St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28B)
First Lesson: Daniel 12:1-3
Second Lesson: Hebrews 10:11-25
Gospel: Mark 13:1-8
Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”
Anyone who knows me knows that I love superheroes.
It’s true. I love superheroes and stories about superheroes. I’ve loved them ever since I was a young child when I would beg my father to make me a Batman costume after watching the classic Batman television series from the 1960s, starring Adam West.
There are so many things that I love about these characters. I love to learn about where they came from and how they became the heroes they are today. I love to learn about how they acquired their magnificent abilities and what inspired them to use their abilities to help save the world from those who would seek to destroy it.
I never miss the opportunity to go see a new superhero movie when it comes out in theaters, and as we all know, there’ve been a lot of new superhero movies to come out in the past several years.
One of absolute favorites is the 2012 movie, The Avengers. The Avengersis different than most superhero movies because it features not one character but a whole team of characters. In fact, The Avengers are made up of some of the most iconic superheroes in the world- heroes like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Spider Man, and The Incredible Hulk. I’m sure you’ve all heard of at least a few of these names before!
When I read the Gospel lesson for today about Jesus’ warning to his disciples about the end of days and imposters who will come in his name, claiming to be the Messiah, I was reminded of a great scene from The Avengers.
Toward the beginning of the movie, as all of our heroes are meeting each other for the first time, Thor and Iron Man get into a heated battle over possession of Thor’s brother, Loki, who is the main villain of the film. Iron Man wants to take him to the proper authorities, but Thor wants to handle Loki himself. Thor takes his brother, flying out of a jet in mid-air, and Iron Man follows in pursuit with the intention of getting him back. Captain America watches all of this unfold and decides to get in on the action. So, he puts his parachute on, and as he prepares to jump out of the plane, Black Widow says to him, “I’d sit this one out, Cap. These guys come from legend. They’re basically gods.” Captain American quickly says back, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.
If you’ve ever seen a picture of Thor, you probably understand what Captain America is talking about. Thor has long, blonde hair. He’s built like a Greek god. He has the power to fly and control thunder and lightning. He wears armor from head to toe and wields a large hammer as his weapon of choice.
It’s a funny scene, but I think it also speaks to what Jesus is talking about in our lesson today from Mark’s Gospel when he says to his disciples, “Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”
Now, I’m not suggesting that our heroes in the movies all claim to be the second coming of Christ. That’s not what I’m saying at all. In fact, these movies rarely, if ever, talk about religion or belief in God. That’s not their purpose. But, what I love about Captain America in that moment when he says, “There’s only one God, ma’am,” is that he’s able to distinguish the difference between Thor, this larger-than-life hero who’s come from a different world, and the one, true God. He’s able to look past all of Thor’s most impressive attributes and see him for who he truly is: just another hero who also happens to possess amazing abilities and skills.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus knows that, after he’s gone, his disciples will face many temptations. He knows they’ll be tempted in ways that may lead them astray or distract them from the work they’ve been given to do as his disciples. His warning is this. “Beware that no one leads you astray.” In other words, “Keep your eyes open!” “Stay alert!” “There are temptations around every corner!”
Temptations come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, don’t they? I’m sure we can all come up with lots of examples. They can come in the form of the people we encounter in our lives, people who claim to have all the answers, people who assure us that they can fix all of our problems. They can come in the form of those materials things we simply can’t live without, those things we invest our time in, the objects of our love and devotion. Temptations can even come in the form of thoughts and feelings, such as the fear that we don’t have enough.
What Jesus is trying to tell his disciples, what he’s trying to tell us this morning, is that none of those things can save us. We may think they can, and for a little while, it may seem as though they have. But, in the end, only the one, true God can save us.
This God, by the way, isn’t dressed in fancy armor, and he doesn’t walk around wielding a large weapon. This God came to live among us as a lowly man from Nazareth, a carpenter’s son, who spent most of his earthly ministry traveling from place to place, teaching people and showing them that love and service to others is the only path to eternal life. This God came to live among us to show us that there is no greater love than to give of one’s self so that others may live.
For the past several weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about stewardship here at St. Catherine’s. This is the time of year when many Episcopal parishes emphasize stewardship and talk about the importance of giving back to the Church. This is also the time of year when many parishes conduct their annual giving campaigns and ask members of the parish to make a financial commitment to the church for the upcoming year
Unfortunately, when we talk about stewardship, many people automatically assume that we’re only talking about giving money or making a pledge to the church. Of course, supporting the Church’s mission through the giving of our financial resources is extremely important. It enables the Church to help provide for those who are in need, and it exhibits the love of God that followers of Christ are called to share with the world.
But, stewardship is more than just the giving of one’s money; it’s the right ordering of every aspect of our lives. Good stewardship is the act of giving thanks to God for all of the many blessings that we’ve received and offering our whole selves back to God for the purpose of building up God’s Kingdom. It involves the giving of our time, our talents, and our treasure. Good stewardship invites us to turn away from the cares and occupations of this world that seek to distract us from the work of the Gospel and to refocus our lives back on those things that give us life.
In just a few moments, our annual giving campaign for 2019 will come to an end as we make our way forward to present our pledge cards. These cards represent more than just numbers. They represent our faith in God and the belief that God has brought us to this place in our lives to be the Episcopal Church in Chelsea, Alabama. We have so much to give to this community. We have so much to offer those who are seeking a spiritual home and a place where they, too, can offer their time, talents, and treasure for the building up of God’s Kingdom. Our annual giving campaign may be coming to an end, but our conversation about good stewardship never ends. We must always be thinking and praying about new ways that God may be calling us to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
So, on this day, as we celebrate and give thanks for all of God’s many blessings and as we recommit our selves to the ongoing work of this parish, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to be present in us and among, inspiring us and giving us the strength to continue the work that lies ahead. Amen.
Click here to listen to an audio recording of this sermon.