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This Changes Everything      

November 16, 2015

Mark 13:1-8Fallen

 

This changes everything! It’s the title of an amazing book by Naomi Klein (which I will say more about in a minute). Jesus didn’t exactly say ‘This Changes Everything’. It was more like ‘Everything will change’ … He looks around: “Do you see these great buildings… not one stone will be left on another. All will be thrown down.” he is talking about the temple, which for a Jew in 30 ad was the centre of the universe, the centre of the economy, the centre of their identity as a people. Everything will change… but also there’s more than a hint of ‘everything must change’. This is a time to speak out! This is a prophetic moment!

 

So the first thing I want to say is: This is not just a prediction this is a judgement on the temple. In the immediate prior story in Mark’s gospel Jesus is sitting in the temple, watching a poor widow give all she has to the coffers… and denouncing the religious leaders who keep the place running on hypocrisy. That’s the context in Mark. What’s more Jesus not only talked about the temple falling down. He acted. He protested. He went into the temple and performed public protests and dramas. He tipped over the tables of the money-changers. He took a stock whip and chased the animals for the sacrificial system out of the temple. He put his body where his mouth was. Jesus is a critic of the temple. The temple is failing. The temple is perverted from its purpose.

 

Secondly, Jesus is not talking about the distant future this is about to happen. He is not talking of the end of the physical universe, let alone the end of life on the planet. He is talking about something much closer to hand and yet for his audience, something just as devastating. How do I know he’s not talking about some future event we are still waiting for? Because he says so (later in Mark 13…v 30). “Truly I tell you this generation shall not pass away until these things have taken place.” … until the temple is destroyed. Modern readers are fooled into thinking that Jesus is talking about the end of the world by the fact that Jesus speaks like an apocalyptic prophet. He quotes images from apocalyptic literature. Images of cosmic disaster, stars falling from the heaven, the sun darkening. And modern readers who don’t know this kind of literature, and don’t “get it”, think he is literally describing the end of the world. In fact, as I have explained from this pulpit before, the most straightforward reading is that he is dramatising, in a poetic way, the disaster that he clearly sees coming.

 

In 70 ad Jerusalem and its temple were sacked and destroyed by Rome. Not one stone was left on another. Jesus was right. ‘This generation’ didn’t pass away. Messiahs came and went. Plenty of people stood up to fight Rome in the name of the God of Israel. Followers of Jesus were persecuted. All of this Jesus could see coming. Everything was going to change. And it did… in 70 ad.

 

But 70 ad was a long time ago. Ancient history for us. What does this event from the distant past, say to us today? Is there a temple that Jesus would look at today and say. Everything. Must. Change. Not one stone will be left upon another. If you were Jesus, what would you predict was about to collapse? What would you say must change?

 

In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein wrote:

‘…our economic and planetary systems are now at war. Or more accurately, our economy is at war with the many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.’

 

Implication: the economic model must change. The basic way we organise our society must change.

Jesus went to the centre of faith in his day. What does that mean? What is faith? Let me suggest a definition of faith. Faith is a fundamental commitment which shapes the way we live our life. If I have faith in human nature… I will go around trusting people. If I have faith in education… I will believe that educating people will make them better people. If I have faith in the Key government… I will vote for them (or take an interest in flags ;-). If I have faith in money… I will evaluate the progress of our society in terms of GDP.

So we can talk about my faith. But we can also talk about our faith. Naomi Klein says that our society has been built around faith in free markets… The powerful in our world now operate on the faith that if you free up the markets, there will be economic growth, this will result in financial prosperity for all, and the world will be a better place. And so governments have structured our society accordingly. We have learnt to become good citizens by consuming more and more in order to grow the economy.

I want to suggest that this is our faith. This is the common faith of our society

And now says Klein, our faith is approaching a head-on collision with the basic structures of our planet. Not only will greed not save us. It will destroy us. Suddenly our warming globe is going to force us to face up to our neighbours again (loving our neighbours as ourselves, that little detail that gets sidelined in the economic culture we live in) … we are forced to face up to our neighbours again, including the non-human neighbours and the natural world beloved of God. If Jesus were here he would say again. Everything must change.

 

Our reading concludes “This is but the beginning of birthpangs”

Anyone here given birth? Pleasant experience?

Facing change is not easy… there are always ‘birth pangs’… especially if its your whole world that is changing. Especially if it is your most basic commitments that shape your everyday life. Especially if the large stones of the temple represent your memories and childhood. The trouble coming is like the pain of childbirth.

 

There is a peculiar quality to the pains of birth because the future is so much better, if only we can go through the transition. If only we can live into this future. Alert not to the way things have been, but alert to the coming of Christ. Christ who comes to us in the disguise of the poor. Christ who comes to us in our neighbour. Christ who ultimately comes to us in a new and renewed world…

 

We are at a tipping point. We live in dangerous times, but in all of this we live in hopeful times.

 

I always thought of Wendell Berry as an environmentalist and a poet. But I didn’t think of him as a Christian until I read this quote from him:

“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love”

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