Thanksgiving, Christ’s reign & surviving birth pains

by susan on November 23, 2015

Not only was yesterday the Sunday before Thanksgiving; it was also Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday in the church year. It was a day to celebrate Christ’s reign in the world.

Ironically, this feels like one of the most turbulent, hostile & divisive weeks we have faced in our world lately. The mixture of terrorism, a massive refugee crisis & heightening political debates have created the perfect storm.

It’s hard to imagine Christ as King of a world as chaotic as this one.

For The Well, yesterday was not only the culmination of a church year, it was a day to share a Thanksgiving meal together, a time to reflect back and to look forward. It started with a brunch and ended with another meal, the meal that Jesus introduced with his disciples, the same ones with whom he shared many difficult discussions…

Like this one, recorded in Mark 13:1-8:

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

Once again, Jesus pours cold water on the grandiose illusions of those who had left their livelihoods to follow him. They were looking for a revolution and a revolutionary to overthrow an oppressive Roman government. And instead, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple – – the most impressive masterpiece of King Herod & the place Jews believed was the closest point of contact between God and humanity.

Jesus predicts it will be destroyed.
He also predicts a bunch of other things
his followers would rather avoid:
false teachers (with great recruiting skills),
clashing kingdoms,
natural disasters & famines.

Not exactly the kind of revolution results they had in mind!

Jesus was describing the world that persecuted Christians reading this gospel for the first time were experiencing first hand. And it sounds a lot like the world we are living in right now.

We should be very careful, though, how we interpret Jesus’ words. Jesus was not telling his disciples to look for specific signs that the world is ending. He was letting them know that these horrific happenings are NOT the end of his reign.

They are signs that something new is being born.
This, he says, is but the beginning of the birth pains.
Birth pains happen because something is being born, but they can feel an awful lot like the end.

This is an important truth for our world right now.
It’s also an important truth for our community of faith, The Well at Springfield.

Over this past year we have experienced a few hard things together: We have been disappointed to not close the deal on a more permanent meeting space. We have been saddened by people leaving our community. And, we have been stuck in an eternal church bylaws birthing process! [hallelujah, that’s behind us now!]

Yet, in the midst of the mess, God has also been stirring us to dream new dreams together – here are a few are them:
We were compelled to begin a Tuesday & Friday opportunity for
deeper connection with one another,
to host a support group for those struggling with depression,
to provide our children with their first Bibles,
to bring a fragmented community together at a neighborhood park &
to share supplies, coats and gift cards with a struggling elementary school.

Not only did we do those things, but words of discouragement gave way to words of new life – words like:
“could we go to Uganda & see for ourselves?”
“I’m starting to pray again”
“listen to what I am learning”
“guess what! I’m going back to get my GED”.

And, yesterday, we shared a whole host of hopes & dreams that have emerged for the coming year!

What seems like the end is often just the beginning.
Like God’s kingdom – faith, life and forming Christ-centered community are long-term projects. There is nothing quick & easy about them.

To those disciples looking for a revolution, Jesus was saying don’t give up.
To persecuted Christians, Mark’s gospel was saying don’t give up.
This is not the end; there is more to come…

In an age of violence, we get to proclaim peace.
In an age of division, we get to unite.
In an age of hypocrisy, we get to begin another year of practicing the way of Jesus.

So, let us also not give up. Let us keep looking to Jesus in this beautiful & sometimes frightening new thing. What looks like the end is often the beginning. Now, that is cause for thanks!

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