“Looking for Signs” Colchester Federated Church, November 14, 2021, Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Mark 13:1-8)

Jesus and his disciples were leaving the Temple in Jerusalem and the disciples said, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings.”  The disciples weren’t from around those parts and the grandeur of the Temple standing tall and proud atop a hill in the holy city must have been an amazing sight.  Jesus asked, “Do you see these enormous buildings?  Not even one stone will be left upon another.  All will be demolished.”[1]

What a statement, right?  The disciples must have been confused because the scene of our Gospel story shifts to Jesus sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the Temple.  Peter, James, John, and Andrew (Jesus’ inner-circle) ask him privately when this would happen.  What sign should they be on the lookout for that will show all these things are about to come to an end?  Jesus tells them to beware that nobody deceives them.  “When you hear of wars and reports of war, don’t be alarmed.  These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet.  Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be earthquakes and famines in all sorts of places.  These things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end.”[2]

The 13th Chapter of Mark’s Gospel concerns the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem itself; it deals with the end of the world.  Though Jesus says in the 32nd verse, “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son.”[3]  Jesus says that God is the only one who knows when the world may come to an end.  It doesn’t seem exactly hopeful on the surface since we are considering destruction.  Though the hope comes when we realize that the future is in God’s hands, not ours.  We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.

During this season of the church year, we often take time to reflect on what our congregation here at Colchester Federated Church means to us.  We think about the past, the present, and the future.  We think about the ways that we are embodying Jesus’ call to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves—the ways that we are following the great commandment.  The truth is that the times in which we are living are uncertain.  We’re facing changes and upheavals.  Life is different now than in the “before times” as some would characterize our pre-Covid world.  Perhaps what we have gained as we have contended with a global pandemic for more than a year is perspective.

Arthur C. Brooks writes this lovely column in The Atlantic called “How to Build a Life” and in September he reflected that “A Profession Is Not a Personality” and that reducing ourselves to any single characteristic (whether that is our title or job performance) is actually a deeply damaging act.  This is all the more important to consider in light of the Great Resignation and the labor shifts that are happening in our country.  Brooks wrote, “Americans tend to valorize being driven and ambitious, so letting work take over virtually every moment of your life is concerningly easy. I know many people who talk of almost nothing besides their work; who are saying, essentially, ‘I am my job.’”[4]  But when the end comes—whether that comes in the form of retirement or getting laid off or voluntarily moving on to something else, whenever professional decline may set in—people find themselves in such a difficult place because perhaps the entirety of their lives revolved around work.  It’s easy to do in our culture.  We prioritize being driven and ambitious.  We love go-getters and hard workers.  Though does this come at a cost?  Are we now being called to have a different perspective?

Putting things into that different perspective may just be one of the greatest gifts we have to give one another in the church.  We are aware that when people show up or tune in, there’s a whole lot on our hearts and minds.  My Grandpa Leon was a First Sergeant in the Army (that was his profession), and he fought in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  He once said to me as a child that coming to worship brought him peace.  That in a lifetime of war, the church became a place of peace and solace especially in the later years of his life.  I think about that sometimes.  Because the truth is that people are here and connect with a faith community for all sorts of reasons.  For peace, for hope, for solidarity, to be involved in something greater than ourselves, for community, for connection, for LGBTQ+ inclusion and celebration (we are a Welcoming, Open, and Affirming Church), for charity and justice, for help on their faith journey, for healing. 

We can’t assume that we all are here for the same reasons or even that we need the same exact offerings from our church.  Families with young children are looking for quality Christian Education—Sunday School, Discipleship, Vacation Bible School.  Some adults appreciate Bible Study and book studies in a small group setting.  The musically inclined among us need a Church Choir to be part of.  Many people appreciate hearing beautiful music in worship even if they may not be the best singer out there.  Sometimes when going through a crisis of faith or life people need a religious professional to talk to about that.  We need a place where people can get together for Christian fellowship and fun.  Some people feel especially called to serve others and collect items for those in need.  To be in service to our community.  It’s good to offer our building—our sacred space—just like we have done for the covid vaccine clinics and covid testing over the last year.

The truth is that we all show up and need different things from a church.  We know that we can’t be all things to all people.  The shadow side of this is that church can become just another part of our consumer culture.  But we certainly do our best here at CFC to provide the worship, programs, and offerings that our congregation needs.  We do our best to be of service to one another and to our wider community in Colchester. 

All of this requires us to bring our time, our talents, and our treasures.  And that’s where we all come in and that’s why we take time every year to hear from one another during the Pledge Campaign about what our church means to us.  Laurie spoke about Mission and Witness, Christine spoke about the Covid vaccine clinics and our building serving our community, and Denise and Barbara spoke about how streaming our services live on Sunday mornings helps them stay connected to our congregation.  It is always good to hear these individual perspectives because we all come to church from various walks of life.  In the end, we can never know what the future holds.  But we know who holds that future—our God of mercy and love.  Let us give thanks for our church family and for the ways that we show up for one another and for our community.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Mark 13:1-2, CEB.
[2] Mark 13:7-8.
[3] Mark 13:32.
[4] Arthur C. Brooks, “A Profession Is Not a Personality,” in The Atlantic, September 30, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/09/self-objectification-work/620246/

Photo by Rev. Lauren Lorincz