ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH NOVEMBER 15, 2015
Hebrews 10: 19 – 25; Mark 13: 1 – 13
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
We at St. Stephen’s are living, learning and sharing the love of Jesus Christ in our complicated world. When we adopted this mission statement Session felt it was important to keep the adjective “complicated”. We really do live in a multidimensional world which is rapidly mutating. It’s a roller coaster ride and we need to hang on. Mass media and other forms of technology have shrunk our world into a “global village”. A letter that once took two months to get overseas, is now delivered in a nano-second by email. Our multi-cultural communities are made up of people who look, eat, worship and think in different ways. World politics are mind boggling. The Moderator of the PCC recently had a chance to speak with some of the Syrian refugees. One man said “We’re not even sure who the enemy is – Assad, the Russians, the Allied Forces, the rebel freedom fighters, ISIL, or some other terrorist group. All we know is any one of them could drop a bomb or shoot our family at any time.”
We’re all aware that our own culture has been devolving into a secular society. Where once all our neighbours were Christians with some church affiliation, now many people profess different beliefs or create their own “spirituality” and many more have no use for any faith system. The Christian faith seems to be particularly hard hit; it’s as if being the foremost religion is intrinsically wrong and we’re to blame. Admittedly, to our great shame, not all Christians have been Christ-like in our dealings with people – there is much for which we are accountable. On the other hand, the vast contributions Christians have made to education, health-care, social justice and development go unrecognized. Jesus is quite hated. Consider the sentiments expressed in these images:
Part of the confusion lies in the fluidity of ethics: marriage and family lack simple definitions; the value of human life is questioned; moral behavior is shifting. Even the need to define morality is considered unnecessary – anything goes. Christian parents are in a constant battle with the culture that influences their children at every turn. Parents often feel helpless against such pressures. They’re in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children. It isn’t that they can’t say no. It’s that there’s so much to say no to. While parents once raised their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages, today they’re expected to raise their children in opposition to it. A very bright young man who wrote, “It is maddening to be reminded to appreciate what we have. To be told to be grateful. It’s in conflict with our times and their emphasis on constant ambition, striving, and status attainment. The idea of being content, feels strange and dangerous, like some kind of losers’ council or the consolation prize… We are ungrateful partly out of fear, a fear of accepting what we have. Anxiety feels so much more natural.” For other young people anxiety is the result of despair and hopelessness as they wonder what the future holds for them. Either way anxiety seems to be quite prevalent for those under 30.
Robert Keagan, a social psychologist argues, “Big Ideas have failed us. Truth doesn’t exist. Subjectivity is the way of life. Objective Facts simply give advantages to one way of life over another. We’re realizing we all belong to greater systems which are all tied to one another and to this planet in important ways. Few can really grasp this concept in its fullness. Almost all of us are in over our heads”. I don’t know about you, but I frequently feel I’m “in over my head”. I can “tsk” all I want, but this is the world we live in and many times I struggle to relate. What is equally true is that the average person’s knowledge of Jesus or the Christian faith is so flimsy that it’s foreign to them. Of the many challenges and questions this raises for us as Christians perhaps the first one we need to answer is: Given we live in a complex, mutable, secular, increasingly hostile and at best indifferent society how do we live?
Our position is similar to the Jewish people after they were taken captive in Babylon and dispersed throughout the world. It was difficult for them not to be absorbed into the culture around them. The OT ends with 17 books written by prophets to the people of Israel. Often we think these “prophets” were predicting the future or calling for justice. While both things appear the emphasis and purpose of the books was to call the people to be faithful to the covenant they had with God. Most of the Israelites went astray adopting the lifestyle of the people around them while abandoning their own spiritual rituals and laws, and worshipping foreign gods. In many places they’re referred to as “adulterers” because they “cheated” on God by fooling around with other customs and idols. Those who were faithful were called a “remnant” – a left over scrap who were determined to live their faith and be true to their God.
Jesus warned his disciples they were in the same boat. He predicted the destruction of the Temple. The Jews couldn’t rely on their building for their identity and neither should we. He spoke of false teachers who would attempt to lead them astray. He foretold natural disasters and human conflicts. He warned of coming persecution – they would be handed over to religious councils, beaten in their places of worship and taken before government officials; family members would betray one another to be put to death. They’d be hated because they loved Jesus. We know the early Church suffered these things and Christians in other places are persecuted today. Our suffering’s not on that scale, yet we do experience hatred because of our love for Jesus. And if Jesus is right there’s a bumpy road ahead and we need to hang on. Jesus directed his followers to endure, to defend their faith and to rely on the Holy Spirit. In Hebrews Christians are also encouraged to persevere in our faith. We’re to meet together regularly for worship, prayer and study since it’s easier to remain strong in our commitment if we have support. We need to grow in knowledge and love for Christ because the more solid our foundation the less likely we are to crumble. We’re to encourage one another and build each other up; there are enough people ready to tear us down, we don’t need to do it to each other. Relying on God’s promises, we’re to inspire each other to love and acts of goodness staying true to our values and lifestyle while loving those who would mock or harm us. This isn’t easy. During China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, a mission was captured by insurgents. In front of the gate they laid a cross. Those inside who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life, the others would be shot. Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross. But the eighth student, a young girl, refused. She prayed and moved carefully around the cross and was killed. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining ninety-two students followed her to the firing squad.
For us, faithfulness may not be so dramatic. Fred Craddock said, “To give my life for Christ appears glorious . . . to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom — I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to Jesus is like taking $l,000 bill and laying it on the table– ‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’ But for most of us Jesus sends us to the bank to exchange the bill for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, ‘Get lost.’ Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It’s hard to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.” We are called to faithfulness in many small ways. No longer can we attend church on Sundays but evade Jesus throughout the week. We need to worship together, read the Scriptures, and pray. As complex as society is, we need to stop judging others as if we were perfect saints trapped in a world of sinners. We need to stop talking about the sins of others, and confess our own. We need to find ways to bridge the gap and to love, to understand the needs of others and address them. We need to be willing to sit down with strangers and share a meal without wavering in our faith. An elderly man was traveling with a boy and a donkey. The man was leading the donkey and the boy was walking. At the first village the people said the man was a fool for not riding, so to please them he climbed up on the animal’s back. In the next village, the people said the old man was cruel to let the child walk so he got off and set the boy on the animal’s back. In the third village, people accused the child for making the man walk, and so they both rode. In the fourth village, the people were indignant at the cruelty to the donkey. The man was last seen carrying the donkey down the road. The moral is: we end up carrying a heavy burden if we try to please everyone around us. As Christians we need to hold on to what we believe and live with our own integrity regardless of the choices or opinions of others. We are to live, learn and share the love of Jesus Christ, no matter how complicated our world gets and “the one who endures to the end will be saved”. (Mark 13:13)