Mark 13. 24-37
I don’t know about you, but I have looked to the church to provide me with a sense of purpose and meaning, I wanted peace, love and the example of holy people around me. Unfortunately, what I have found was intrigue, smallness - a lot of people who are just as bad as those outside of the church. And I wonder sometimes, did I make a mistake in joining the church? How can I find Christ in a place like this?" Anyone who has spent time in the work of the church will have heard these or similar words often. Just as in marriage; there is a movement from honeymoon high to disillusionment and to a doubting that God is anywhere in the picture.
This week we begin the Season of Advent, the season of preparing for the "adventus" or coming of Christ and we are told three times, in the reading from Mark's Gospel to be awake and alert or we might miss his coming. During the new Church year that begins today we will be taking our readings mostly from Mark's gospel. Probably the oldest Gospel, it is also remarkable for its stark realism. Mark tried to explore the mystery of who Christ was and describe his crucifixion without the efforts that we see in the other Gospels to soften the harshness and brutality of his execution. Mark's Gospel is even more extraordinary in the way it portrays the twelve disciples of Jesus. They are the counter heroes of the whole story.
Mark was writing about 30 years after the death of Christ. The young church was faced with the problem of a leadership that had lost its first fervour, that was often sinful and far from caring. The Christians of that time were asking the same questions as I mentioned before. Mark dealt with the problem of the ambiguity of the leadership of the Church in his time by telling of the weakness of the first disciples. In effect he says, "If they were weak and sinful we should not be surprised to find weakness and sinfulness in the Church today. If Christ was in the middle of that weakness he is in the middle of our weakness today."
From the beginning, according to Mark's account, the disciples shared in Christ's mission in a very privileged way. They responded immediately to the "call" to follow Jesus. They witness his miracles and get special private instructions from him. They are called to be with him and sent out to spread God's reign by preaching. So far so good.
But as the story of Jesus progresses the failures of the disciples increase. They fail to understand the parables. They do not understand Jesus' walking on the water. They want an exclusive discipleship cutting out others. Three times Jesus tries to talk about his oncoming Passion but the disciples either fail or refuse to understand.
The disciples really come off badly in the Passion story. One of them, Judas, betrays Jesus. Peter denies him and Peter, James and John sleep through his hour of agonizing prayer. Then "they all forsook him and fled." There were no disciples at the foot of the cross in Mark's account. Nor are they found in the resurrection story. Mark closes his Gospel without rehabilitating the disciples.
The Gospel of Mark, emphasizing the failure of the disciples, gives us a powerful message about the overpowering need for dependence upon Jesus. Side by side with their repeated failures is the reliable presence, forgiveness and love of Jesus for his ever erring disciples. The message is that Jesus is to be found in the midst of human failure and struggle and not in an ideal utopia. To recognize this Jesus we need to be alert and awake, watching out for him and not just for our own advantage.
Advent is the beginning of a new church year. A new beginning. A time to "Keep awake!" Not a time to settle down and be comfortable or bored, because it is all so familiar. But a time to be surprised. And a time to be sensitive to and aware of, the unexpected moment, the God-given moment in our ordinary daily events.
Bell from the Iona Community in
A great theologian, Frederick Buechner describes a moment when he was waiting for a dramatic revelation of God, but instead found God in the "click clack" of two tree branches knocking together in the wind.
Sometimes discovering the God-given moment in our ordinary daily events can be difficult. Many of us have been taught in the past to expect God in the spectacular, in the dramatic, in the supernatural.
If this is how you have been nurtured, then I admit, an Advent which prepares for an incognito or 'click clacking' God in the midst of ordinary daily events, might be more disturbing of one's faith than comforting.
But the challenge is there.A challenge to consider the ordinary things of our lives – the rountine, boring sights and sounds - the details - the parts of our lives that pass us by, often without us being aware of them.. We need to consider these things and reflect where is Jesus in these moments? How often do we pass him by too busy with our schedules and things to do?
Mark, urges us, lures us, to "Keep awake!" Ears tuned. Eyes open. Aware of. Sensitive to... opportunities from the present moment, when our incognito God is in to be discovered amidst of ordinary daily events. of life.