Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Good News of the End

Mark 13:24-37, the gospel lesson appointed for the First Sunday of Advent, appears at first glance like a continuation of the word we heard in Matthew 25 at the end of the Pentecost season.  Watch!  Keep awake!  You know neither the day nor the hour of the Master's return.  But looking more closely we notice hints of good news.  Spring is coming!  Look at the fig tree.  Maybe this isn't a threat which causes fear, but a promise that brings hope.

(The following questions attempt to get at some of the fundamental concerns for Law and Gospel preachers, specifically concerns about how the Word is functioning.  For more on this genre of preaching, see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This text is good news to "the elect".  Verse 27 says that the Son of Man will come with great power and glory and "gather his elect" from the corners of the earth.  This is a Gospel word to those who are enduring suffering.  The text goes on to compare the present time to the ending of a season when the cold of winter is passing away and the summer is coming.  This also is a message of good news.  Even the word that "heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" is good news to the suffering ones.  In effect the message is, "Take courage.  God's word is sure.  Though you suffer in the night, grace comes in the morning."

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  The word of Law, announcing to us our need for Christ, is not overly present here.  There is a word of judgment to "the powers in the heavens" and to any who stand opposed to this One who comes with great power and glory, but these opponents of the Christ are not really addressed.  This is a word to God's people who are enduring suffering.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  As always we are the ones whom the Word addresses, in this case, those who are longing for the end to come.  Like the writers of the spiritual "My Lord, What a Mornin!'" we are the ones who are watching and waiting as "the stars begin to fall."

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The second half of the text is a clear call to obedience.  Because we are confident that the master of the house will return from his journey and bring with him gifts for all, we are commanded to each be about our work.  Because we are servants of a good and generous master we are eager to have all things ready upon his return.  We take joy in being about the work which is ours to do.

5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Since the Law is not overly present in this text we will need to provide that side of the equation.  Some possible ideas:  winter/springtime; ongoing suffering/the end of suffering; absence/presence.

6.   Exegetical work:  Don Juel, in his masterful analysis of Mark's gospel, quotes an article by Nils Dahl titled "The Purpose of Mark's Gospel."  Juel points out that "rather than presuming a readership whose problem was persecution, [Dahl] argued that the Gospel addresses a church that has tasted success and found it satisfying.  It envisions believers who have taken the gospel for granted, who no longer see the world painted in dramatic colors.  The story of Jesus is retold to shock them into awareness." (A Master of Surprise, p. 87-88)  Dahl's view is quite in contrast to the usual view, that the readers of Mark's gospel were enduring persecution and indeed even longing for the end of the world.  Lamar Williamson pretty well sums up this consensus:  "On either the literal, the pragmatic, or the existential interpretation, the vision of the future in Mark 13 serves to strengthen discipleship in the present.  It arms us against the wiles of deceivers (vv. 5b-6. 21-23).  It sustains us in whatever suffering or persecution we must endure (vv. 8c, 13b, 20b).  It motivates us to get on with the preaching of the gospel to all nations (v. 10).  It both ennobles and relativizes the common round of daily life by making each moment subject to the invasion of the Son of man, who comes to judge and to save."  (Interpretation series, Mark, p. 242-243).

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?   Michael Foy, in his analysis of this text, centers upon the image of being watchful.  He points out that we can be either those who watch in fear, or those who watch in faith.  Christ's bursting in upon this world in power and glory is the event that changes our fear to faith, and liberates us to be watchers of the promise.  Go to study for the entire analysis.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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