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.”
I have thought much on the choice of that word, provoke. We usually think of provocations as leading to anger, to destruction. I mentioned earlier that doomsday scenarios provoke apathy, but also fear.
In the Letter to the Hebrews, we are challenged to provoke one another, but not to anger, fear, or apathy. “Provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Let this ever be our goal.
The letter continues, warning us against “neglecting to meet together” so that we may not be left alone to let fear fester. We do gather together here, and I continue to say that we have not and did not stop, even as we were forced to adapt to new and different ways to gather. Those of you hearing me live on Zoom, or even later on the recording are also part of this gathering together alongside those here in the room. So, as we gather, let us heed the words of Hebrews, and encourage one another. Even, our scripture author says, “all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Do not give credence to those saying the end is coming but work always to encourage each other to love and good deeds, work together to build each other up and to build the church.
Last Sunday, we started handing out our Time & Talent surveys, others have gone into the mail, and more are available on the church website or in the narthex behind you today. I hope you will take them home and pray over what gifts you might have to offer the church. We are not asking about money this year. We trust your generous giving to continue, but what we are really hoping for in the coming year is your time and energy, your passion and excitement for new ideas and growing ministries. We had many good ideas last year that we were not able to use because of covid restrictions, but we have used others, including our light snacks after worship to encourage us to spend some more time together in fellowship. I can stand in this pulpit and exhort and encourage you as a group, but we grow the most when we build up each other. I pray we can not only continue to do so, but that we can grow in our faith together and find new ways to serve not just our church but our community together. Amen.