As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 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. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
My sermon from the 26th Sunday After Pentecost (November 18, 2018) on Mark 13:1-13. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
Invisible Girl. Iron Man.The Hulk. Marvel Girl. These are just some of the comic book characters Stan Lee helped bring to life. He, along with the artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Don Heck, was instrumental in creating an entire universe full of superheroes. To my kids, Stan Lee is that weird old guy with the awkward cameos in all of the Marvel superhero movies. But for the rest of us, he’s the one who spent five decades giving us all superhero dreams. Stan Lee wasn’t perfect. He took too much credit for the collaborative work he did and he should have given the artists, letterers, and inkers at Marvel Comics more money. Yet I, like countless other comicbook nerds, mourned his passing earlier this week. He was a pop-culture icon, giving birth to a world that looked a lot like our own but one where radioactive spiders gave teenagers superhuman strength. Peter Parker, aka Spider-man, is probably his most beloved co-creation. He first showed up in Amazing Fantasy Comics #15 as a sixteen year old kid who was bitten by a radioactive spider. Peter discovered he could climb walls, balance on thin cables, and crush steel pipes as if they were paper. With his new found powers, Peter did what any teenager would do: he joined the amateur professional wrestling circuit, using his new skills to make some money. After being given the stage name Spider-Man, tragedy struck and Peter Parker became the superhero he was destined to be. And in the final panel of his very first appearance, we read a line that I think even the Holy Spirit regretted not including in the Bible. Spider-man learned that “with great power comes…great responsibility.”
That line speaks about something that we all know but that we don’t, necessarily, practice. We want those with power to serve the greater good. We want people to recognize the power they do have and how they are called to confront the evil in the world. “With great power comes great responsibility” is an amazing line. Except…that’s not the exact quote of what the comic book actually says. If you opened up your copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 to the very last part of the story, you’d read: “And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come – great responsibility!” We usually leave out the “must also” part of that quotation. But maybe we shouldn’t. Because those words illuminate the inevitable calling that Peter Parker has. He doesn’t get to choose what his responsibilities are. Instead, he gets to live them out and endure. And like all of Jesus’ disciples, he sometimes wonders if this kind of life is actually worth it.
At the start of today’s reading from the gospel according to Mark, the disciples were just overwhelmed by it all. They were hanging out in the place God promised to be, in the Temple in Jerusalem, and they were following God’s Messiah. The disciples, I imagine, were filled with a sense of awe as they walked on holy ground with the One who could feed thousands of people with a couple of loaves and some fish. It’s not only the stones and the buildings that were large – the disciples knew that they were in God’s city with the One who could change the world. And in their exuberance, an unnamed disciple, gave voice to that feeling – and Jesus, in response, cut that exuberance short. Instead of basking in the glory of that moment, Jesus shared that everything around them would come tumbling down. Jesus claimed that God’s House, God’s home on earth, would be destroyed. And so, later on, four of Jesus’ friends came to him, wanting to know exactly what he was talking about. If the Temple was going to fall, they wanted to know when. Now that’s a completely reasonable question but what’s striking about that question is who asked it. And to understand that, we need to open our Bibles to the very first chapter of Mark. Because Peter, James, John, and Andrew weren’t just some random followers of Jesus; they were his very first ones.
According to Mark, after Jesus’ temptation in the desert and John the Baptist’s arrest – Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem by first going to the the Sea of Galilee. He found two sets of brothers working there. Peter and Andrew were fishing while James and John were mending their nets. Both sets of brothers, at Jesus’ call, left their homes and their families to follow him. And for approximately three years, they saw Jesus work wonders. They watched as he casted out demons. They were there when he healed people that the rest of us tossed aside. Jesus matched wits with the religious leaders of his day and he gave his disciples, including those two sets of brothers, a taste of what it’s like to have Jesus’ power. They, like almost everyone else, imagined that Jesus’ spiritual power would also become a political power that would drive the occupying Roman Empire into the sea. The Temple wasn’t supposed to be destroyed. Instead, it was supposed to become invincible. So the four, the ones who had been there since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, asked him a question. They wanted to know if everything would still turn out the way they thought it should. They sought assurances from Jesus that, after giving up everything to follow him, he was actually worth it. Because without the Temple, without some political power, and without some honest-to-goodness benefits in the here and now, the two sets of brothers wanted to know if their lives, had any meaning at all. Jesus sidestepped their question. And instead, he told them to endure. He told them to just live.
And living can be hard. There are joys, of course, but there’s also struggles and suffering. As we age, we discover that our bodies don’t always do what they used to and our new normal isn’t very fun. Our relationships with the people around us can bring us incredible joy but they can also break our heart. We find ourselves praying prayers that we know won’t be answered. And we watch as entire towns are wiped out by wildfires, hurricanes, and wars. We wonder if being here makes sense because the benefits of our faith don’t seem to materialize in the ways we thought they would. We, in a sense, lose that everyday meaning that should move us into a more vibrant, and easier, future. And instead we discover that there’s a lot of life that we just have to live through.
And Jesus, well, he knows that. He not only understands our life but he chose to live that life too. He had the power to do exactly what Peter, James, John, and Andrew wanted. But he also knew that our cycle of living, of violence and war and hurt, was a cycle that needed to be broken. Living for power, for comfort, and for control at the expense of those around us, wasn’t the life God meant for us. So God came down to live with us, to experience first hand what our endurance requires. And Jesus showed us how we can still live even when the stones that serve as the foundation of our lives come tumbling down. Through Jesus’ life and the Cross, through our baptism, through the faith that brings us into Christ’s church week after week, we have been given a lifeline to the divine. It’s here where we receive the creator of the universe: it’s here where we received Jesus himself. And He says that you, as you are, are worth being loved and held by God. Living with faith isn’t easy because faith requires us to be honest about ourselves and our lives. Yet that honesty, in a way, becomes our great power because it helps us admit our collective responsibilities. Whether you are in happiest part of your life or whether everything is crumbling around you, you are eternally loved. And that love is our collective calling to care and serve each other just like Christ cares and serves you. So whether we’re a 95 year old creative legend or a 16 year old kid who was bitten by a radioactive spider, our calling is that we must love, pray, cry, laugh, scream, doubt, and live through our futures, trusting that the peace, mercy, hope, and joy that God has promised to us will, in the end, carry us through.