Thursday, May 31, 2012

Images of Faith and Discipleship in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia (5)


 
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:  Vocation and Destiny

          I conclude our series on images of faith and discipleship in the first of the Narnia stories, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by noting Lewis’ portrayal of vocation and destiny of the four Pevensie children to be the kings and queens of Narnia.  He does this is several ways.

          The first is to indicate that these children are the fulfillment of ancient prophecy.  The White Witch’s insistent questioning of the Turkish Delight-enchanted Edmund on the number and gender of his siblings is our first clue.

          “You are sure there are just four of you?” she asked. “Two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, neither more nor less?” and Edmund, with his mouth full of Turkish Delight, kept on saying, “Yes, I told you that before.” (37)

          Mr. Beaver, a good talking animal aligned with Aslan, recites one of the ancient prophecies about the children:

          When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
          Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done. (81)

          The first time the four children together get into Narnia through the magic wardrobe, Susan suggests they take some of the coats from there since it was winter in Narnia.  Lewis writes,

The coats were rather too big for them so that they came down to their heels and looked more like royal robes than coats when they had put them on. But they all felt a good deal warmer and each thought the others looked better in their new getups and more suitable to the landscape. (55-56)

          Royal robes, indeed – fit for the prospective kings and queens of Narnia!  It is clear that Lewis intends us to see a royal vocation and a royal destiny for these human children.

          This is instructive for us in two ways.  First, this is our vocation and destiny as well according to scripture.  In Genesis 1 we are created in God’s “image,” a part of whose meaning is that we are God’s royal representatives who are to protect creation and nurture it to its full flourishing. And in Revelation 22:5, at the close of the vision of God’s new creation, humanity is said “to reign forever and ever.”

          Is this how we see our identity, our vocation, and our destiny?

          I’ll save the second thing we can learn from this vocation and destiny of the four Pevensie children till we hear what happened to them after Aslan’s resurrection and the battle in which all the creatures she had turned to stone with her wand were restored to life to join Aslan in defeating the Witch and her minions.  They were coronated kings and queens and took up their rule in Narnia.  They governed in gentleness and with wisdom. 

And they themselves grew and changed as the years passed over them. And Peter became a tall and deep-chested man and a great warrior, and he was called King Peter the Magnificent. And Susan grew into a tall and gracious woman with black hair that fell almost to her feet and the kings of the countries beyond the sea began to send ambassadors asking for her hand in marriage. And she was called Susan the Gentle. Edmund was a graver and quieter man than Peter, and great in council and judgment. He was called King Edmund the Just. But as for Lucy, she was always gay and golden-haired, and all princes in those parts desired her to be their Queen, and her own people called her Queen Lucy the Valiant. (183-184)

          We learn from this, I think, that “salvation” is bigger than we often think.  It has two aspects, both of which essential, but only one we often focus on.  First, God reclaims us from the bondage and unfreedom of sin into which we have fallen.  This is where we usually focus and what we mean when we claim that “Jesus Saves.”  Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and that we can go to heaven when we die.  Lewis pictures this in the “un-stoning” and return to life of the creatures after Aslan’s resurrection.

          But that Lewis goes on to tell of the subsequent reign of the children in Narnia points to the second, and neglected, aspect of salvation.  God not only reclaims us but also restores us to the dignity and vocation granted humanity in creation.  This vocation is our destiny.  We will spend eternity, not in heaven floating around singing in a celestial choir forever, but rather “reigning,” that is, caring for the new creation and each other in unhindered communication, communion, and community with God forever!

          If we grasp and internalize this fuller vision of salvation, we will discover what is our true task here and now, between the time of Jesus’ resurrection and return in glory.  We are to begin our reign!  We are to live out of and live out Jesus’ victory today, tomorrow, and every tomorrow God grants till kingdom come!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

`Bishop of the slums' -- Dom Hélder Camara and Brazil's church of the poor

This year marks the centennial of the birth and the tenth anniversary of the death of one of the most significant religious figures of the 20th century, an instigator of the liberation theology trend in Latin American Catholicism and a campaigner against military dictatorship: Dom Hélder Camara.
Dom Hélder could have advanced himself to the position of cardinal and from there, who knows, possibly to the papacy itself. Instead, he stood for democracy in Brazil, despite threats to his life and certainly at the expense of his career.

He represented the most extreme point that the Catholic hierarchy could go in standing with the poor in the tumultuous era following the Cuban Revolution and the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).

Remembering Dom Hélder Camara is poignant in these times when the Vatican bureaucracy is headed by Benedict XVI, who, as Cardinal Ratzinger, oppressed the Latin American church precisely because of its identity with the poor.

Under Dom Hélder's wing thousands of Catholic religious (priests, nuns and brothers) and countless numbers of the laity reached profoundly revolutionary conclusions about Latin American reality.

Many of the progressive governments now in power in the region can trace their roots to the movement that he championed.

This is not to say that he was a revolutionary. Essentially, he was a pious and spiritual man who, while living out a commitment to humility in the service of God, none the less, under the force of the times he lived in, chose to articulate the suffering of the poor and acted consistently in alignment with those words.
The independent trade union movement, the Workers Party (PT) and the Landless Workers Movement (MST), all vital in the fight for Brazilian democracy, arose in the early 1980s as a product of the liberationist trend that he championed.

In times of extreme class polarisation, if people of good faith forthrightly stand upon their convictions they find themselves driven by history to play a revolutionary role. Dom Hélder was such a person; Abraham Lincoln was another example.

Born on February 7, 1909, Dom Hélder became auxiliary archbishop of Rio de Janeiro in April 1955. He quickly made a name for himself for denouncing the city's social and racial divisions.

He initiated a housing project for the poor and established a permanent campaign of charity for the needy. He soon acquired an international reputation as the "bishop of the slums".

Dom Hélder achieved national prominence by lobbying the government for development programs aimed at helping the masses. His political clout was reflected when he became one of the main advisers of President Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961).

Kubitschek promoted modernisation through rapid industrialisation via foreign capital investment, government-led reforms and the transfer of the national capital city from Rio to Brasilia.

Through the National Council of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) Dom Hélder aligned the Catholic Church with Kubitschek’s development model. For example, the bishops played a crucial role in the sparking an ambitious government program aimed at bringing industry to Brazil's impoverished north-east.
However, Brazil's modernisation, carried on after Kubitschek by President Joan Goulet, had many powerful enemies, not least of which was the US government. An independent Latin America did not fit with US policy, especially in the wake of the Cuban Revolution.

During 1963 and 1964 Brazil became extremely polarised. Dom Hélder moved to the left, eventually resulting in a complete break with the country's rich elite. He publicly stated that the elite were responsible for the failure of the Alliance for Progress, President John F. Kennedy’s anti-communist attempt to head off the influence of the Cuban Revolution through mild social reform.

Led by Dom Hélder, the CNBB published one of the most radical statements in the history of the Brazilian Catholic Church. Astonishingly, the church advocated the expropriation and transfer of land to the poor. Dom Hélder campaigned in support of President Goulart's efforts to implement a redistribution of land and other basic reforms and literacy programs for the poor. When military conspiracies swirled around the Goulart presidency, Dom Hélder spoke against them, alienating him from the last of his friends in the elite.

At the same time, in Vatican II discussions, Dom Hélder infuriated conservative bishops and traditionalists with his progressive positions, particularly the concept of a dialogue with Marxism. In early 1964, the reactionary traditionalists successfully had him shuffled off to an obscure archdiocese.

However, another bishop’s sudden death forced the church to return him to Olinda and Recife, a centre of progressive political and cultural ferment.

On March 31, 1964, President Goulart was overthrown at the behest of the USA. Brazil would not return to democracy until 1985.

Radical Catholic social policy

Soon after the coup, Dom Hélder's enemies within the CNBB assembled the numbers to roll him and his supporters and conservatise the organisation. But they could not hold back the radicalisation of the grassroots church and the CNBB would continually find itself thrust forwards.

Dom Hélder initially took a traditional Catholic stance towards the new coup regime, positing himself as a pastor for all. That is, he kept in communication with the leaders of the new order. General Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco, the first military president, attended his church to listen to some of his sermons. This was despite the fact that the army was targeting the area around Recife for the worst repression, and Dom Hélder was speaking loudly on behalf of the political prisoners.

Dom Hélder was attempting to articulate a radical version of Catholic social policy which was as anti-communist as it was anti-capitalist. He sought a non-violent, humanistic social revolution to create a welfare state which would modernise and develop a non-aligned, democratic Brazil.

In the harsh reality of late-1960s Latin America, where the CIA organised dirty wars to torture and slaughter innumerable progressives, even such mild social reformism as Dom Hélders was dangerous. The fact that he resolutely stood for it in the face of repression inspired millions to find more radical solutions.

Radicalisation

This was the period in which the Colombian revolutionary priest Camilo Torres chose to join a guerrilla army as a combatant; Brazilian conservatives accused Dom Hélder of following in the footsteps of Che Guevara!

In 1967 Dom Hélder attempted to launch a third political party, the Party of Integral Development, as an alternative to the two official parties allowed to operate by the military regime. The following year he initiated a non-violent movement called "Action, Justice and Peace”. Both these attempts foundered on the rock of harsh military repression.

Half way through 1968, Latin American bishops met in Medellin, Colombia, to discuss applying the results of Vatican II to the region. Dom Hélder argued successfully for a proposal for a radical but peaceful social transformation.

The Medellin statement was a landmark in the history of liberation theology and Latin American politics. The statement denounced the "institutionalised violence" inherent in social inequality and oppressive social structures. It proclaimed the “option for the poor”, whereby the church should stand with the most oppressed in their daily struggles. The conference encouraged the creation of Eclesiais Comunidades de Base (Basic Ecclesial Communities), where small groups of Catholics would gather to join their faith to the social struggles surrounding them.

This “conscientisation” or awareness-raising method spread rapidly throughout Latin America and became enmeshed in such things as the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and, more recently, the Lavalas movement in Haiti (which, ironically, is now being repressed by Brazilian troops operating under a UN peacekeeping mandate).

Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez is the most prominent advocate of this trend today and Venezuela's revolution is suffused with it.

Following Medellín, thousands of priests, religious and lay volunteers all over Latin America become activists with the poor against the governments the United States had imposed on them. Very quickly many radicalised as the Medellin declaration's profession of non-violence met the reality of the military iron fist.

Repression


The Brazilian generals replied to Medellin in December 1968: they decreed absolute dictatorship, suspending civil liberties and press freedom and shutting down parliament. The security forces were completely let off the leash, not only against the growing guerrilla movement but against all opponents.
Dom Hélder was hounded by the secret police and in May 1969, a death squad murdered one of his young assistant priests. In November 1969, the military succeeded in killing the urban guerrilla leader Carlos Marighella. Simultaneously, the regime imprisoned and tortured Dominican friars and other priests accused of collaborating with him.

A picture of the depth of the radicalisation underway is reflected in this exchange that the Brazilian liberation theologian and Dominican priest Frei Betto recalled in his memoir. It is a conversation he had with his torturer when the military captured him:

How can a Christian collaborate with a communist?
-- For me, men are not divided into believers and atheists, but between oppressors and oppressed, between those who want to keep this unjust society and those who want to struggle for justice.

Have you forgotten that Marx considered religion to be the opium of the people?
-- It is the bourgeoisie which has turned religion into an opium of the people by preaching a God, lord of the heavens only, while taking possession of the earth for itself.
In May 1970, in a speech in Paris, Dom Hélder used his international prestige to publicly denounce Brazilian government torture. He highlighted the case of Tito de Alencar Lima, a Dominican priest who was tortured and driven to suicide by the security forces. Since 1964, Dom Hélder had worked and spoken of behalf of political prisoners within Brazil, but never internationally.
The Paris speech enraged the Brazilian generals, who were sensitive to their international image. They were presenting themselves to the world as technocrats, driving a Brazilian economic miracle. The generals launched a nationalistic "Brazil: love it or leave it” campaign in answer to Dom Hélder. More than that, military press censorship deleted all references to him in Brazilian publications; he became a non-person in Brazil until censorship was relaxed somewhat in 1977.

Behind his back, church conservatives organised against him while the government worked internationally to prevent him being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Even the Vatican gave him the cold shoulder.
Stymied within Brazil, Dom Hélder arranged a simple division of labour: he continued the international campaign for Brazilian democracy while Archbishop Paulo Evaristo Arns took up the battle within the country.

Within his See of Olinda and Recife, Dom Hélder continued important experiments in church democracy. He delegated many responsibilities, developing an activist board of lay people and priests for diocesan administration. Together with other activists, they established a network of grassroots communities known as Encontro de Irmãos (Meeting of Brothers). A Justice and Peace Commission campaigned for human rights.

Liberation theology

In the 1970s, the CNBB and many individual bishops bravely spoke out for human rights in the face of the dictatorship. Holding true to the Medellin Declaration, the Basic Ecclesial Communities flourished and Brazilian theologians were in the forefront of the development of liberation theology.

Church bodies such as the Pastoral Land Commission and the Indian Missionary Council organised Brazil's landless and Indigenous peoples. The church sheltered the development of the renewed trade union movement that was to erupt on a massive scale in the 1980s, leading to the formation of the PT -– and eventually the election of Lula as Brazil's president.

The church was one of the bulwarks of the broad opposition which returned the country to civilian rule; it was truly a church of the poor.

In the arena of church reform, Dom Hélder developed the radical Seminário Regional do Nordeste II (SERENE II) in the footsteps of Vatican II. Rather than closeting seminarians away from the world, SERENE II students lived in homes in poor neighbourhoods and shantytowns, tasting the reality of the option for the poor. Some SERENE II students did pastoral work in the huge sugarcane industry, where powerful landowners' thinking had not moved far from Brazil's colonial era. Other seminarians participated in a program called "theology of the hoe", working among the rural poor.

Conservative Catholics railed against SERENE II's methods. They were horrified by the number of seminarians who left the priesthood for marriage and the controversial feminist theologians who came out of it. Also raising the conservatives' ire was the Theological Institute of Recife (ITER), which taught theology to poor Catholics and lay activists wanting to apply it in their communities.

Dom Hélder retired as archbishop in 1985, the same year that the military relinquished power. Pope John Paul II, through the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the feared Cardinal Ratzinger, was quietly replacing retiring Latin American bishops with Opus Dei conservatives.

The reactionaries moved quickly after Dom Hélder’s retirement, replacing him with one of their own, Dom José Cardoso Sobrinho. Most of Dom Hélder’s progressive practices were abolished.

Dom Jose became notorious for calling in the police to attack rebellious priests and lay Catholics. SERENE II and ITER were shut down in 1989 on Vatican orders.

Until his death on August 27, 1999, Dom Hélder remained silent, returning to the role of priestly obedience. Despite this twilight period, his role in leading the Brazilian Catolic Church in its most radical period is exemplary. Had he remained silent under the dictatorship, Dom Hélder could have at least obtained the prestigious See of Rio de Janero, if not a Cardinal's hat. Instead, he lived in permanent fear of assassination and encouraged millions.

Today, it is secular Latin American political forces, inspired by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, who have taken up and developed his message.

However, it is to Dom Hélder’s honour that the liberationist movement that he unleashed is still sweeping Latin America.

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – Trinity Sunday (Day 4)


John 3:1-17
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”
Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”
Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”
10 “Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? 11 I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Hear ye, hear ye!  God reveals his motive for sending his Son.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . .”

What’s that?  God doesn’t hate fags?  Democrats?  Socialists?  Women?  The poor?  Non-Caucasians?

“God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

Very confusing - I see God’s people judging others all the time!

You can’t go to a ballgame in this country without seeing “John 3:16” adorning every nook and cranny of visible body parts.  But maybe if it adorned our hearts we’d be in a little better shape.   

(I wonder how much it will hurt to get those tattoos on my fingertips removed?!)

But let us be clear.  We can only know of God what God tells us about himself.  What we think God should be like or how he should run his creation is useless speculation and usually gets us in trouble.  Fortunately, God has told us in language as clear and direct as possible what his motivation is in sending Jesus Christ for us – LOVE!  God has made known his purpose in sending Jesus Christ as well – TO SAVE, not judge!

Let us never ever forget or obscure this – the consequences are too important!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When the End is Not “The” End (3)


As a follow up to my suggestions about Jesus’ “End of the World” discourse in Matthew 24, I offer today a reflection by New Testament Professor Tim Gombis on Mark’s version of this teaching by Jesus.  Enjoy!

By timgombis (http://timgombis.com/)
*Originally given at Midtown Christian Community, October 9, 2010.

I’ve always been deathly afraid of passages like Mark 13.  I grew up in an evangelical culture that would read passages like Mark 13 as wild and woolly predictions of end-times cataclysms, assigning biblical significance to contemporary events.  Back in the 1980’s, the big fear was the Soviet Union and of course we all knew that America enjoyed Most Favored Nation status with God, so in some way biblical prophecies of gloom and doom were involved in current international relations.  “This passage right here in Revelation has to do with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; and this one in Matthew probably refers to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.”

Such interpretive moves never sat well with me.  Why would Jesus be talking to a bunch of illiterate fisherman about global politics 2,000 years down the road, and why would the Apostle John be concerned with Cold War stand-offs when writing words of comfort to the churches of Asia Minor?

I didn’t really have answers to all this, but when I come across passages like ours for this evening, I start to get really nervous and agitated and would just rather not deal with them at all.  Perhaps Don feels the same way and so he dumped Mark 13 in my lap so he didn’t have to talk about helicopters with the heads of grasshoppers and armies of locusts coming west from Siberia to begin a world takeover.

What brought me a measure of comfort was the fact that the disciples ask Jesus the same question that many would have asked in the church where I grew up.  “This is all so fascinating, Jesus, how will we know that it’s all about to happen?  Do you have any charts that we could use to map all this out and trace it as it unfolds?”

Jesus doesn’t bother to answer their question, but instead in v. 5 begins to exhort them regarding what they should be concerned about.  And again, in v. 32, Jesus admits that the Son of Man has not been informed about when this will all take place.  Only God the Father knows this, so don’t worry about that, says Jesus.  In the meantime, you have some responsibilities.  And here they are.

Let’s walk through this passage a bit in order to understand the situation that Jesus’ disciples are in and what he tells them to do.  That way we can invite Mark into our life together as a community and discover together what Jesus wants us to do.

For a while now in Mark, Jesus has been predicting the end of his life and the destruction of Jerusalem.  God has rendered his verdict on Jerusalem and the temple as an institution.  It is not functioning at all as God had intended, and Jesus has already condemned it to eventual destruction.  This was pictured earlier in Mark by Jesus cursing the fig tree.  Back then, Peter, after seeing the fig tree withered, had said, “Look, Teacher, the fig tree you cursed has withered.”  Mark, the master storyteller, has one of the disciples open up Mark 13 with an almost exact quotation, “Look, Teacher, what massive stones!  What magnificent buildings!”
Good readers of Mark are supposed to take the hint—the fig tree is the Temple; the temple is the fig tree. 

Yes, impressive stones indeed!  They will share the same fate as the withered tree.
Jesus goes on, in fact, to predict the temple’s destruction—not one stone will remain upon another.  He is referring to the coming of the Romans to completely devastate Judea and Jerusalem.  And when you read the history of all of this, it is stomach-turning.  Much of what Jesus predicts happens, and even worse—pervasive cannibalism, people cooking dung in order to survive.

But Jesus’ instruction here is to be on guard.  Watch out that you are not deceived by false Christs.  Further, when you are persecuted, take comfort because the Holy Spirit will empower you to know how to act.  When accused, just say what comes to mind and it will be God himself who will be giving you the words to say.

But this wave of persecution and intense suffering is not yet the end of the world, says Jesus in v. 7.

In fact, says Jesus, when you see something like what Daniel spoke about—the abomination of desolation—you need to get moving. 

What’s going on here?  Well, about 200 years previous to Jesus’ day, Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the temple with pagan sacrifices—the abomination of desolation, as Daniel talks about. 

This is going to happen again, but this time it will be the Romans who come into the temple and defile it.  The Roman emperor Caligula had a massive statue of himself set up in the temple and before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the defilement of the temple is again imminent.

Jesus says that when this happens, it would be wise to flee to the north.  For Mark’s readers in Jerusalem in the late 60’s, this would have been taken as an endorsement of the prophecy given in that church that they were to flee north to Pella in order to survive the coming destruction.

But Jesus again makes the point that these events are not the end.  Before the end comes, the gospel must be preached to all the nations.

The instruction in Mark 13, therefore, is how Jesus’ disciples—including us—are supposed to live between the end and the end—the end of Jerusalem and the end of the world. 

Certainly the end of Jerusalem must have felt like the end of the world for Jesus’ first followers.  For thousands of years, the Jewish people have always had Jerusalem.  How can you even conceive of following the God of Israel without God’s favorite city around?  How can you even maintain the existence of the God of Israel, if his home city is destroyed?  Usually if that happens, you’d have to assume that he’s not strong enough to defend it.

So, the end of Jerusalem actually would have really shaken up the first followers of Jesus, and it would literally have felt like the end of the world.  It would have thrown them into confusion and turmoil.

Without Jerusalem and its temple—without the singular defining piece of real estate that oriented everything about their lives and their community self-understanding—how do we even go on from here?

That’s what Mark 13 is all about.  And Jesus tells them to be on guard and watch out for false ways.  Jesus has showed them the way—self-sacrifice; service to others; cultivating a community of cross-shaped social dynamics; self-giving unto death for the sake of others. 
If anyone tells you otherwise, especially if they want to take up arms and overthrow Rome, do not listen.

He also tells them to remain faithful to their gospel task.  The gospel must be preached, so keep at it.  Remain faithful even in the face of persecution for the sake of Christ.
And thirdly, be wise.  There is no virtue in staying in Jerusalem as it is surrounded by the Romans and finally completely destroyed.  In fact, Jesus says they’re going to need to leave the city at some point, and if they wait too long, it’s going to be rough.  What if some women are pregnant and it’s winter!?  This is very unspiritual counsel that Jesus gives—but very practical.  The cash value of this instruction is simply this—be wise.  Don’t be foolish.  Read the signs of the times and be ready to move if you need to.

So, while Mark 13 is loaded with all sorts of bizarre-sounding stuff, it’s actually a chapter loaded with practical counsel about living wisely when the world is coming apart.  Even if it feels like all you know is coming crashing down—beware, because that’s not yet the end.  The end will come, but only God knows when it will come.  Just make sure he finds you being faithful to what you know you should be doing.  Do that, says Jesus, and you’ll be doing all you need to worry about.

That’s Mark 13 for Jesus’ first followers.  What about us?  Let’s now invite Mark 13 into our community and let it do some work here.  What does this crazy passage have to say to us?
Our world is not coming apart—at least for most of us.  Sure, times might be tough, but none of us are yet resorting to cannibalism . . . so far as I know, anyway.  Our lives are pretty comfortable, and our stresses don’t come from needing to survive, but from striving to get ahead or to ensure a comfortable future for ourselves and for our children.

Jesus keeps repeating himself throughout Mark 13—don’t get caught up in curiosities, and don’t worry about figuring out the end-times, but “be on guard,” “watch out for false Christs,” “watch out for anyone claiming to show you another way,” and finally, “watch!”

So let’s talk about this, and here are some questions to guide our discussion: What are our temptations?  What are the ways we are tempted by false Christs?  What are some alternative voices out there that call to us?

And what about possible ways our community needs to think about being wise?  We’re considering a move to a new place—any wisdom for that?  Is there anything else we need to keep in mind as our community is in transition?