Sophie says, ‘Stay awake!’

A contextual re-telling of Mark’s little apocalypse reveals its ongoing relevance and truth. (Listen.)

Sophie and the gang had been at the Centre, where cardinals swanned around in brocade robes and mega-church pastors wore thousand-dollar sneakers. These religious authorities were well-known, successful. They had access to the prime minister and all his cronies; they were all over tv and social media. Everybody knew God had blessed them with wealth and health; everybody knew they could get in on the blessing by donating to the building fund.

As single mums handed over their welfare cheques, one of Sophie’s followers found a scale model of the new campus. ‘Wow!’ they said, ‘It looks incredible! Glass spires—so ironic! A tv studio! Multi-story parking, of course. And leasing the main lobby to Starbucks and a big four bank, now that’s really smart.’

But Sophie said, ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, you’ve totally missed the point.

‘These buildings aren’t real; they won’t last. Don’t be fooled. Many people claim to work in my name, complaining about fake news yet spreading it themselves. Lying preachers and false teachers uphold capitalism and call it Christianity. They suck money from the poor to build monuments to their own egos; they preach on love but reject equality; they call themselves victims yet scapegoat vulnerable people for the breakdown of the nuclear family.

‘Pastors of mega-churches influence national leaders and shape public policy against women, against LGBTI+ people, against Muslims. Televangelists condemn abortion yet praise military violence, and then they claim a monopoly on truth. But it’s not my truth: for they are silent on issues of poverty and justice; they spit on the gift of God’s good earth, the very land I spoke into being,’ said Sophie.

‘Disaster is coming; suffering is coming; the Centre will not hold. Religious wars are erupting; climate change is happening; and the whole capitalist mirage is being revealed as nothing but smoke and mirrors. But war and climate disaster and rapid social change happen again and again and again.

‘Remember the first century, with the Jewish revolt and the siege of Jerusalem? The land was salted and degraded, the violence was horrific and a million Jews died: and yet it was not the end.

‘Remember the Crusades? Popes rewrote Christianity to mobilize the masses and justify genocide. They invented the theory of atonement to persuade people to sacrifice their lives, and they postponed Paradise until the afterlife; and yet it was not the end.

‘Remember the Age of Imperialism? Forests were destroyed to build naval fleets, and European countries vied for control of the seas, the spice routes and the slave trade. Millions were killed and countless people enslaved, all in the name of a violent god: and yet it was not the end.

‘So when you see false preachers and teachers lying with politicians and media barons; when you see peoples suffering and peoples enslaved; when you see plagues and wars and climate disaster, remember: it’s not the end. It’s simply the birth pangs of the coming of God’s realm, which is crowning but not yet fully born.

‘You know how labour goes,’ said Sophie. ‘The body is shaken to its foundations, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, things get more intense. There will be war, and rumours of war, and empty supermarket shelves. People who hold fast to my teaching are going to be persecuted: not only by governments, but by members of their own families. People will be taken to court; fathers will abandon their children; children will condemn their parents; you will be hated because of my name. But the one who endures to the end, who rejects the lies and holds onto my truth despite the pressure, will be made whole.

‘But when you see political leaders claim God-given mandate to lock up even more people and control even more bodies and bomb even more countries back to the dark ages, get the hell out of there. False preachers and lying teachers will produce all sorts of signs and wonders, but don’t be fooled. It’s just smoke and mirrors.

‘And know this: After the suffering, right when it feels like the world has fallen apart, people will see the Human One will coming. The Human One will be cloaked in the clouds of God’s presence, and will radiate power and good reputation. She will send out her messengers, and gather the chosen ones from every corner of God’s good earth, from every corner of God’s realm. Everyone will be brought together again, reconciled, healed, and whole.

‘Learn from the fig tree. When you see its buds form, and lime green leaves begin to sprout, you know summer is just around the corner. In the same way, when you see these all things taking place, you know the Human One is very near indeed.

‘I’m not just saying this for some future generation: this is true for you, too: these things will happen. Earth and sky will wear out, but my words will never wear out. They will always be fresh and relevant.

‘But nobody knows exactly when all this will happen. Don’t trust anyone who claims to know: because not even the angels in heaven, not even I, know when these things will happen. Only the Creator knows.

‘Here’s a fact: Rome called the world its ‘household.’ It claimed that all people and nations were in the household; and it controlled them through taxation and violence. Hungry peasants grew wheat, only to have it taxed away; then Roman authorities distributed rations of bread made from that same wheat, and they demanded the peasants be grateful. It’s like Ireland and Cornwall in the potato famine. The waters continued to produce fish and the fields wheat: yet the people starved as England took all the fish and bread away.

‘But my house is not like that. Remember the loaves? Remember the fish? There’s enough in my house for everyone. Waiting for the Human One to return is like a person who takes a trip, leaving the house and putting the servants in charge. That’s you lot, and I’ve shown you how to live in this house: pray, share, and serve. And the servants don’t know when the head of the house will return.

‘So stay awake: be alert: be aware: the Human One could turn up at any moment.

‘Keep watch,’ said Sophie, ‘and do the work of loving one another, caring for one another, and using your power wisely.

‘Reject all forms of violence, and never forget to pray.

‘Seek justice. Seek wisdom. Seek shalom.

‘Help others flourish: for the kingdom is crowning and will soon be born for everyone.

‘And whatever happens, don’t panic. Stay on track, for you don’t know when the head of the house will return.

‘Perhaps in the evening: when I will break bread with you.

‘Perhaps at midnight: when I will be praying in the garden.

‘Perhaps at cockcrow: when I will be condemned by cardinals and mega-church pastors.

‘Perhaps at dawn: when I will be gone from the grave and found among the living, for death does not control me.

‘It’s hard to stay awake in dark times. I know. There will be many times when you fall asleep: while I’m praying, while others are plotting, while accusations and lies are being concocted, while the mob is being whipped to a frenzy. There will be times when you dream about money, power and success, and whether they mightn’t be God’s gifts after all. There will be times when you are lulled by the tempter’s trap; there will be times when you sleepwalk through life; there will be times when you cannot even imagine the dawn.

‘But do your best. Keep watch, stick with the job, stay awake, and pray. For today you glimpse me; but one day soon the Human One will arrive, and not just in glimpses but in glory. Your life is here and now: so live well here and now. And fullness of life is coming: so be ready!’ Ω

(The name Sophie comes from the Greek word for wisdom, sophia, who was made flesh in the person of Jesus.)

We followed the interpretation with a congregational conversation as follows:

What lulls us to sleep through this age?

  • being too comfortable, whether because of affluence or because  because we think we have a monopoly on the truth
  • failing to read and seriously reflect on the Bible (if we’re not periodically offended by the Bible, we’re not paying attention!)
  • being oblivious of or hostile to other people’s experiences and points of view
  • being blase about life

What helps us stay awake?

  • experiences or people which prod us to reflect and, perhaps, change our minds / lives
  • building bridges, befriending, dialoguing with people who have different experiences and perspectives
  • being asked good questions
  • not being content with cheap or easy answers
  • being open to learning (which always happens at church, said someone!)

What does active waiting look like?

  • Someone talked about holding the centre: being the stable centre / shepherd for family and friends who are experiencing life as chaos.
  • We can hold the centre when we regularly engage in reflective practice  / prayer (see our prayer tools here); and when we put on our god goggles to reflect on our lives, both our doing and our being.
  • Obviously there is the ongoing work of love, justice, creation care, and shalom.
  • We notice that lots of people are just waiting for 2020 to be over – but that begs the question: How will 2021 be different? And how are we / they preparing for that? (to which we had few answers!)

An interpretation of and conversation about Mark 13:24-37 and surrounding texts given to Sanctuary on 29 November (Year B Advent 1) © Sanctuary 2020. Image credit: kilarov zaneit on Unsplash.

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