Hosanna in the Highest!

(Year B, Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018; Liturgy of the Palms Gospel Reading from Mark 11:1-11)

“And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’” – Mark 11:9-10, ESV

Цвети (улазак Христа у Јерусалим)
Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem,
Petar Milošević

Today is Palm Sunday, the day when the Church remembers the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, when people lined the street to acclaim him as the coming King who would usher in the new Kingdom of David.  It is also when the account of Jesus’ trial, mocking, torture, crucifixion, and death are told in the Gospel reading for the Eucharistic service.  As my priest put it this morning, if this juxtaposition seems jarring, good – it’s supposed to.

One of the thematic features of the liturgy for Palm Sunday is the reinforcement of the fact that the same crowd that was moved to proclaim, “Hosanna in the highest!” when Jesus entered Jerusalem was equally stirred up to denounce him and call for his execution, shouting “Crucify him!” mere days later.  I have been to congregations where the people play the part of the crowd in both Gospel readings and say “Hosanna” during the Liturgy of the Palms before the Processional, and also “Crucify him” in the Gospel during the Eucharistic Liturgy.  This is done to drive home to everyone in the congregation that Jesus was the only person present at his condemnation who was innocent.

In my last posting, I mentioned my struggle against pride in reading the Gospels and supposing myself better than the disciples who totally missed the point in Jesus’ teaching.  I used to struggle in a similar fashion when I read the accounts of Our Lord’s Passion, especially the crowd being stirred up against Jesus.  All modern Christians want to say that they wouldn’t be part of the guilty ones who cried out “Crucify him!” but the Gospel account makes plain that everyone who wasn’t Begotten from the Father had an intimate hand to play in the condemnation and death of Jesus.

What are the alternatives to being in the crowd?  There’s Pilate, aloof and disinterested in Jewish power struggles except for how it might impact his assignment to keep the peace in Judea, amazed in the enduring silence of Our Lord, but unwilling to make any move toward faith and truly speak out against the injustice.  There’s the Jewish religious leaders, who bought off people to rouse the crowd and spread rumors and false testimony.  There’s the soldiers, to whom Jesus was just another dirt-poor man from Galilee, another rebel who was shown to be nothing special.

Where are the disciples?

Peter is the last we see of any of the disciples in Mark’s Gospel by the time Jesus is condemned to death, and he denied any connection with Jesus, as had been foretold earlier in the day.  The Gospels say that they all went into hiding, with only one being bold enough to come to the foot of the cross (St. John the Apostle).  The people who are the least culpable are the guiltiest – Jesus had told them that these things would happen, and that he would be raised up and glorified, yet they didn’t believe him, and so they scattered as foretold in Zechariah 13:7.

As modern-day Christians, seeking to put ourselves in that first-century scene in Jerusalem, our choices are limited in terms of roles to play, and in truth not all Christians would be found in only one crowd.  For myself, I believe that I would probably be with the disciples, cowering in a room waiting for the soldiers to drag us out to be flogged, humiliated, and, if we were lucky, stoned to death.  Palm Sunday calls us to examine our hearts and see where we would be in the list of the guilty – because there is no option to stand on the sideline, and the one who was condemned and crucified was the only one innocent before the crowd.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of the observation of Holy Week in the Christian Church.  If you can join a local congregation in the observation of the liturgies and rites this week, I strongly encourage you to do so.  These are some of the heaviest and most powerful prayers and services of the Christian calendar.  The Maundy Thursday liturgy is one of the oldest collection of prayers in the Christian tradition, and the Maundy Vigil calls you to join in the disciples’ difficulty of staying in prayer for “even one hour.”  Good Friday is the soberest and most solemn service of the whole Church year, and confronts us with the cross of Christ, its scandal and our guilt.  Finally, the Easter Vigil and Resurrection Sunday usher in the Great Feast of Easter, which brings us out of Lent and into the joyful celebration of the Risen Son.

This week, I pray that all Christians would be mindful of their sins and seek repentance for anything they are truly sorry for, and continually thank God for the mercy shown to us in the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Take Up Your Cross

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

– Mark 8:33-35 (ESV)

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“21 New Martyrs of Libya”, Tony Rezk, 2015

 

What does it mean to “deny [yourself], take up your cross, and follow [Jesus]”?

On February 12, 2015, the world was first made aware of a great evil done by enemies of the Church.  Twenty-one men, twenty of whom were Coptic Christians, and one man who was a literal moment-of-death convert to the Faith, were tortured and beheaded by persecutors purporting to be the vanguard of an apocalyptic and anti-Christian state.  These men were in Libya doing construction work – 20 Egyptian Copts, and one non-believer from Chad.  They were kidnapped by masked men and were brought to a Libyan shoreline.  One by one they were asked if they were Christians, and then given the chance to renounce this claim, to instead follow a different religion, which they refused.  The strength of the Copts’ faith – to die as professed and confessing Christ-followers rather than live as turncoats – caused the 21st man to acclaim “their God is my God” when the enemy made the offer to him, and so die with those who were ethnically and philosophically different from him.  The icon of their martyrdom is in the bulletin this week, and I encourage you to take it home with you to remember the sacrifice of your brothers in the Faith.

This is a modern example of what Jesus means when he says that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and gospel’s will find it.”

I fervently pray that none of us is faced with torture and painful execution at the hands of enemies of the Cross.  It is my preference to die a Holy death without violence and fully and totally prepared in my faith.  However, I feel that it is very important that we understand and fully realize that it is exactly this that Jesus means when he requires his followers to “take up their cross.”  We must, whenever and however it is required, cling to the confession of our faith in Jesus as the bedrock of our very existence, so that in the day of trial, persecution, or even martyrdom we may boldly proclaim “Jesus is my Savior and my God.”

I will freely confess that this Gospel reading is one of the passages that has given me the most trouble in my faith.  Because I don’t want to “take up my cross.”  I don’t, at my core, want to suffer, want to face hardship, want to even be inconvenienced on account of my confession that Jesus is my Lord.  I think this is somewhat our nature as humans – we are very good at survival, so to willfully accept and pursue a course that is counter to that fills us with dread and reluctance.  Sure, there are thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies – but, being realistic, these are seen as outside the norm, and doesn’t it take a sort of special dedication (or mental derangement) to find pleasure in placing one in harm’s way?  The vast majority of humans seek to keep living instead of flirt with death.

This is what makes the faith of martyrs so intense – the martyr’s sacrifice is either undeniably holy or obscenely absurd, depending on who is looking at it.  To the one whose eyes and heart have been opened, the Spirit of God can be seen in the faith of someone who is not afraid to die for the witness of the Cross.  To the hopeless and adrift, someone who willingly rejects a path to survival is at best a morbid and deluded person to be pitied, and at worst a deranged person to be feared.

The word “martyr” comes from the Greek word “martys” which means “witness.”  A martyr bears the ultimate witness to their beliefs – and the history of the Church is filled with accounts of people who became believers as a result of the faith of the martyrs, just like the 21st man on that Libyan shore, who came to belief as his friends and colleagues were killed around him and as he himself faced painful death.  This man’s eyes and heart were opened.   We have every reason to believe, based on the witness and promises of scripture, that his faithful death was not in vain; that he has won a martyr’s crown with the 20 who were Christians for most if not all of their lives.

The Gospel is a message of two sacrifices: the first is the sacrifice of Jesus, which is the perfect propitiation for our sins, eliminating the need for any other sacrifices of flesh and blood; the second is the “living sacrifice” that St. Paul refers to in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans.  All disciples of Jesus are called to give themselves up to serve the Kingdom of Heaven and witness about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If this seems like a difficult calling, don’t feel you are alone – it very much is.  This is why the Church has an annual period of overtly sacrificial living embedded in the liturgical calendar.

Lent is a season of self-denial.  It is commonly seen as a season of preparation for the coming feast of Easter, when we celebrate the Resurrected Lamb of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is true that you cannot truly appreciate the joys of Easter without the somberness of Lent – just as we cannot truly appreciate the joys of the coming Kingdom without the hardships and sacrifices of this life.  Lent is a training ground in the midst of relative joys and pleasures, an opportunity to voluntarily give up luxury and take up discipline of our souls, minds, and bodies.  This way, when – not if – the world comes against us and we face hardship, persecution, or even martyrdom, we are prepared.

As our vicar noted last week, this is not a preparation based on our natural hardiness, or on our strength of will – that is stoicism and is devoid of hope and promise.  No, just as “success” in fasting is found in prayerful acknowledgment that our natural hardiness or our strength of will is insufficient to give any meaning to our self-denial, the preparation we undergo teaches us to call on Jesus in the midst of all hardships – whether it is temporary or terminal.

Not all of us will be called to be martyred in the flesh, and again I pray that we will all live holy lives and die holy deaths, fully prepared in our faith and untouched by violence.  For the remainder of my sermon, I will focus on the general calling of self-denial which does not require facing violence and death, which is what I expect most of us to face in our everyday lives.

While not all Christians are called to face imminent death for their beliefs, all Christians are called to give up passions, sinfulness, unfruitful desires, as well as pleasures that do not edify the soul, or are outright contrary to God’s stated will in Scripture.  This in and of itself can be a witness, especially when someone comes to Christ from a life that was devoid of this self-denial.  The person who enjoyed riches, and after coming to Christ donated practically all he had to a Gospel ministry bears witness that what used to be the most important thing to them is truly secondary to the message of Christ.  Similarly, the person who was mired in drugs and unsavory habits who, after coming to Christ, reaches out to minister to similarly afflicted people bears witness that the anchor around their neck that no one could remove has been lifted from the depths by the strength of the King of Glory.

I struggle with intemperance – with food, with drink, with entertainment, with nearly anything that could be called on its own enjoyable or innocently pleasing.  I am at my most un-Christlike when I feel that I haven’t gotten my “share” of something, which generally means if I’m not sick of it yet.  This has led to mental and physical struggles with health; dissatisfaction in the gifts that God has given me; friction with my wife, with friends, with roommates, nearly everyone who interrupts my ultimate aim of personal satisfaction.  Diets on their own work very temporarily; trying to strongarm my attitude to be more “content” fails after the first minor setback; resolving to be a better husband/friend/roommate/brother/son/coworker/etc only gets me so far as the next time whoever it is opposes me.

I have only found satisfaction in the denial that Jesus preaches.  It wasn’t until I took up Lenten observance that I saw the first glimmers of hope that whatever hole it is in me that food, strong drink, television, and video games couldn’t fill could be overcome, or stoppered up, or provided with something that would actually and completely satisfy rather than just frustrate my soul with its pale imitation of what was previously denied to it.  Because I am like Peter – I place more emphasis on the things of man and therefore I miss the things of God.  I believe that I am getting better, but if so it isn’t because of anything that I do, but the Spirit which fills what my self-denial leaves behind.

I encourage all of you to use this Lent as a training ground.  Last week, our vicar alluded to “fasts” of things that Christians shouldn’t be doing to begin with; I want to expand on that and encourage you that if there are things in your life that meet that charge, Lent is the perfect time to start working against them.  Don’t put them off as a fast to be taken up again at the end of Lent, but certainly use the season of self-denial to begin to train yourself that the goodness of Our God is greater than whatever momentary pleasure or benefit you are confronted with.  Even if Easter comes and you still occasionally find yourself doing whatever it is that you identify as needing to permanently give up, the fact that the Spirit has illuminated the thing, and has moved you to better behavior is victory on its own.  With continued prayer and fasting, you will be delivered from the thing you struggle against.

I also ask for and encourage your prayers for our brothers and sisters around the world, who face persecution and martyrdom daily.  There are many organizations who spread their stories and work to provide at least some measure of material relief.  One that I personally have investigated and commend to you is Voice of the Martyrs.  In remembering the persecuted Church, remember also to pray for your own continued and increasing faith and trust in the Lord so that in the day of trial you would “endure to the end.”

Grace and peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Fishers of Men

(Year B, 3rd Sunday of Epiphany, January 21, 2018; Gospel Reading from Mark 1:14-20)

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:17-18 (ESV)

 

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Jesus with Fishermen

What does it mean to be “fishers of men”?  This passage is typically used in sermons on evangelism, and the importance of preaching the Gospel to all nations.  There are two features of the reading that I want to focus on in this reflection:  first, using the occupation of being a fisher rather than, say, a carpenter (Jesus could have easily found craftsmen after his earthly father’s trade and called them to be “builders on the Foundation” or something similar); second, the immediacy and totality of the disciples’ answer to the call.

The Galilean seaside, where Jesus grew up, would have hosted many who claimed the occupation of fisherman.  To many today in an almost post-scarcity world, to be a fisherman is to be a sportsman, and the focus is on claiming the largest, the strongest, the best fighter of the denizens in the pond.  This is almost the exact opposite of what the fisherman who is a tradesman is after – rather than biggest, strongest, meanest, the tradesman is concerned with quantity above all else.  Because for the tradesman, this isn’t about bragging rights.  Who cares if I net the meanest fish in the pond if my net and the rest of the haul are ruined with its thrashing?  Who cares if I can boast in my prowess at landing a monster fish if there’s not enough for sale to fund my misadventure?

Here, I think, is one of the first clues why the Author chose fishers to be Jesus’ first disciples.  They would understand the logic and strategy of the divine mission.  Whereas a carpenter would be preoccupied with the quality of their work (not a bad goal in and of itself, but still potentially a stumbling block to pride), a fisherman would understand that the goal was not to net the best followers for Christ, but as many as possible – and God would concern Himself with their quality.

Another reason for the call of fishermen is that it is the fulfillment of prophecy.

In Jeremiah 16:15-21, the prophet relates the words of God to say that He will send fishers and hunters after His people, to catch them and hunt them from “every mountain, every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.”  There is good reason to believe that Jesus calling his first disciples from Galilean fishermen is a fulfillment of this prophecy.  Beyond the literality of Jeremiah foretelling divinely appointed fishers and Jesus literally calling fishers to be “fishers of men,” Jeremiah 16 foretells an in-gathering of wanderers (vv. 15-16); God demanding recompense for iniquity (vv. 17-18); and calling Gentiles (“the nations”) to acclaim the Lord (vv. 19-21).   Does this sound familiar?

To me, the choice of fishermen as the first disciples is an interesting detail, but the real message of the passage, the one that has immediate resonance with us, comes in their response – immediate and decisive.  There were no negotiations, no longer conversations, simply Jesus issuing his call, and the fishers leaving everything – home, livelihood, even family – to follow him, not knowing with any kind of certainty what would come of doing so.  This is the kind of obedience we are to have – immediate and decisive.  When given the choice between following the call of Jesus and anything else, the true disciple chooses the call of Jesus.

To be clear, where the cares of the world do not interfere with following that call, there is no charge to neglect or scorn them.  However, we must ever be on guard that we do not place those cares in a de-facto place of primacy, only following Jesus at the convenience of our situation.  This is why there is no contradiction in Paul exhorting the Church to obey those in authority and the Apostles disobeying the authoritative call to stop preaching in the Name of Jesus: the understanding is that insofar as the authority is in step with the Authority of God it is to be obeyed.  Yet when the authorities require what is alien or even abhorrent to God, the Christian chooses to be out of step with the earthly authority, in order to be in-step with the Authority in Heaven.

This week, pray for readiness and willingness to obey the call of Christ without question, trusting in His Goodness to be your rest, your certainty, and your peace.  Seek to be like first century fishers, more concerned about casting a wide net for Christ-followers, and not on landing the most desirable, most liked, most impressive.  As you pray for your obedience, and your personal evangelistic mission, pray also for world missions, that missionaries would be bolstered by the Spirit of God.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.

“I Am Not Worthy.”

(Year B, Advent 2, December 10, 2017; Gospel Reading from Mark 1:1-8)

“And he preached, saying, ‘After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.’” – Mark 1:7 (ESV)

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Pieter Fransz de Grebber, John the Baptist preaching before Herod; 17th Century

How many of us enter our careers knowing that we are not God’s gift to our chosen profession?  How many of us further know that we are just stage-setters for someone else to come along and be that “chosen one” or the “rock star”?  Finally, how many of us, even if we knew and acknowledged the above, would accept it and willingly tell everyone who would listen about it?  I must confess that for me this would be a very tall order, and I think that it would be fair to say that many would find this a difficult life to lead.

John the Baptist was an impressive preacher, as evidenced in this Gospel account by the masses of people that sought him out in the wilderness.  Mark tells us that many heard his message and were “baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”  This is the measure of success that many ministers of our day have in their view – that some soul in dire need of the message of Jesus would just hear the word God gives us and they would believe and be baptized.  Every time this happens, it is like God stamping His approval on our work!

John doesn’t stop at baptizing the people though; where this would be the pinnacle of many ministries, John treats it as just the top of the first hill on a longer journey – one that I think he may have known he wouldn’t see all the way through.  Instead of stopping, John goes on to tell his audience about the One who will come after him, whose ministry will be superior to John’s in every way.  And instead of being bitter or sour about it, he appears awe-struck in his language, telling the crowd that even the humblest task one could do for someone else was far above John.

This is the image of what every minister of the Gospel, from Christ’s Ascension until His Return, should strive for.  John, as the forerunner for Christ’s first Advent, is also a type of the kind of minister we should be in anticipation of his second.

John approached his calling to preach repentance and the coming of the Son of God with humility.  He did this in the way he dressed, in his diet, and in how he shared the message he was given to the people.  By clothing himself in “camel’s hair” and wearing a “leather belt around his waist” he contrasted himself from the religious leaders of the day, also calling the people’s minds to previous preachers in the desert.  By eating locusts and honey, he denied himself fine foods and relied on the Providence of God above the fruits of man’s labors.  Finally, by staying in the wilderness, and preaching about the One who would come after him, he de-emphasized himself – and relied on God to send those who truly sought to hear the message.

Today, we have many examples of ministers, pastors, and priests who live into this image with varying degrees of success.  Some of the most grievous blows to the modern Church have been a result of ministers forgetting who the ministry is about – and importantly who it isn’t.  On the other hand, some of the best examples of the Gospel message have been lived by ministers who approach the task with careful humility, as a loving father approaches the sober reality of raising children.

In this Gospel reading, Mark captures a confession that should and must be central to everyone who would share the message of the Gospel – “I am not worthy.”  By saying that he was unworthy to do the meanest task for the Christ, he confesses that he is also unworthy of the trust of souls placed before him.  However, do not hear in this confession an excuse for why you shouldn’t share the Gospel – even though John confessed that he was unworthy to untie the strap of Jesus’ sandals, remember that he baptized the very Son of God.  God called and chose John to be His minister on Earth to “prepare the way of the Lord [and] make His ways straight.”  While John on his own was being truthful in his confession of unworthiness, God, by choosing John for this task, made him as worthy as He needed him to be.

This confession of unworthiness is the same confession that we must have when we approach the judgement seat of God.  For if we wrongly think ourselves worthy, we tacitly reject the sacrifice of Christ crucified.  To say, “I am not worthy,” is a grace unto itself, because it reveals the sincere heart that has been softened by the Holy Spirit.  Such a heart will not fall into Pharaoh’s trap, or Herod’s mire, or be guilty of Pilate’s sin.  It is not without fault, but its faults can be mended because it recognizes and freely confesses the truth.

As an Anglican Christian, one of the traditions I am thankful to be a recipient of is the recitation of the Prayer of Humble Access at every Eucharist.  This is a regular reminder of the same truth that John the Baptist confessed to first century Jews in anticipation of the coming of Christ.  It reaffirms that I am not worthy on my own, by my own lights, to even approach the altar.  If I truly understand the physical bread and wine to be the Spiritual Body and Blood, then I have no right to even touch the elements, much less eat them.  But it is by God’s grace and love for His creation that despite my unworthiness He allows and even invites me to take part in the weekly communion of His people.

As we continue in Advent, I encourage you to keep praying for ready hearts and open ears, and to also seek after true humility.  Remember John the Baptist, not only as part of the Advent story of anticipating the coming of Christ and his ministry on earth, but also as an image, or type, of the kind of ministry we are to have as we await Christ’s return.  Finally, I ask you to earnestly pray for God to reveal to you what work He would have you do as you await the coming Kingdom.

Grace and peace to all, in the Name of Our Savior Jesus who is the Christ.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

(Year B, Advent 1, December 3, 2017; Gospel Reading from Mark 13:24-37)

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

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I remember – as many people probably do – growing up and waiting impatiently for, well, everything.  “Are we there yet?”  “When can I watch TV?”  “How many days until my birthday?”  My parents would answer me patiently that, “we just left the house, and Granny lives several hours away” “after you’ve done your homework” and “your birthday was two months ago, so around three hundred and forty days from now.”  Each time, there were measurable signs for when the thing that I was looking for would be accomplished.

The same is true for our waiting on the Day of the Lord.  A few weeks ago, the message was to “Be Ready!” because no one knows the day or the hour.  And Mark’s Gospel repeats that command later in this Sunday’s reading, but before that, he records Jesus telling his disciples to be watchful and mindful about the things that will presage the coming of the Lord.  The image of the fig tree is one that is readily understood, that by looking at the world around us, we can know the times and the seasons.  In using this image, Jesus exhorts us to use the wisdom granted us by God to be able to discern when the things that he has warned us about are coming – it doesn’t take special revelation to be able to see that trees are preparing to open to the sun, and God has told us through the Son what it is we can expect before the End.

Christians seem to approach matters of eschatology one of two ways.  Some flock readily to end times doomsaying and hop on the cart of each succeeding interpretation of how this or another passage of Scripture must really be talking about that current event.  Others stand back and claim total ignorance of anything to do with the End, holding fast to Christ’s statements about only the Father knowing when the End will come, using this to put on blinders to anything that could be relevant to eschatological events.  Which is right?  Objectively, the second is more correct than the first, since it relies on Jesus’ own statements about the End Times, and doesn’t seek to lead people astray by making wild claims and attempting to predict that which we are told definitively is unpredictable.  But neither are truly in line with the total witness of Scripture.

There are many occurrences throughout the New Testament when a phrase like “he who has ears, let him hear” is repeated.  It generally refers to the faithful who have not stopped up their ears in their own pride.  Jesus repeats this phrase at the end of many parables, and Revelation repeats this phrase in each of the letters to the seven churches.  It could be reformulated to say, “let the one who can hear this understand what is being said.”  I think that the lesson of the fig tree is in a similar vein – no, we cannot know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, but he has told us the things that must happen before his return.  By being aware of them, we can know that the End is coming, and use this knowledge to spur on our drive for readiness, or fuel our efforts to reach those around us with the Gospel, or however else we need to prepare for Coming of the Lord.

But do not be deceived into thinking that watching for these things means that we shouldn’t strive for readiness, or be diligent in our efforts to preach the Gospel, or prepare and make ready every day for Our Lord – several of the things that Jesus points his disciples to as the “fig tree” events have already happened.  The reading this week doesn’t cover it, but refer to Mark 13:1-23.  The Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.  There have been, and continue to be, wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes, and famines.  There have been, and continue to be, persecutions that split families apart.  There have been false prophets that have led millions astray.  There are antichrists that attempt to replace the God-given graces with secular values and say that if each person attends to their own desires then everyone will turn out all right.  The Gospel is being preached to all nations, and the time is coming when surely there could be no one on Earth who has not heard of the God-man Jesus who died in our place and conquered death by being raised again.  The plain fact is that we are living in the End times, and have been since the first century.

There is a difficult verse at the end of the section on the fig tree: “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”  The interpretation of this hinges on your understanding of who “this generation” is and what “all these things” are.  There are several different possibilities, and the ESV Study Bible (which I use as a key source in my studies and preparation for writing) illustrates five that I think are plausible.  It is not profitable to go into all the different possibilities in the space of a blog post, and scholars better than me have presented good arguments for one or another interpretation.  The bottom line is that we are living in the End but the End has not come yet, and we should be watchful and ready – not running after each errant call from the latest would-be prophet, but also wary and waiting for the signs that we are told will happen.

This is the first Gospel reading of the Advent season.  Advent is the time when we prepare our souls for the Second Coming of Christ by remembering the events surrounding the Incarnation.  Pray for ready hearts and open ears, that by keeping watch we may all heed the sign of the fig tree.

Grace and Peace in the Name of Our Lord Jesus.