Saturday, November 7, 2015

Beginning of the Birth Pangs

Mark 13 is widely viewed as a description of the destruction of the Great Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.  The first 8 verses of this chapter, which constitute the gospel reading appointed for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost - also called the Third Sunday of End Time, Saints Triumphant - end with a surprising and hopeful twist.  Could it be the promise of resurrection?

(The following questions help get at several core issues for Law/Gospel preachers who understand their task to "do" what the text "does" in their preaching.  For more information on this method, see my book Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  When we see the word "beware" or we note that the entire text is an exhortation to remain vigilant, we know we are encountering a word of Law, the word that says, in short, "You need Jesus!"  In this case, after the disciples indicate how impressed they are with the Great Temple, Jesus brings them up short by predicting its destruction.  As later verses in this chapter make clear, soon there will be a time when endurance will be sorely needed.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  A word of Gospel (Here is Jesus!) is absent here.  Indeed, Jesus talks about many who will say "I am he" and will lead people astray, because they are not the Christ.  The only hint of hope is at the end of this introductory paragraph to the Little Apocalypse, where Jesus speaks of "birth pangs."  This hints at God's ability to bring life from death, hope from despair, a new community from the rubble.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is always important to identify with the ones whom are being addressed by the Word, and in this case those are the disciples.  We too are so often impressed by "large stones and large buildings" when all this is passing away.  We too are likely to be led astray by false messiahs, and found frozen in fear at the prospect of suffering.  We too need the hope of God's ability to bring life from death.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in the text?  The call to obedience, which is the Word functioning to say, "Follow Jesus," is not present in this opening paragraph.  It comes soon enough as the next section talks about the need for endurance.  In this text the call is to repentance and faith, which precede any call to obedience.  Once the call to faith has been answered, then the call to the acts of obedience such as testimony, charity, and endurance can be heeded.

5. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by the text?  Returning to the function of the text, which is to warn us of the time to come, several couplets come to mind:  faulty vision/full vision, trust in temples/trust in God, suffering/new birth.

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  If you go to text study you will find archived there many fine examples of the work of the Crossings Community. In the case of this text, a very clear example can be found under 2012 Year B Gospel for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost.  Here Mark Marius starts out in the diagnostic phase, by revealing the "building blocks" and "shaky structures" we build, which then, "God throws down."  In the prognosis, he nicely reveals Christ as the stone which the builders rejected, which is our hope, and then goes on to show how the sacraments can be a "sign" for us as we continue on, and we "rise, build and birth."  This is an excellent example of the clarity this model can bring to a text.

7.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic.  Eugene Lowry often insisted that what every sermon needs is a plot line that introduces tension, leading to release.  This text is filled with tension, and revealing Christ as "the stone the builders rejected" might be an excellent way to target the release.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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