Guest Minister: The Rev. Dr. Ross Lockhart
What Time is it?
- “What time is it?” someone asked as we shivered in – 30 Celsius temperatures listening to the Canadian rock band Glass Tiger remind us of their best 1980s hits. “What time is it?” a friend asked again, “Has the world ended yet?” It was December 31, 1999 and my wife and I were visiting her parents in Barrie, north of Toronto. City Hall had arranged a few live acts in the freezing cold as we gathered to mark the new millennium. If you’ll recall there was some anxiety about Y2K, a sort of Arnold Schwartzenegger Terminator/Skynet scenario where the internet would crash, and society would collapse into anarchy. Which is like a Presbyterian’s worst nightmare – everything should be decent and in good order. “What time is it?” someone asked again, and we watched and waited.
- The disciples must have felt a bit of that anxiety in today’s reading. What time is it? Their answer – Times are good. Jesus’ talmidin, his disciples have come in from the country. They’re down from the Galilee and up to Jerusalem for Passover. Their Rabbi Yeshua is going to make this a Passover to remember. They visit the massive temple, and as we heard in the children’s time, are overwhelmed by its’ size. The disciples remind me a bit here of how I felt when I moved from Winnipeg to study theology at The University of Toronto. I spent the first few weeks wandering around downtown Toronto always looking up, impressed by the scale of the city. And to be fair to the disciples, the scale back then was amazing. In fact, it’s still amazing today. I’ve led six pilgrimage tours to Israel over the years and when you visit the Temple Mount it is an impressive sight. I take groups down below, underground where you can even walk along the foundation stones that King Herod laid for the revamped Temple – they are absolutely massive. And these folks came from the rural Galilee. No wonder they were impressed.
- But here’s the thing, the disciples are confused about what time it is. They think it is the time when Jesus will come into his power and authority, in an earthly manner. But we know, as baptized followers of the crucified one, that what is coming next is not the time the disciples think.
- Mark’s gospel moves at a lightening pace, it is more like the little Metro newspaper you get for free at bus stops than reading the Globe and Mail. We’re in Chapter 13. One more chapter and Jesus is arrested. Two more chapters and Jesus is dead.
- What time is it? Time for things to get really, really hard for the disciples and for Jesus.
- The disciples wander out of the temple with their eyes up, like a young grad student wandering the streets of Toronto from the Prairies, but Jesus’ gaze is elsewhere. He knows what time it is. Not one stone from this building will be left standing, he declares. And the disciples are shocked. That is impossible, they think.
- Jesus takes them across the Kidron valley, across from the mercy gate to what we now call East Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. At the bottom of the Mount of Olives is the garden we call Gethsemane – an olive press where Jesus will be squeezed with emotion as he soon faces his end. Jesus knows what time it is, but do the disciples?
- Confused now the disciples ask him, Lord, when will this happen? When will the temple be destroyed? Even asking it seems heretical. After all, the temple was home to the Holiest of Holies, God’s time share on earth, where his presence dwelt. How could that be destroyed. It would be like, the end of the world.
- Jesus continues, there will be many who come falsely in his name. There will be wars and natural disasters. Don’t panic, he says, what appears to be the end will actually be signs of a new beginning – birth pangs Jesus calls them.
- What unsettling news, life as they know it is going to be turned upside down. Safety is an illusion, things are going to get messy. This week we watched in sadness as the campfire inferno swept through Paradise, California and so many lives were lost. We live in a world with on-going conflict between nations and the real threat of nuclear war. Is this what Jesus meant in this passage? What time is it, Jesus? Jesus knows the time, but do we?
- And if this is the end, what is this new beginning of which Jesus speaks? What kind of time are we living in Jesus?
- Students of the gospel of Mark here today will know not only was it the shortest of the four gospels but it was also the first to go to print, shall we say. It comes to us from around 69 or 70 AD.
- Why should that matter you ask? Well, there was a major uprising against Rome in Israel from 66 to 70 AD. At first, there was enough momentum to kick out the Romans – the long-awaited messianic vision came true, or so people thought. People were speaking up about a possible messiah.
- But then Rome responded with sending more Legions and they crushed the Rebellion. The final stand was at Masada that you can still visit today.
- Before Masada, however, the Romans leveled Jerusalem and the temple was destroyed.
- Up until 70 AD, Christians, or people of The Way, were understood to be a sect of Judaism. Judaism, of course, was given preferential treatment by the Romans who respected ancient cultures and so Jews were exempt from such things as Emperor worship. As long as the Christians were seen as a branch of Judaism they were okay. After 70 AD and the Jewish revolt those privileges were revoked and now Christians were into a whole new world where persecution would be a constant threat until Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity in 313 AD.
- The apocalyptic tone of today’s reading was literally coming true for the people recording Mark’s gospel. For Mark’s community if you asked “What time is it?” – they’d say “the end of the world as we know it.”
- But remember, Jesus says this is both end and new beginning. Death and destruction and birth pangs. So, what was being birthed? The Church as the sign, foretaste and instrument of the Kingdom of God, as missiologist Lesslie Newbigin would say.
- What time is it? For Christians we know the timeline that we are on from Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church and one day in the future – consummation. For Mark’s community, like ours, we acknowledge that we live in a fallen world with great suffering and sorrow. In this our time, we live trusting in Jesus – as the Alpha and Omega – the one who holds all time in his hands
- Andrew’s Church when we ask today what time it is, it strikes me that this month we are awash with clues in our Sunday worship. The first Sunday of the month was All Saints – a time when we remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants – of the faithful who have gone before us. As Hebrews 12 says, we run the race of faith looking to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith while those who have gone before us cheer us on. We are clear in the church between the difference of Hollywood heroes and Christian Saints. Sam Wells, Vicar of St. Martin’s in the fields, London writes in his excellent book Improvisation: The drama of Christian ethics, “Of those sixty-four references to saints in the New Testament, everyone is in the plural. Saints are never alone. They assume, demand, require community – a special kind of community, the communion of saints. Heroes have learned to depend on themselves; saints learn to depend on God and on the community of faith.”
- Last Sunday, Remembrance Sunday we acknowledge the fallen nature of this world, the heart-breaking reality of war and violence, the courage of those who serve and give their lives for peace. And next Sunday, we ask what time is it, and we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. The end of the church year. For the following Sunday we move into the season of Advent.
- As Christians we mark time differently because when we ask, “What time is it?” we know that all time, past, present, future is in the hands of the One who lived for us, who died for us and who rose again that we might have life eternal.
- I serve as Interim Moderator of a terrific little Presbyterian Church in Surrey. I miss congregational ministry and so serving as an Interim Moderator gives me the chance to preach to a regular group of people, sit at the Session table as Moderator and visit God’s people in good times and bad. Recently, I went to have a visit with a dying man. Chris is on a fast journey from diagnosis to death. I sat in his living room, surrounded by homemade clocks – a little hobby – and heard the latest update of the hospital visits and palliative care actions. We sat in silence for a bit – a pastoral practice that I crave. Chris then said, “Pastor, I know what time it is. It’s time to go home. I’m ready to see Jesus. I just wish I could have a little more time here on earth to tell others about how good he has been to me.”
- As we sat in that living room, the sound of the grandfather clock ticking away, we bowed our heads and prayed for God’s assurance of grace in our end and new beginning. That our time, and all time, is in the hands of the One who knows us and love us from the foundations of the earth until the end of the age…