Mark 13:1-8 As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs."
Reflection A little more than three weeks ago the news was flodded with images of Hurricane Sandy’s effects . But when I saw one photographer’s still photo of New York’s shadowy skyline it stole my breath, and like NYC I was stopped in my tracks. This grand edifice, the economic center of the world, a beacon of Western civilization and culture, stuttered in shades of pale and grey. From Staten Island to Yonkers the lights were out. The great buildings were dark. Jesus’ words echoed in my heart, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another...” But is that the end of the story? I don’t think so.
Jesus said, “This is but he beginning of the birthpangs.” This is not the end. It is meaningful anguish and suffering. It is productive labor. And this is a lynchin of Christian faith. We understand that anguish and suffering need not be pointless or futile. In God’s economy anguish and suffering are the productive labor that leads to new life. But what are we to do?
I imagine that is the very question millions of folks in the northeast were, and still are, asking. What are we to do in the wake of hurricane Sandy? And they dug in. Shoveling away tons of sand, cutting up fallen trees, inviting strangers into their homes, feeding them, giving them clothes and a warm dry place to stay. Because anguish and suffering are not the end. They are the beginning of productive labor.
Since the Age of the Enlightenment western civilization has elevated the status of the individual, individual rights, privilege and entitlement. We’ve all heard the mantra, “It’s all about me.” In the wake of a storm such as Sandy those words dissolve like dust in a hurricane as millions of people are stopped in their tracks with the realization that, “It’s all about US. Not only are we inextricably interconnected, we are also utterly interdependent.” Of course some people take more kindly to the news than others, but none can escape the fact. We are in this thing, this life, together.
The blistering winds and raging waters of hurricane Sandy were the beginning of the birthpangs, the productive labor that gave birth to kindness and generosity among strangers, to mass efforts to kindle new light and life in the midst of anguish, suffering and loss. Now, if only we would not forget and would continue to live our lives “provok(ing) one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together... and encouraging one another.”