(Here is the sermon I preached on Sunday, November 29, 2020–1st Sunday of Advent. You can find the full recording of the service on the church website)
Maybe you’ll recognize who said this portion of this famous speech:
Gentlemen may cry, “Peace! Peace!” — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me..
You probably know the ending and may have the urge to complete it too. But leave it hanging for a moment. The speech comes from Patrick Henry spoken on March 25, 1775 in Richmond, VA, about a year before the Revolutionary war. Now, if you’re like me, it feels weird leaving the speech hanging like that without saying the ending, doesn’t it? We so desperately want to finish it. It feels incomplete otherwise. It’s missing the culmination of where Henry was going.
But it’s also missing the beginning part of his speech, too. The part that sets up the section I read to you. That set up is important. The beginning part builds up the argument. It lays a foundation for the rest to make sense. Without the beginning or the ending, what we have is an incomplete speech that leaves us uncomfortable and unsatisfied.
Our Gospel reading is no different today. What we have is a speech by Jesus without the beginning. And while we hear the end of what Jesus is saying in this speech, we haven’t gotten to the culmination of the story — we’re right on the cusp of it in Mark’s Gospel. The very next verse tells us of the chief priests and scribes plotting to kill Jesus.
And the beginning that is left out, the context of this entire passage, starts at the beginning of Chapter 13, which begins this way, “As he 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?’”