Our texts this morning have a very apocalyptic feel. We start with Jonah telling the people of Nineveh “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Then Paul reminds his brothers and sisters in Corinth that “the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” And Finally Jesus tells Simon and Andrew in Mark’s Gospel that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” I do like a good theme to a lectionary but I am not sure an apocalypse theme is quite what I need right now. Our world gives me enough apocalyptic sensations right now but one must follow the lectionary where it leads.
And where it leads me is to the glimmers of hope we find in each of these apocalyptic messages. Because when I look at our own apocalyptic landscape, I am always looking for glimmers of hope. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of times when I have despaired at the state of the world. Particularly in the last year. I have despaired about children who can’t go to school, how we are going to get everyone vaccinated quickly enough, our overtaxed hospital system, about our political polarization, the unemployment rate and the list goes on. But all the jokes about 2020 being the worst kind of bothered me. Because amidst all the things that were hard and bad, there were wonderful things too. There has been hope in this Apocalypse and I think that is what we as Christians are called to point out.
We are called to keep our eyes on hope. So here is the hope I see in these three passages. When Jonah tells the people of Nineveh to repent and change their ways, they listen. We learn that the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. Jonah saved Nineveh and the people changed.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he urges them to live as if Christ were returning at any moment. Now that might sound like a scary way to live but perhaps it is joyful. By living as if Christ could return at any moment, we might live in the moment and worry less. We might focus less on buying things and more on taking care of those around us. If “the present form of this world is passing away” then perhaps a stronger better world is coming.
In our Gospel reading from Mark, John the Baptist has just been arrested. Jesus is preaching in Galilee, and says “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” And this is good news. The Kingdom coming is a positive move. Jesus is calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to a new life. A life where they will “fish for people.” So even though something is ending, something new is beginning. A new ministry, a new way of life.
And this is the hope, the new way that I see in our world right now. Yes, things have been hard and different. But here are some of the glimmers of hope I have seen. A vaccine was developed in record time with thousands of people volunteering to take experimental vaccines. I am happy to share that I got my vaccine a week ago since I am an elementary school teacher. This moment gave me an immediate shot of hope. In the past year we learned to appreciate healthcare workers, truck drivers, grocery store employees, farm workers and all other essential workers who keep our world going. Many families got lots of time together. Zoom and other virtual meeting technologies made staying in touch and working from home possible in a whole new way. An unprecedented number of Americans voted this year. Lots of Americans are taking racial justice more seriously and taking steps to make their homes, schools and organizations more focused on racial reconciliation. A record number of women are serving in Congress. And of course many of us have learned that we can live our lives differently. We have learned what is truly essential to our lives.
For me, I have learned about the beauty of unstructured time for children. Of the importance of sitting on the floor and just playing. I have learned that a day with nothing on the calendar will be just fine. This used to terrify me! I have learned that I am capable of more than I imagined.
I bet some of you have learned more about yourselves in recent months too. I’m willing to guess some of it is good. That you are able to point out some hope too. This is really what Christianity is about. Christ died in a sad and terrible way but came back in a beautiful and powerful way. This is my hope for our world too.
But we need help getting there and that is where we all come in. We need to be the ones pointing out the new growth, the hope. We need to be the ones ushering in a new way of being when we come out of this. It needs to be us. So I pray that you are looking out for some glimmers of hope too.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog