Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
August 28, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Well this is a fitting text for our times, speaking of wars, earthquakes and famines. Sounds eerily familiar to the earthquake in Italy, the famine people are facing in Louisiana from the devastating flooding and the continual war against ISIS. Have we passed the birth pangs phase, is the apocalypse upon us?
I am here to tell you, it is my friends. But before you think I have gone crazy or before you begin grabbing canned food and joining with me to build a bunker, let me explain. If we look at our text from the point of view of the people who were the original listeners and writers, we will find motifs and images from Jewish apocalyptic writings. This writing is classified as “persecution literature” because it assures the persecuted communities that they will have vindication. It also assures these people of God’s judgment of their oppressors.
Now, looking at this scripture and specifically the apocalypse from our time, from our point of view, I think of Gus. Gus, the father from the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, he would say, “the word apocalypse is from the Greek word apokalupsis, from apokaluptein which means to uncover or reveal.”
So yes the apocalypse is upon because today we are going to uncover or reveal the meaning of this scripture for us.
In our scripture we meet the disciples Peter, James, John and Andrew who are coming out the temple with Jesus. As they walk out one of the disciples shouts, “Teacher, look at the stonework! Those buildings!” (The Message Bible, Mark 13:1). This statement by the disciples caught me off guard. I was thinking, yup those are buildings, why would the disciple comment on them?
Well according to Josephus, which is a record of Jewish history during the first century CE, some of these massive stones were 37 feet long, 12 feet high and 18 feet wide. So not only were these stones huge, but they were overlaid with gold. And those which weren’t covered in gold were the purest of white. Now that is reason to give pause.
Yet as the disciple stands there in awe of the building, Jesus responds “You’re impressed by this grandiose architecture? There’s not a stone in the whole works that is not going to end up in a heap of rubble” (The Message Bible, Mark 13:2).
Jesus goes on to answer the disciple’s question of when will this happen, in private. He responds “be aware that no one leads you astray.”
No one leads you astray. Let’s uncover what leads us astray? Jesus says, no one. Not your friend, your brother, your boss, your enemy, and not even yourself. As the disciple stands in awe of the beautiful building Jesus calls him back. This disciple’s mind led him astray. He became preoccupied with a man built beauty and power instead of divine beauty and power, which was right in front of him in the form of Jesus.
This is soooo easy to do. To become engrossed or preoccupied with something and miss God in the moment. I had a moment similar to the disciple’s this past month. As you know I was in Minnesota for a Writing Workshop held at the Collegeville Institute, which is on St. John University’s campus, home of the Illuminated St. John’s Bible. Written and illustrated entirely by hand, The Saint John’s Bible has been described by the Smithsonian Magazine as “one of the extraordinary undertakings of our time.” This project which took 15 years to create was led by the calligrapher to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and we were invited into the private vault to see this master piece.
Before we went into the vault we all were required to wash our hands and then the director, a 6 foot tall man who was very particular and seemed as though he should be a librarian gave us a briefing. The air in the room is set at a perfect temperature so only ten people are allowed in at one time to see the Bible, because with each person the temperature changes and we have to keep it at a precise point to maintain the quality. Each of you will need to take off any hats, sunglasses, long necklaces and scarfs, we can’t have them accidentally touching the manuscript. As he unlocked the door he told us, now I will go in first and put in the security code. Once you hear the beeping moving in quickly, the beeps will become faster and we must hurry because that means we are letting out too much air.
He turns the door knob, we hear the beep, go go go…beep, beep, beep. We all make it in. Now I was expecting the room to be dark with a table in the middle where lights were shinning down on the Bible and we could all circle around. Well that was not the case. It was like a storage closet because the library, where the Bible is usually kept was being renovated.
So we go in and he begins telling us about the Bible. How they used age-old calligraphy techniques to create a modern manuscript including: hand-ground ink from the 1800’s, egg yolks, gold, silver, and platinum in the illuminations (art work throughout the Bible), goose quills all on carefully selected calf-skin vellum for the text. It took 15 years for the calligraphers and artist to hand write and illuminate the entire Bible. So say this project was meticulously created would be an understatement.
I was in awe. I was saying to Jesus, “Teacher, look at that stonework!” Teacher, look at that meticulously detail and beauty!
As I was mediating on our scripture today, I found myself realizing I was missing the point, just as our disciples were. I was so caught up in the physical beauty that I was missing the “word” of the Bible. After all “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2). Caught up in all the details of this Illuminated Bible, that even though the Word was right there, I did not see the Word, I did not see Jesus and God, who were reaching out to me through this illuminated Bible. I was too caught up in the making of the Bible, the technical application, the details in the butterflies, the vellum, and stitching, the page layout and numbering. I was preoccupied.
It is easy to become preoccupied, to be listening to someone while making a to do list of what you need from the store, to get so wrapped up in your work or life that you forget a friends birthday, or we begin to wondered why did so and so do this or that…
We all become preoccupied, we all get weighted down by worldly things which draw our attention and focus away from what really matters. Jesus knew this and he warns us and the disciples to “beware that no one leads you astray” (v. 5). Jesus knows temptation will come, and life will hamper us because even the disciples became preoccupied with the extraordinary buildings.
So how do we stop being so preoccupied? One way is staying in this moment, right here and right now. Thich Nhat Nanh states that “our true home is not in the past. Our true home is not in the future. Our true home is in the here and the now. Life is available only in the here and the now, and it is our true home.”
How do we stay in the moment:
1) Let’s intentionally slow it down. Everything will get done and what doesn’t get done will still be there tomorrow.
2) Do less. Give yourself permission to rest. Checking off more things on your to do list does not always mean you have done more, particularly if you have no idea what you just did.
3) Try to stop worrying about the future. Notice I say try, the disciples, who were walking with Jesus were even worried about the future.
When we become preoccupied; we when go, go, go, and do, do, do and worry, worry, worry, we miss witnessing Jesus right in front of us. We miss this very moment.
When will the apocalypse be? We have no idea. Maybe you remember the 2012 Mayan Doomsday, which was December 21, 2012. This day marked as the completion of one full cycle of creation by the Maya calendar, so people believed 12/21/2012 would be the end of time. Well we know how that turned out because we are still here. But Mayan scholars, say the ancient Maya would have celebrated the day as a new beginning, and would not have seen it as the end. They would have understood it to be apocalyptic, an uncovering or revealing of a new beginning.
Each moment is a new beginning and we can only be witness to it, if we are present.
May we be fully present in your sight Oh God. Amen.
 Harper Collins Study Bible, 917-918