The righteous must still do right (A sermon by Colton Nettleton, SLU '19)
Good evening! I really appreciated this set of readings as after reflecting on them, I found it relatively easy to pick up on a few common themes that seem to run throughout, which as least for me, is usually very hard to do (or at the very least hard to do just by listening).
Let’s start with Mark. First of all I’d like to point out how comical this story starts. Jesus and crew are just strolling through town, having what I presume to be a lovely time, when the Disciples remark about how large and wonderful the stones of the buildings are, marveling over the ingenuity of the construction. Jesus, not impressed in the slightest, responds “they will all end up in a pile of rubble.” Soon after, we read that Peter, Andrew, and James privately offer a follow up question: When will this happen? And Jesus gives a very dark response that doesn’t at all answer the question. He responds with a description of a world that has gone off the rails, replete with danger and betrayal, an upheaval of society. His response suggests that things are about to get really bad. People will deceive and be deceived, there will be war, earthquakes, famine. And, this will only be the beginning. Initially, it doesn’t seem like much can be gleamed from this apocalyptic speech but when put into context, some valuable lessons become visible.
As we approach the end of the Church year before Advent, it is common to hear readings detailing the destruction of the temple and other related themes before the Sunday of Christ the King (next Sunday) – which celebrates God’s sovereignty over creation and proclaims “he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” The celebration of the coming of a ruler one “whose loving kindness endures forever”. This narrative ordering suggests that, while things might be bad now, we are to be preparing and looking ahead to the coming of Christ the King, which is exactly what Jesus is preaching to his disciples. Jesus takes this opportunity to warn his disciples of the hardship that is to come and to remain vigilant to “see that no one devices you.” If we were to read a little further into the Gospel, we would see Jesus say “Watch out for yourselves, [pain and suffering awaits] but the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Moreover, Mark wrote this around 70-72 CE during a tumultuous period in Christian history, characterized by persecution. People worried and doubted: is the roman empire safe for the church, is God present and with us, have we made the right decision to be Christians? And in this section of Gospel, the answer is that yeah it’s terrible right now but don’t mistake current calamity and destruction and hardship as sure signs of Christ’s return. Rather, there will be a continuous series of traumas that mark the world and as Christians we are to not retreat but to continue to bear witness trusting that in the future, good will prevail – Christ the King will come.
These exact themes are echoed in Revelation. Revelation “was composed as resistance literature to meet a crisis. The book itself suggests that the crisis was ruthless persecution of the early church by Roman authorities and it acts as a call to stand firm in faith despite threat of adversity.” Our reading tonight states, while “the wicked still act wickedly…. The righteous must still do right, and the holy still be holy” as well as places a lot of emphasis on the coming of Christ the King “behold I am coming soon” we hear multiple times. In the face of apparently insuperable evil… Christian’s are called to trust in Jesus’ promise and to continue to fight such evil – to do right. No matter the adversity, we will triumph in the end. It is a message of hope and consolation and a challenge for all who dare to believe to endure and to act.
This message is very applicable to today. The world around us seems to suck everywhere we look. The hardship and suffering seem to have no end and we are constantly deceived and tempted. But what does continuing to bear witness to endure and act and not to retreat look like today? How do we fight this suffering? This is where I turn to the first reading and the psalm.
Firstly it is worth noting that Hannah gives birth to Samuel who was the pivotal figure in the rise and development of kingship in Israel which can be seen as leading to Jesus’s birth and the rise of Christ the King. However here the focus is the story of Hannah. A woman who suffered greatly and who was shamed for her suffering , for things over which she has no control (and whose husband’s idea of consoling is “hey well you can’t be that upset, you’re one of my wives!”) a woman who is later lifted up by God. In the psalm, which is the prayer or song later uttered by Hannah, we hear themes that lift up the oppressed and look down upon the privileged or those who oppress: “Speak boastfully no longer, Do not let arrogance issue from your mouths. … the bows of the mighty are broken, while the feeble bind on strength… He raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap lifts up the poor… for not by strength does one prevail…”
Taken as a whole, the message that sticks out to me is that when looking for the coming of Christ, when asking ourselves how do we endure in the face of adversity like Hannah, and how do we fight suffering, we must look to those who suffer the most. We must listen and look to the downtrodden, oppressed, and marginalized for faith and wisdom and the coming of Christ the King. And if I haven’t made it clear, this isn’t to say that we should listen and respond by saying “don’t worry, Christ is coming and you will be rewarded in the afterlife.” On the contrary, this is a call to action. “The righteous must still do right.” This important ideal is profusely evident in liberation theology and I’d like to close with a quote from the Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez:
Ser cristiano es ser testigo de la resurrección de Jesús, y significa también superar la pobreza, que es muerte, algo inhumano, contrario a la voluntad de Dios. Si la pobreza es contraria a la voluntad de vida de Dios, luchar contra la pobreza es una forma de decirle sí, al reino de Dios.
To be Christian is to bear witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus as well as to overcome poverty, which is death – something inhuman and contrary to the will of God. Therefore, if poverty is contrary to the will of God, to fight against poverty is a way of saying yes to the reign of God. [A way to prepare for the Coming of Christ the King.]