3 December 2017

Being who you are called to be:

Mark 13.24-37

Lectionary Bible readings RCL Advent 1 Year B

Isaiah 64.1-9
Psalm 80.1-7,17-19
1 Corinthians 1.3-9
Mark 13.24-37

We explore:
being watchful; being faithful; being changed.

BIBLE NOTES

Old Testament: Isaiah 64.1-9

This week’s reading speaks directly to a world longing for restoration. Many scholars believe these closing sections of Isaiah should be attributed to a ‘Trito-’ (third) Isaiah, because, unlike the voices earlier in the book, this prophet speaks from the perspective of people returning home from exile in Babylon, back to Jerusalem. They have been in exile and dreamt of ‘home’ in earlier chapters. Now, arriving home, they discover that ‘the land of milk and honey’ needs rebuilding. Their once great nation has been reduced to ruins and the memory of their greatness haunts them.

What does God’s faithfulness mean when the world has been turned upside down? Trito-Isaiah offers a striking response: ‘we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand’ (v.8). Despite the anxiety the people face as they return to their former lives, God is (still) the creator, the maker, the poet. When the people cry out in their distress, ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down’ (v.1), God’s answer is simple: be faithful, be watchful as I am faithful and watchful and you shall be changed.

New Testament: 1 Corinthians 1.3-9

In his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul writes to a community in conflict. His opening remarks remind this fractured community what really matters: grace and peace offered in Christ Jesus. And, he says, true and hopeful waiting is based on the reception of spiritual gifts. The community of faith is always a community first – we never have to be faithful alone. We are called by God to be our true selves in community.

Gospel Mark 13.24-37

This reading from Mark is striking for its apocalyptic images. Jesus’ words would have been as startling to his early followers as they should be for us. This passage invites us to consider what watching and waiting for the return of Christ in his glory, for God’s hope and grace, means in a time of unknowing and conflict. Its answer – despite the fearsome imagery – is strangely reassuring. It reminds us to ‘beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come’ (v.33).

It may seem odd to say that Jesus’ words are reassuring. In any situation, most of us would prefer to know what’s going on, rather than be kept in the dark. We prefer to be insiders, rather than outsiders. Yet, Jesus reminds us that when it comes to discerning God’s timetable, the only way to be an ‘insider’ is to trust. In short, Jesus makes a call to individuals and the community of faith simply to be who we are called to be. We cannot know God’s plans or timetable. We can get on with living faithfully. And this is liberating because it means we are tasked with being people of love, grace and openness. We watch, but we do not obsess about the ‘end times’. Indeed, God’s faithful people should not be an apocalyptic sect obsessed with the ‘end times’. Tempting though that may be, the real challenge is to model Jesus’ way of faithfulness: showing service, demonstrating love and grace.

Yet, while avoiding obsession with signs, we are called to be alert to God’s work in the world. However, to watch for the breaking in of God’s kingdom, and to be ready to act, takes time and patience. Jesus’ original audience probably expected their world to change within a few years – perhaps for the Roman occupiers to be expelled or, after the resurrection, for a new world to be made in their lifetimes. We, 2,000 years later, perhaps expect too little.

Living in the internet age, we should be aware that watching without participating can have voyeuristic overtones. For example, when ‘watching’ the awful experiences of other human beings as they flee war-torn homes and go into exile, we can easily forget their humanity. They can become ‘objects’ rather than ‘subjects’. But to be ‘watchers for the Lord’ is to be called into relationship – with all. We must be alert to God’s grace and, indeed, God’s suffering – in all. One of the challenges Jesus makes in calling us to ‘watch’ for the Lord is to be alert to God’s presence in all we see – and to make a proper response.

The links between the lectionary readings

The readings are linked by a call to be watchful and alert. God’s good news is on its way, but it has not reached fulfilment yet. Our part is to be not passive observers but active agents in bringing about God’s kingdom.

© ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com

Prayers

A personal prayer

Lord, I give you my todays and my tomorrows to use and to bless. I offer my ‘nows’ for you to shape and strengthen. I bring myself as I truly am, rejoicing that you have called me to be your disciple through all the challenges and changes of life. 
Amen.

A way into prayer

  • Who might it be your calling to watch over and/or to look out for?
  • Entrust them all to God, and ask for faithfulness in that calling, and thankfulness in your heart for those who watch out for you.

© ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com

 

How  do you feel about the need for greater vigilance today?  © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. 

How  do you feel about the need for greater vigilance today? 

© ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission.