Sermon for Sunday, November 18th, 2012
Proper 28, Year B
Daniel 12: 1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10: 11-25; Mark 13: 1-8
The. Rev. Margot Critchfield
A new feature on our webpage thanks to the new sound system at church. Here’s audio of Margot’s sermon as preached at the 10am service. The text is below.
“Beware that no one leads you astray…”
Nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom, political party against political party…there will be earthquakes and famines, super-storms and rising sea levels, holes in the ozone layer and record temperatures…you’ll see drug addiction and violent crime, economic instability and inequality, extremes of fundamentalism and of godlessness. There will be rumors of wars, predictions of imminent disaster, naysayers, soothsayers, and doomsday preppers….
But “beware that no one leads you astray…” because “this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” This is, as “The Message” bible paraphrases it, “routine history and no sign of the end.”
And indeed, none of us knows when the end will come—whether our own, or that of all of history. In the meantime, our gospel is emphatic, we are to beware that no one –and, we might add, no thing– leads us astray: Astray from our faith, and our witness to that faith, in the way we live our lives.
“God our Father,” we pray for our young people, “you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals…”
“God” we seem to be praying, “don’t let them be led astray. Don’t let them be led astray like us…” Because it is so easy to be led astray, isn’t it? It’s so easy to buy into the big lie that distorts that prayer and turns it on its head. It’s so easy to buy into the lie that says the ways of the world are more life-giving than the ways of God, and that chasing after goals like success and affluence and recognition are better than pursuing relationship with God. As if anything other than God could ever give us the peace, the joy, or the happiness we really seek! Indeed “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee…”
So might we pause for just a moment to imagine what it would be like if we all pursued God with the same gusto—the same kind of energy, desire and determination– with which we pursue all the other things that we’re seduced into thinking will somehow satiate our hungry hearts or satisfy our restless souls? Might we imagine our young people growing up wanting a right relationship with God more than anything else—more, say, than wanting the right clothes, the right video games, or the right gadgets… the right school, the right job title, or the right resume…the right car, the right house or the right portfolio? Can you imagine if we all grew up wanting more than anything else in life simply to be and to do what is “right” by God’s definition instead of by what popular culture dictates?
Not that popular culture is inherently wrong by any means—it’s not. But good Lord it’s so easy to be led astray by it! No wonder in our general confession we used to pray that we had “erred and strayed” from God’s ways like lost sheep…” Erred and strayed in the things we did, the choices we made, and the priorities we set.
And if we stray, who will guide our young people in the ways of wisdom? Who will teach the next generation what it means–in the words of this morning’s epistle– to “have the assurance of faith” and to “hold fast to hope without wavering”? Who–if not us– will “provoke them to love and good deeds” and teach them the importance of worshipping together and encouraging one another—as Paul admonishes us to do?
Remember our opening prayer this morning? “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life…”
You see, if we don’t want our young people to be led astray then we need to be sure we don’t allow ourselves to be led astray. And that demands something of us. It demands that we take action against being led astray. It demands that we keep our eyes on God. And one very effective and time-tested way of doing that is by “hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting” the teachings and wisdom God inspired—the very much living word of Holy Scripture–scripture that has something fresh and relevant to say to us every time we encounter it. The living word that when read, chewed over, and talked about or prayed with, has the power to light our way forward and guide us in the ways of wisdom as we negotiate the same unsteady and confusing world as our young people.
If we don’t want to be led astray–and we dare not be led astray for the sake of those who come after us—we need to keep our eyes on God. Because God actually knows how to do this whole “living life” thing better than we do. And God wants nothing more than to share that knowledge with us. We don’t have to be prophets, biblical scholars or trained theologians to extract the wisdom and guidance we need from God’s word. Because despite our best efforts, the truth is that God does that for us too, through the Holy Spirit– otherwise, we really would be lost.
But of course there are different translations and presentations of holy scripture that can help us to glean God’s wisdom, and in the last year or so at least four new ones have come out I’d like to commend to you during our announcement time. Because I remember the honest and heart-rending questions so many of you asked a few weeks ago when you were invited to write down a wondering question you’d like to ask God. And I know none of us “errs or strays” from God’s ways deliberately, intentionally, with forethought.
But I also know that if we want to not err or stray like the lost sheep that we are, we absolutely have to do something about it deliberately, intentionally and with forethought. There are hundreds of study bibles, devotional bibles, bibles for women, for men, for old and young, for singles, for couples, for just about every segment or sub-group of our population you can imagine. What matters isn’t which Bible you read, it’s that you read it. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it so that no one and no thing can lead you astray. Study it, chew it over, talk about it and pray with it, so you can pass on it’s wisdom and be a guide to others—especially to our young people “growing up in an unsteady and confusing world.” Show them with yourlife that God’s ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following God is better than chasing after selfish goals. And teach them to beware that no one lead them astray, because none of us knows when the end will come—either our own or that of all of history.
Teach them, guide them, be their companions on the way–that they may they be wise, and in the words of the prophet this morning, “shine like the brightness of the sky… like the stars forever and ever.” Amen.
A Few Resources:
Borg, Marcus: Evolution of the Word, The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written; Harper Collins, 2012.
The Story, The Bible As One Continuous Story Of God And His People (with forward by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee); Zondervan, 2011.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament (ed. Amy Jill-Levine); Oxford University Press, 2011
The Common English Bible; Abingdon Press, 2012