Claiming Faithfulness


Mark 13:24-37

As children, we usually first learn of faithfulness as we enter into relationship with our parents. We begin to learn that they are someone to trust and rely on. When we have needs, we know that it is them that we can seek when we do not know where to turn. This continues through school age and into their teen years, even when we think we know more than our parents. Unfortunately for some, parents are not always present and thus the image as God as a loving parent does not resonate. There is then a struggle to justify what it means to be in relationship with God and the thought of faithfulness flies out the window.

This Sunday we begin a new Church year, and like all first Sunday’s of Advent, we have an apocalyptic image presented and the second coming of Jesus. We haven’t even celebrated the birth of Jesus this church year yet, and we are already speaking of his return. Jesus’ apocalyptic preaching begins at the beginning of chapter 13 (vs. 1-8). Here we have the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, which when Mark’s gospel was written, had already happened.

Perhaps you feel a little rushed in hearing the gospel lesson this morning. Why are we talking about the second coming in the midst of our waiting during Advent? Don’t worry, there is an uneasiness in the midst of the disciples as well. They are not yet prepared for Jesus to leave them, even though that is what he has been preparing them for during the last three years. Again, we have the warning from Jesus to “keep awake.”

If you recall, we heard these words just a few weeks ago in the parable of the ten bridesmaids as they were waiting for the bridegroom and half of them were not fully prepared. This could possibly be something that we should pay attention to. There may be something behind this theme of keeping awake. In the midst of keeping awake, one may wonder how faithfulness fits into our practice.

It is in Jesus’ prophetic voice that he is encouraging them to stay faithful to the ministry that they have been doing. In the midst of his death, to not lose hope. And yet, what did they do? On that Good Friday, they went to the upper room and sulked around and did not know what to do. They were living in fear.

We have the habit of doing the same thing when things do not go the way we expect them to. We go and sulk and we begin to lose any faith that we had. We begin to question everything and we are left wondering where to turn next. Just like the disciples.

We too, like to rush. How long ago did we begin to see Christmas decorations up in the stores. Usually, they start appearing before Halloween is even over. We want to look right past the time of Advent and get right to the presents and joyous family gatherings. We fail to take time to listen to God in our waiting and watching for the Christ child, yet alone the return of Christ.

That is the way we have been taught to function in our society. We saw it just a few days ago with our Congress. They rush a tax bill through a vote without allowing proper time for full disclosures and the opportunities to examine how it will affect the majority of Americans. We have found it hard to delay gratification. We know what we want, and we want it now!

We fail to let God work in God’s time and because of this, that faithfulness that God calls us to as God’s children becomes tarnished.

Fortunately, faithfulness is not a one way street!

Paul reminds the people of Corinth that “God is faithful.” God calls all into the fellowship of Jesus Christ. That fellowship is not exclusive. All are invited to be a part of it. Despite the prophetic warning that Jesus gives the disciples, God is present.

God is present in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple, just as God was present in the beginning. God is faithful through the Word, that is Jesus Christ. The Word that is promised to come again. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus tells them, “but [his} words will not pass away.” While the disciples have no clue exactly what Jesus means in these words, they will come to understand. It is in their staying awake that they will encounter Christ and be open to the calling of the Holy Spirit. A calling that will lead them on their own paths proclaiming the Good News of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

While we are called to keep awake, there are times that we fall asleep at the wheel. We forget where we are going and we get distracted by the bright twinkly Christmas lights.  The chaos in our world makes us point to the apocalypse, give up all hope, or truly dig deep and encounter the faithfulness that God has for us. Created in God’s image, we can find hope, knowing that God’s presence is always with us and God’s faithfulness will never vanish.

Our faithfulness, on the other hand, is not as consistent. Because of this, we have the reminder of Jesus Christ breaking into this world to walk among us and encounter the same pain and suffering that we do throughout our lives. In this time of Advent, we wait and watch. We keep awake for the sign of hope found in Jesus Christ. In Jesus we find life and are called to live it abundantly.

Rowan Williams, in Being Christian, writes, “The new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depths of chaos, to be touched by the hand of God. And that means that if we ask the question, “Where might you expect to find the baptized?” one answer is, “In the neighborhood of chaos.” It means you expect to find Christian people near to those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured, and needy.”

This is the faithfulness of God that shines through the darkness for all people, but especially for the lost and forgotten. The hungry and the poor. Those that society has cast away. Through our actions as people of God, we can share that same faithfulness with those that we serve. Those that we help when we support mission trips, welcome the homeless during MCREST, collect food for the backpack ministry and the food pantry, prepare gift bags for the children of Macomb County, and much much more.

As we begin our Advent Season, let us claim our faithfulness and keep awake, not only for the coming of the Christ Child, but for the return of Christ to this world to make all things right.

Let us pray…Expectant God, we struggle and are challenged when it comes to keeping awake. May your faithfulness in us, guide us to claim our faithfulness in you. May we be embraced by your love this season of Advent as we wait and watch. Not just this time of year, but until the kingdom of heaven has finally come into view. Amen.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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