Mark 13:24-31

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Mark 13:24-31

William Miller was a Baptist preacher in New York. He was fascinated by the apocalyptic passages in the Bible, seeing them as “predictive.” In 1831 he began teaching that Jesus was soon “coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” Eventually, he named the date. October 22, 1844.

His followers took him seriously. They sold their land and all they had. They gathered on a hill when the fateful day arrived….oops….

I don’t know how long they waited. I don’t know how they expressed their disappointment. I don’t know if they went back to their neighbors to “undo” the sale of their lands. All I know is that they weren’t whisked off to heaven. Did that cause a shift in their understanding of the Bible? No, they just figured they must have gotten the math wrong. A new Christian denomination was born.

In the Apostles’ Creed, a statement of faith shared by the vast majority of Christians, we confess “He ascended into heave and is sitting at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” That confession is not about timelines or Bible math or following the latest crackpot end of the world predictions. It is a simple expression of trust that life is moving toward God. And it is about accountability.

We are accountable to God. Our words and actions have consequences. How we act. How we treat others. How we do our daily work. How we respond to the world around us. How we use the resources that have been entrusted to us. We are accountable for our lives.

Whenever I think of the word “accountability” as it pertains to our relationship with God and other people, I always want to remember the “accountability trinity.” We all need to know that we have a God we can count on. We need to know that we count to God. And other people need to know they can count on us. In all things.

Those first readers of Mark must have been much like the followers of William Miller. They heard the words – “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” – and they took them literally. They were sorely disappointed. Maybe some quit. But others humbly re-imagined their meaning. They walked away, not disappointed that the celestial armies didn’t descend to trounce the Romans, but encouraged with the promise, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

We ought to do the same.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we don’t know what the future holds but we know you hold the future. Shape, form, and use us that we might be good news in the world. May our hope for your good future keep us going every day, always mindful that what we say and do matters. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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