Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig, "Believe With Me."
Scripture: Mark 13:24-37
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Believe with Me
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
In the ancient world the most powerful figures–emperors, kings, rulers and authorities–were associated with the sun, moon and stars. Back then and today, bad leaders and their corrupt power systems were justified by associating them with gods or celestial forces in the heavens as if nature reinforced their power. Listen to what Jesus tells us in Mark 13.
Biblical Storytelling Mark 13:24-37
I finally had lunch with my mentee the other week. She was shocked to learn that I had not seen The Polar Express and I didn't know the song: Believe. But, since then I've listened to Believe on youtube and, far better, I heard many of you in the Shenandoah Valley Children's Choir and Orchestra perform the song. Believe is about believing in magic, believing in childhood, believing in yourself, believing what your heart says. And I think the song leans toward belief that goes further, belief that could carry us into adulthood and a world that does not always twinkle quite so much as the worlds of the storybook. There are a lot of Christmas stories and The Polar Express , the Caldecott winning children's book is one of them. We as the church, also have a story–Advent and Christmas. Our stories will not win any award this year, but we will sing and tell them here together on Sundays in December.
This first Sunday in Advent is kind of a preview, before the characters and plot really open up. Here's how I understand it. The church's spiritual work in Advent is to be like Mary, pregnant with Christ. The church's spiritual work in Advent is to believe that none other than the God of all creation is within us, working something wonderful for the sake of the whole world. Is it ridiculous to believe? Believing in God could ruin your reputation for being strong and self-sufficient. Believing in God could break your heart or change your life or require you to actually build relationships with the people least like you. If we believe this Advent, then we may need to wrestle all over again with the meaning of life and God's power in the world.
Is God's power what justifies domination and control in this world, or is God's power like the blooming rose from the hymn, the fig tree's leaves, the woman who is with child? Is God's power like the power of a politician or an armed guard or a judge? Or is God's power like something we've never seen before, something we have never heard before, something we have to begin believing before we know.
Our Advent scriptures are almost embarrassing in terms of belief. They are not a gentle invitation to consider that a little God might get you through the tough parts of the holidays. These scriptures are not advice columns recommending a smidgen of Jesus to spice up your Christmas season. These scripture are the voices of people who lived thousands of years ago. And they spoke in passionate poetry, believing in their guts that God has done something extraordinary in the world and that God is working in the present. Isaiah says: When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect , you came down , the mountains quaked at your presence . The psalmist says: You brought a vine out of Egypt and planted it . Elizabeth says: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what God said . Jesus says: The powers of the heaven will be shaken . Mary says: Let it be.
These ancient poets and prophets–women and men–as well as the people to whom they spoke knew that something was wrong in their society. They knew about corruption and exploitation from the powers that be. They knew that moral life and ethical decisions were in short supply. They knew that their own lives were connected to systems that were a mess. And they couldn't extricate themselves from these powers of evil. They needed to God. They needed to believe all over again that God could break in–tear through the heavens, suddenly arrive, and disrupt the universe of sin and corruption.
We need to believe that too. If you're dealing with hopelessness, or alcohol abuse, or unfaithfulness in a marriage, then you need to believe. If we're working for wise economic growth in our businesses, or addressing racial injustice, or managing tensions in our families or institutions, then we need to believe. If we're living among nations that threaten war or carry out wars against the earth and the poor and our global neighbors, then we need to believe. The world might tell us to believe in ourselves. And human beings are pretty amazing creatures, but we can't save and restore ourselves. We need to believe in God.
In Twelve Step programs, the first step is to admit that believing in ourselves isn't enough. We admit that we don't have the power to change what desperately needs to be changed. And the second step is to believe in God. We begin to believe that God could restore us, work with us, change us, influence the world and create it new.
Did you notice in Jesus' words from Mark that I shared, that he's playing a bit with the ideas of knowing and not knowing. Jesus builds up the self-confidence of his disciples telling them that they know what's going on in the world–they know the signs that summer is near. And they know when the powers of domination are being shaken. Knowing is essential, but also impossible. We don't understand. We don't know when the powers will fall. When everything seems stuck in the grip of false power, we can't know when the kingdom will come. So we believe. We believe, right on the edge of certainty–knowing and not knowing. As a church we believe and we say–let it be. There is an urgency to Advent scriptures, because we're on the cusp of change and renewal. We're on the edge of certainty, between knowing and not knowing. We don't want to miss what God is doing in us and around us, even if we can't exactly predict or grasp what is happening.
I suppose I'm preaching this morning because I need you and we all need each other. I'm saying with Isaiah and with Jesus, believe with me . I'm saying the psalmist and Mary, believe with me. And it's not because as a preacher or pastor or Bible teacher or Christian that I know it all and can tell you what to believe. It's because believing–that is, having faith–is partly knowing and not knowing, but partly our connections. We are not solitary. I, Jennifer, speaking on behalf of the church ask you the rest of the church to believe with me that God is working within CMC in ways we know and in ways we surely don't know. Let's believe that God is coming to our world.
Isaiah says: believe with me. Believe that God has and does "come down" into nitty gritty life to people who have not heard or seen–at least not in a long time–the power of God to change the world.
Jesus says: believe with me. Believe that the powers of evil will not overpower us forever, but are actually being shaken by the arrival of one whom we know–the Son of Humanity–and one whom we don't yet know. The One who is coming.
Mary says: believe with me. Believe as a church and carry this hope, this story, this life of Christ in your body and into the world.
In a funny way the scripture from the Gospel of Mark is also the gospel of the insomniac. Stay alert , keep awake , keep awake! Jesus' words are not so different from the internet slang "stay woke" which calls people to attend to political and social justice movements, especially Black Lives Matter. The phrase "stay woke" has its origins in the US political movements of the 1960s. This phrase hits us personally, but it is intended for whole communities. We're not to drift into groggy, sleepy, dreamy avoidance of what matters. Instead, in Advent the word of Christ is Stay alert! Keep awake! Stay woke!
Right now in our society some powerful persons–stars, celebrities, politicians, corporate leaders are falling. The culture of sexual harassment is being shaken. Right now people sitting beside you are faced with spiritual, financial, personal, and vocational challenges. But the false powers that surround us will be shaken. Brothers and sisters, believing in ourselves isn't enough. Shimmering with the image of God though we are, we are not enough. As church, we are gathered from the four winds, and together we believe in God, the One who created all things, who came in Christ, and in the darkness of Advent stirs hope within us. The lights of false power are dimmed by the Advent of our God and we enter this season in a hopeful darkness.
The Spiritual Work of Advent
The church's spiritual work in Advent is to believe that none other than the God of all creation is within us, working something wonderful for the sake of the whole world. The church's spiritual work in Advent is to be like Mary, pregnant with Christ. The church's spiritual work in Advent is to agree: let it be.
Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.
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