Sermon by Pastor Ben Cieslik

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.

In the Harry Potter universe there’s a character that appears in the fourth book of the series named Alastor Moody. Alastor, or Mad-Eye Moody as he’s most often referred throughout the series, is a renowned dark wizard catcher. Most of the cells in the wizard-prison are populated by individuals that Mad-Eye Moody captured.

A lifetime’s work in magical law-enforcement has left Mad-Eye a little, well, twitchy. He thinks the world is out to get him. Legend has it that he once destroyed a birthday present, thinking it was the egg of a very large and dangerous snake. It turned out to be a carriage clock.

I’m a bit of a Harry Potter fan. I read all the books a number of times and listen to all of the audiobooks on a constant rotation, book 1, book 2, book 3, and so on through book 7 and then I start again. It’s super nerdy and I’ve never really admitted it out loud before, but there you go.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about Alastor Mad-Eye Moody a fair amount this week as I’ve been reading today’s passage from the gospel of Mark. Mad-Eye Moody is well know for regularly uttering the phrase, “constant vigilance.” Constant vigilance. I feel Moody would be well at home in this 13th chapter of Mark. Keep awake! Constant vigilance.

Biblical scholars refer to this part of Mark’s gospel as his little apocalypse. Just one short chapter it doesn’t measure up in terms of length to some of the instances of apocalyptic literature that we encounter in the bible in places like Revelation or the book of Daniel. But there’s a lot packed into this one little chapter. There’s lots of metaphor and rich imagery. It feels equal part imminent and a long time in coming. And it all stems from a relatively simple question.

Jesus’ disciples ask him when will all this stuff that you’ve been talking about happen.

His response is tough stuff. He says,

Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For 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. 

But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

We hear this and some of us know doubt wonder. Has it happened already? Is it going to happen soon? Will it happen in the future?

How will we know??

We hear, you won’t know, you can’t know, so constant vigilance! Stay awake! Keep watch.

Read in this way apocalyptic literature in the bible is kind of anxiety inducing. It’s as though we’re supposed to live with a perpetual caffeine high, it’s good for Caribou Coffee and their life is short stay awake for it campaign, but for the rest of us it’s exhausting. Any of you who have ever pulled an all nighter to finish a paper or to work a double know that you can do it once, maybe two days in a row but staying awake for too long quickly leads to a hard crash.

And it’s not really the point of apocalyptic literature. We hear apocalypse and we think end of days, fiery mess, destruction and blood everywhere. This is the stuff of cinematic and comic book gold. But apocalypse in greek simply means uncovering.

It’s a lifting of the veil, it’s a revealing. This kind of literature in the bible was principally written to offer hope and encouragement to the faithful who were experiencing some pretty difficult times.

David Lose, who’s now the president at the Lutheran School of Theology Philadelphia writes, this kind of writing exists to “offer comfort to first-century believers struggling to make sense of their world and lives.”[1]

Then, now, the world can seem pretty dark. The cosmic battle between good and evil still rages. We need only watch the news, read the paper, hop on social media and see there is still a lot of wars, real and figurative, being waged. It’s been going on for a long time, and there have been those who have been waiting, trying to predict when the real end will come.

But we still don’t know.

But here’s what we do know. What we can trust.

That which looks like devastation and defeat will be God’s victory…Out of the suffering and death of the{ir} Messiah will be new life. God’s new way of being in the world will turn a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.[2]

Our God enters into the darkness. The bleakest, most hopeless places, and somehow/someway creates light and life. God goes to the end of all things that we might have a new beginning. It doesn’t take away the pain. It doesn’t explain away the suffering, but in the cross of Jesus Christ God says to you and to me, you are not alone. And that’s a promise worth watching for!

The other day, among all the political nonsense, this story popped up in my newsfeed. I’m not sure who wrote it, it’s seems to be from a lawyer who spends some his time helping abused children. Here’s what they wrote…

A good portion of my pro-bono work is defending abused children. It’s a cause close to my heart. In the course of my work I met a man who was an adult survivor. He was counseling some of the little kids, and doing a fantastic job of it.

I visited his home to get his opinion on something and I noticed a little toy on his desk. It was Trolley. Naturally curious, I asked him about it. This is what he told me:

The most dangerous time for me was in the afternoon when my mother got tired and irritable. Like clockwork. Now, she liked to hit me in discreet places so my father wouldn’t see the bruises. One day afterward she left me there upstairs, face in the carpet, alone. I tried to get up, but couldn’t. So I dragged myself, arm over arm, to the television, climbed up the tv cabinet and turned on the TV.

And there was Mr. Rogers. It was the end of the show and he was having a quiet, calm conversation with those hundreds of kids. In that moment, he seemed to look me in the eye when he said ‘And I like you just for being you’. In that moment, it was like he was reaching across time and space to say these words to me when I needed them most.

It was like the hand of God, if you’re into that kind of thing. It hit me in the soul. I was a miserable little kid. I was sure I was a horrible person. I was sure I deserved every last moment of abuse, every blow, every bad name. I was sure I earned it, sure I didn’t deserve better. I *knew* all of these things … until that moment. If this man, who I hadn’t even met, liked me just for being me, then I couldn’t be all bad. Then maybe someone could love me, even if it wasn’t my mom.

It gave me hope. If that nice man liked me, then I wasn’t a monster. I was worth fighting for. From that day on, his words were like a secret fortress in my heart. No matter how broken I was, no matter how much it hurt or what was done to me, I could remember his words, get back on my feet, and go on for another day.

That’s why I keep Trolley there. To remind me that, no matter how terrible things look, someone who had never met me liked me just for being me, and that makes even the worst day worth it to me. I know how stupid it sounds, but Mr. Rogers saved my life.”

The next time I saw him, he was talking to one of my little clients. When they were done with their session, he helped her out of her chair, took both of her hands, looked her in the eyes and said: And remember, I like you just for being you.”

A God that works in this way is a God worth watching for. A God that creates light in the darkness is one for whom I can hold vigil. A God who promises life this day and forever, that’s worth staying awake for. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1629

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1145