The passage today from St Mark is sometimes called the ‘Little Apocalypse’. The reading is a place in the Gospel where and when we overhear the troubles of Mark’s community. They face persecution. In facing trouble, they wonder whether the end of time has come.
The Gospel writer records the Lord’s response that ‘the end is not yet’. The rest of this long chapter, which will include some apocalyptic language and imagery from the first century, continues to make the same point. The end is not here. There may be trouble, trauma, and persecution, but the end is not here. In end, at the end of Mark 13, we will be counseled that no one can see the future, and that we should therefore be watchful.
In this way, the Gospel lesson is not that different from the reading from Hebrews, where we are similarly encouraged to be gentle, thankful, loving, and watchful. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”. A remarkable, beautiful admonition.
Taken as whole, the New Testament books, while shot through with apocalyptic language and imagery, like that found in Mark 13, expectations of the end of time current at the time the books were written, these books move away from apocalyptic thought. Some temper that thought. Some discard it. The Gospel of Mark tempers it. The Gospel of John discards it.
In its place, in the main, the New Testament books proclaim a way of living in thanksgiving, a way of living in love. In our day, and in our particular part of history, including these past several days with their own troubles and their own trauma, we may want to take a clear reminder with us of thanksgiving, of love. ‘Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works’.
Howard Thurman helps us to ‘consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.’ Every year, about this time, I re-read his seasonal prayer. Listen to it again…
I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:
My mother’s arms,
The strength of my father
The playmates of my childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives
Of many who talked of days gone by when fairies
And giants and all kinds of magic held sway;
The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the
Eye with its reminder that life is good.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day
I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a simple handshake when I
Feared the step before me in darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest
And the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open
Page when my decision hung in the balance.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I pass before me the main springs of my heritage:
The fruits of labors of countless generations who lived before me,
Without whom my own life would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp
And whose words would only find fulfillment
In the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,
The leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,
Whose courage made paths into new worlds and far off places;
The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream
Could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment
To which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared my loves,
My desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence
That I have never done my best, I have never dared
To reach for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind
Will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the
inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the
children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.
A former neighbor and fellow pastor, Max Coots, had a way of helping us to ‘consider how to stir up one another to love and good works’. Every year, about this time, I remember his poem to that effect.
For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are….
For generous friends with hearts and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the other, plain as potatoes and as good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels Sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem Artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;
And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.”
Our very language, our way of speaking, helps us to ‘consider how to stir up one another to love and good works’. The Gospel reminds us that every day is our last, that every day we are called to live the full assurance of faith, to the very best of our ability. We do it with similes, that call us to live with faithful assurance. To live with our utmost faithfulness. To live by encouraging one another, to be…
As bold as…brass
As safe as…a church
As pretty as…a picture
As rich as…Rockefeller
As easy as…pie
As happy as…a lark
As happy as …a clam
As old as…Methusala
As cold as…ice
As neat as…a pin
As tall as… a mountain
As fit as…a fiddle
As pretty as…a picture
As deep as…the ocean
As high as…the sky
As gentle as a lamb
“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”.
May this be the way our community is know, our church is seen, and our lives are measured. May this be the way we are named, by others.
Dean of Marsh Chapel