Contributed by Dennis Sepper, Tacoma, WA
What kind of stories do you like? What have you learned from those stories? Is there any “truth” you learned that you thought was good advice or applied to your life?
Sometimes a story can convey the truth in a more powerful and meaningful way than just stating it. For example, there is no real Harry Potter or Hermione Granger, but the stories about them reveal the truth of friendship, the struggle to form helpful values and relationships, and the fight between good and evil. The same could be said of Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games trilogy. In the Bible there are several places where an author uses a story full of symbols to give encouragement and hope to their readers. These stories have a technical name you may have heard: they are called apocalyptic writings. Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New Testament are prime examples of apocalyptic writings. Daniel and Revelation were written during times of persecution so the authors had to be careful so that the persecutors wouldn’t know what they were saying to their people. They used symbol and wild imagery to confuse the people in power and give hope to people suffering oppression.
I have a friend who received a text from a female co-worker. She was sharing with him a funny thing that happened to her that day and ended the text with the abbreviation “LOL”. My friend was concerned that she had some feelings for him because he interpreted “LOL” to mean “Lots of Love”. After he showed me the text I assured him that she was not hitting on him and that the abbreviation meant “Laugh Out Loud”. He was relieved and embarrassed!
But that is the way apocalyptic writing works. The powerful oppressor thinks the author is saying “Lots of Love” when the author is signaling his people to “Laugh Out Loud” because, no matter how bad things are, God is with them and the goodness of God will triumph over the evil of the oppressor. It is meant to give them hope in the face of suffering and what might look like a hopeless situation.
- Think of a time you were in a situation where things really didn’t look good for you. What gave strength and hope? Was it a person? A story? A Bible verse?
- Do you think there is a difference between hope and optimism? Look up the definition of both online. Which do you think is more powerful, hope or optimism? Why?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, November, 18, 2012 (Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
In addition to Daniel and Revelation, each of the first three Gospels contains one chapter which speaks of an apocalypse, specifically the time when the current world will end and Jesus will return. Mark 13 is one of those apocalyptic chapters (along with Matthew 24 and Luke 13). In this week’s Gospel text Jesus warns the disciples that they too will face persecution and suffering for the sake of the Gospel but he says, “fear not,” for God is still in control and God will reign.
Thoughts about the end of the world can be scary, so much so that Hollywood has made a lot of money creating films about either the end of the world or what a “post apocalypse” world would be like (see this list from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_apocalyptic_films )
However, remember the purpose of apocalyptic writing, to affirm that God always keeps God’s promises and God will always be with us to the end of the age. That message is strong and clear in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. We have nothing to fear as always and ultimately we are held in the hand of the God who created heaven and earth, and in the hand of a Savior who showed forth love and compassion even to death on the cross.
You may have also heard that according to some interpretations of the ancient Mayan peoples calendar that world will end on December 21, 2012. Many predictions have been made over the years, most based on certain Bible passages. I have a book a cousin gave me many years ago. It was written by a pastor she interviewed for a newspaper article and in it this pastor predicted the world would end in 1980! How many years was that before you were even born? I keep it as a reminder that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said only God knows the date and time of the end, neither the angels in heaven nor even Jesus knows (see Mark 13:32).
It is interesting to note that the things Jesus presents as signs of the coming end are things that are always going on. There are always wars and rumors of war, nations do rise against other nations, and there are always famines in our world. I think two things can be said about this, first, that we do not have to worry about missing the return of Jesus. When that day comes there will be no doubt about it. Second, Jesus is encouraging us to keep awake and alert and to carry on our discipleship with a sense of urgency…sort of a “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today” message. The Church year season of Advent begins in two weeks and that sense of keeping watch, keeping alert is one of the major themes of the season.
All in all, maybe Martin Luther had the best advice, when asked what he would do if he knew the world would end tomorrow, Luther supposedly said he would plant an apple tree. We do not have to worry about the end of the world for we are forever held in the arms of God.
- The text speaks of a lot of scary events. What is most personally scary for you; what do you most fear? How does your faith speak–or sometimes not speak–to that fear?
- If you knew the world would end tomorrow how would you spend the last day?
- Why do you think many persons seem so obsessed with figuring out a timeline for the end of the world?
The people in the Caribbean and all along the east coast are recovering from the damage of Hurricane Sandy. They are not being persecuted but they sure could use some hope and comfort. Why not pick a synod or two and send the Bishop of the synod a card or a letter of encouragement which the Bishop could share with the people of the synod? Let them know that you are thinking of them, praying for them and standing with them in their time of need. Can you imagine how their spirits could be lifted by cards and letters from youth groups and individuals around the country? Here is a link where you can find the names of the Bishop and the address of the Synod office. http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Synodical-Relations/Regions.aspx Just click on a region on the east coast and then you will see links to the synods in that region. Do not forget the Caribbean Synod for they suffered at the hands of Sandy too. It may not be an apocalyptic writing that you send but it still can bring hope!
Editor’s note: I was serving as Lutheran campus pastor at Virginia Tech when the shootings occurred on that campus. We received a number of bookmarks from a synodical youth event in New England which expressed care and support during that crisis. It meant a lot. This week’s writer is dead on in his suggestion!
Loving God, you created the universe and all that is in it and yet you call us by name and hold us in the palm of your hand. Strengthen all those who are suffering or facing persecution. Give them hope through your Word and through us, their fellow pilgrims on the journey of faith. We pray also for those of us who are wondering if things will ever work out for the good, if the good will ever overcome evil. Speak a word of peace and hope to us and remind us that we can never be separated from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.