Because Love Abounds Here

A sermon based on Mark 13:1-8
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 15, 2015
by Rev. Scott Elliott

I’ve always liked the part about birth pangs that Barbara just read from Mark. It offers hope and purpose to the struggles enumerated. A pang is a sudden sharp pain. The seemingly dire little section we heard from what theologians often call Mark’s “little Apocalypse,” has a positive promising end. All the stuff, the false prophets and cataclysmic events, are the harbingers of something new, the birth bangs– of no less than the reign of God.
Although our lesson from Mark has a lot of rich ground to cover on Jesus’ teachings on the birth pangs of the reign of God, this morning we’re going to mostly focus on the question asked of Jesus after they move from the Temple to the Mount of Olives. We’re going to consider the first part of his answer. Jesus is asked

“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”
And we are told that,

Then Jesus began to say to them,

“Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.

I want to set that exchange in context. After Rome destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. the people of Palestine would gather on The Mount of Olives to take in from there its panoramic view of the terrible destruction. See, at the time Mark was written the Mount had become a place to morn the great loss. 1 So it’s no accident Jesus talks of the Temple’s destruction and finishes the conversation on The Mount of Olives where people in Mark’s time made pilgrimage to look over at the Temple Mount and grieve.

The actual destruction in 70 A.D., was, of course, years after Jesus was crucified, but the destruction probably occurred not too long before our lesson was written. In fact, one way scholars date the Gospel of Mark is by the heightened discussion of the Temple’s destruction and outline of events. The thinking goes, that the Temple must have just recently fallen when the story was recorded.

Given all of that, one part of the contextual puzzle we have is that our reading starts in the Temple with the disciples honoring it and Jesus predicting its fall; then very quickly the story moves to the Mount of Olives where – as I said– at the time that Mark was written Jewish people would go to lament the Temple’s fall. We are meant to hear in our Bible lesson a symbolic representation of the history of the fall and it’s immediate aftermath. Jewish people honoring the Temple; the unthinkable thought of the it falling; and then Jewish people – which included Mark’s Jewish sect of Jesus Followers– dealing with that reality on the Mount of Olives. Jesus is likely placed there by Mark to sooth the upset in his Jewish community.
Pretty interesting stuff. And that’s just the start of the sub-text. See the Mount of Olives, even before the First Temple was built, was a storied and Holy place. God works wonders there in the Bible. And King David regrouped there during war. And it’s even the location of an Old Testament end-time prophesy in Zechariah (14:5). And in Solomon’s time it was also the location false idol worship. So today’s lesson can also be heard as taking place on Holy ground that has served and serves and will continue to serve as a place for powerful happenings, including King David’s transition in the past, Judaism’s transition at the time of the story and even future transitions prophesied. Plus it has a connection to the faithful being led astray from God to idols. Simply put the Mount of Olives is apt for the teachings of Jesus with the past, present and future rooted in the place.

In our reading Christ provides advice which boiled down is: to be patient while enduring the havoc and hardships that have always been around, both human made–like war and fighting; and nature made– like earthquakes and famines. And he gives all this advice ending with the birth pang tag line offering hope. 2 But he begins all this advice warning followers to be careful of those deceiving in his name (we heard astray in the NRSV but decieve is also used):

“Watch out that no one deceives you. Many people will come in my name saying I am the one. They will deceive many people. ”

As we delve into this text, that we need to be aware that many churches in America have preachers and laity who will tell anyone who will listen how other churches and other preachers and other Christians are deceiving in Christ’s name. It’s a way to back their theology and warn people off of other churches, and frankly often to bully and scare. Christians like other human organizations have broken people and broken-ness and this is true on not just fighting and warring nation levels that Jesus names, but in smaller communities, even neighbor to neighbor. We need look no further than letters to the editor or Facebook rants about Christianity to see people asserting false prophet or evil deceitful Christian claims against those they differ with.

We might all actually be a little tired of theological opponents painting one another as the deceivers who Jesus warned us all about. But we can’t really avoid it. On one hand if we are in a church it’s likely these days someone somewhere, sometime will claim we are deceived by a deceiver and/or are deceiving somebody. On the other hand, sometimes we – personally and as church– need to give heed to Jesus’ advice. We need to be aware some do deceive in this name and we can ojectively, not meanly evaluate this.

Stewardship Sunday when we pray and weigh and begin to respond to next year’s resource needs of the church seems a good time to consider this. We want to be comfortable that we and others are not being deceived. In other words, we as part of the present day Body of Christ ought follow Jesus’ advice and watch out as Jesus tells us to.

Now our reading does not tell us exactly what to look out for. There’s no list Jesus ticks off. Which is why some are able to misuse the advice to try and stomp out forms of Christianity or its advocates that they don’t agree with. As opposed to using it to ascertain objectively if someone is deceiving in Jesus’ name. In fairness to the author of Mark’s not leaving details in our lesson today who would imagine it would be so hard to be on the lookout for someone deceiving in Jesus’ name? I mean, Jesus’ message is laid out in the Gospels and it’s pretty clear in them what Jesus’ Way is and what it is about.

Jesus said

“Watch out that no one deceives you. Many people will come in my name saying I am the one. They will deceive many people. ”

The Greek word for “deceive” in this translation saying is “planao”(plan-ah’-o). It basically means as the NRSV indicated, to to lead astray. 3 “Astray” means to be knocked off a correct direction or pathway. So we can hear Jesus as warning his followers to not be lead astray, knocked off of his Way as it were. We need to not just trust a preacher or laity or church who bears Jesus name, we need to watch out to see if she, he or it takes us off the path of Jesus’ Way.

Well that begs the question, what is Jesus Way? And are we hearing it here each day in what we do and say?

Believe it our not I’ve been here two years, two weeks and a day. By my calculations today marks my 100 time in this pulpit and each and every time –in one way or another– I’ve talked about Jesus’ Way. “The Way” is defined in the theological dictionary on my desk as:

a term for the Christian faith used during the apostolitc age. It is used biblically to indicate a course of life or choices one makes, as in . . . Jesus’ teaching. 4

Jesus taught the supreme commandment on his Way is to love God and to love others. He taught us to be loving in the world. That’s his Way. Every week I try to preach about love for that reason. And I’ve preached before that basically Jesus Way boils down to: Claiming God is love; Believing in Love; loving Love and being Love. That’s what our church is about because that’s what Jesus’ Way is about! I recently saw a meme of Facebook that sums up what Jesus’ Way is not, it said “If it is not about love, it is not about God.”

Now I imagine that every church in America would be comfortable claiming that their church IS about love AND that God is love, they believe in love, love love and are trying to be love. I’ve even heard Westboro Baptist Church claim on TV that its aggressive bullying of Gays and others is based on love. We see this with other Christians who use the Bible to pummel others with. They will claim their conduct is love based. But, objectively, bullying and pummeling others does not fit the definition of love. I’ve preached on this definition and talked about it in classes before. Westboro Baptist and other Christians acting hatefully want to define love their own way. Lucky for us there are objective definitions that help avoid being deceived about love, Jesus’ Way. Paul’s Love Chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 (4-6) tells us:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

Bullying and any sort of pummeling do not match up with that definition. Nor do they match up with “Love” as defined by the Westminister Theological Dictionary (I’ve read this before):

Love. Strong feeling of personal affection, care, and desire for the well being of others. It is the primary characteristic of God’s nature and the supreme expression of Christian faith and action.

Jesus’ Way is about the type of love defined by Paul and in the dictionary, not redefined by others who claim to come in Jesus’ name when an objective standards indicate otherwise.

We talk about love here every week and we shape our missions and ministries toward love. That is we express affection, care and desire for the well being for others through our words and our actions. Love is OUR supreme expression of faith AND ACTION.

The Stewardship letter sent out a few weeks ago lists a lot of the ways we are on Jesus’ Way as this caring compassionate faith community works to transforms lives under solid leadership and an ethos of responsible use of the resources God has blessed us with. Our actions are about love as it is objectively defined. Our worship services and Sunday Schools are uplifting and loving and unabashedly progressive and through Jesus provide an extraordinary welcome and care for all. We accept our differences and embrace our commonality and strive together to make a difference not just for us but for the well being of others and creation. We come to First Congregational to make the world a better place, to answer God’s call to salvation from lesser ways of being for us and for others. We work toward well being of all. That’s love. That’s Jesus’ Way.
We strive to be his hands and feet and ears and voice God– of love– in the community by hosting other groups that aim to do the same like, Habitat for Humanity, Alanon, Compassionate Friends, Yoga, Chi Gong, Mt. Vernon Zen Community, Gay Straight Alliance and Hot Meals. That’s love. That’s Jesus’ Way.

We also help local schools with tutoring, clothing, camp tuitions and emergency needs. We provide financial aid to Winter Sanctuary, New Directions, Interchurch, Back Bay Mission, and to all five of the UCC mission offerings, as well as to individuals in need. That’s love. That’s Jesus’ Way.

We also helped start a Multi-Church youth group and led a very successful interfaith friendly community wide peace camp for children. And we continue to speak up and take action that stands up against injustices and oppression toward people of color, women, poor, mentally ill, LGBTQ and other faiths. That’s love. That’s Jesus’ Way.

We believe as Jesus did, that there are no strings attached to God’s love and we strive to act like it. In short, we are a church where things are aimed to happen Jesus’ Way, lovingly with desire and action for others well being. We are a small church following a big God, led by a lot of very capable leaders, and so we have been doing, and plan to continue doing, wonderful transformative things in the community. That’s love. That’s Jesus’ Way.

We say we do all these things in Jesus name, and we do them. There’s no deceit in it. We are the real deal. How can we tell? Because love –the desire and action for the well being of others abounds here each day.
That IS Jesus’ Way. That is this church’s way. Thank God!

. . . And thank you.

AMEN.

ENDNOTES:
1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_of_Olives
2. Feasting on the Word, year B, Vol 4, p. 313
3. BibleWorks 9, (Mark 13:1-8, KJV, Strong’s No. 4105 definition)
4. Westminister Theological Dictionary definition of “The Way.”
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2015 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED