The Rev. Brian D. McLaren lives in Florida. “We have warnings about hurricanes. These warnings are not about how to make the hurricane go away, but how to endure it. As the Boy Scouts said, ‘Be prepared.’”
McLaren gave the homily at the 9:15 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 19, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. His homily title was “Preparing for the Worst.” The scripture text was Matthew 24:1-14 (NRSV) —
“As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs. Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.’”
Whenever we hear these prophecies of doom, McLaren told the virtual congregation, most of us think of the end of the space-time continuum. We are embarrassed by street corner preachers and extremists.
“Actually, Jesus was more like Rachel Carson, Bill McKibben or Al Gore. He was giving a warning that the current system was unsustainable and it will crush us if we don’t change,” McLaren said.
Jesus’ hearers did not listen; they did not love God, neighbor, self and the earth. They chose violence against the Roman Empire or collaboration with it. In the end there was a war, and the Romans were driven out in 67 AD.
“But they came back in 70 AD, and not one stone of the temple remained standing. The temple represented the Jewish religious, political and economic establishment,” McLaren said.
Many people believe that the world is at the end of an age. Those who are profiting by the current system find that thought scary. For those who are suffering, “who feel enslaved, who are having their necks knelt on, the collapse of the present order is good news,” he said.
The belief in perpetual progress needs to be questioned. The assumption that there will always be progress “tells us not to be prepared for hard times. These times will be better for some and worse for others,” he said.
McLaren continued, “For life to be better for everyone, the current system has to be radically shaken up for a better age to be born. For us to get to the best of times, we have to have the worst of times.”
Jesus needed shocking language for his followers to understand.
“Things may not get better in the short term. We may not be able to do enough, fast enough, to stop some of the train wrecks. We might find a vaccine for COVID-19, but the economy may already be wrecked. We might get the economy going, but our ecology will already be gone,” McLaren said.
He continued, “We have to be prepared for the possibility of the worst, or we will never be prepared for any setback.”
Anthropologist Sarah Kendizor wrote in The Correspondent, “Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others. Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today. Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget. Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them. Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.”
In the face of authoritarian institutions, the voice inside the head that says “this is wrong” begins to die. McLaren said, “Individuality is power. Before you accept authoritarian thinking, be brave, and if you can’t be brave, be kind. Remember who you are and what you value.”
Throughout the space-time continuum there will be many ups and downs before the end. Progress will be sporadic and we will fall back often, McLaren told the congregation. “Don’t believe those who say, ‘Only I can fix it.’”
When setbacks occur, your faith and politics should prepare you to endure. In January and February, “fools predicted that the pandemic would be gone in a couple of weeks,” he said. “Your faith needs to be tough enough to get through these times.
Jesus told his disciples they were seeing the birth pangs of a new age, not the end of the world. “But for the new world to be born, we have to awaken from a false sense of security,” McLaren concluded.
Jane McCarthy, leader of the daily Service for Blessing and Healing and a leader of the Women in Ministry program at Chautauqua Institution, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Michael Miller, a Chautauqua Opera Apprentice Artist, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was “Allemande du 1er Ton en E,” by Lambert Chaumont. Miller sang the hymn, “All My Hope on God is Founded.” The anthem was “Chaconne du 2e Ton,” by Chaumont. Stafford played “Gigue du 1er Ton,” by Chaumont, for the postlude. This program is made possible by the Edmond E. Robb – Walter C. Shaw Fund and the Randall-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy.