In It For the Long Haul 11-15-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 13:1-8, I explore the apocalyptic nature of Jesus’ teachings to his disciples about the end times. He assures us that dark times will occur, but that we do not need to be afraid.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/in-it-for-the-long-haul-11-15-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

It goes without saying that to the best of my knowledge, I have never been pregnant…but, I have encountered many individuals who were, and inevitably, when in conversation with someone, particularly when they are nearing the end of their pregnancy, the question always comes up…When’s it gonna happen?

And the vast majority of the time, almost across the board, the answer is “I don’t know.” Because the birth of a baby pretty well happens unexpectedly…it can’t be predicted….for the most part. (pause)

In our family though…that wasn’t the case…Because my son prefers, at times anyway, to do things the hard way, he ended up being breach…resulting in a planned c-section birth. The closest we got to being surprised was a trip to a specialist in Sioux Falls towards the end of my wife’s pregnancy that COULD have resulted in Jack being born about a month early…something we found out the day before going to that appointment…and so we had the surprise of “this time tomorrow, you might just have a baby.” (pause) But as my story has already revealed, that wasn’t the case, and so on January 15th, 2004 we checked into the hospital at 6am…and by 7:45…we had a baby…Quick and easy…seriously…c-sections…I highly recommend it.

But, on the flip side…that’s not the norm is it? I found that out about 24 hours later. We were still in the hospital and would be for a couple more days yet…and so we were witnesses to the other happens in the OB department. It happened to be a fairly quiet period in that department…but, at 6am the day after Jack was born…another lady was induced…and her labor began…and she walked that hallway…up and down…up and down…over and over again…lap after lap…hour after hour.

As her labor progressed…as those labor pains came and went…that poor woman walked that hallway…husband in tow…for 25.5 hours…finally, according to the report of a nurse that filled us in…at 7:30am the NEXT day, she went into delivery, where she pushed for 2.5 more hours…until ultimately having to undergo and emergency c-section…and it was seeing this from the outskirts…just watching her walk the halls that I discovered just how extensive…how long term…labor can be…once it starts, trust me, you are in it for the long haul…and that first contraction…is just the beginning. (pause)
And now in a moment of full disclosure…I am FULLY aware that I have never, nor shall I ever…experience something like this for myself…Ladies…you are champions…and you are WAY tougher than us guys can ever hope to be. (pause)
Now…all that being said…it probably comes as no great shock that I connect this story in with Jesus’ closing words in today’s lesson…this is but the beginning of the birth pangs. An interesting analogy to be sure…especially considering that those involved in the conversation…Jesus, Peter, James, John, and Andrew…all happen to be members of the male persuasion and not a single one of them would have experienced those birth pangs for themselves…nor had any of them sat through it with a wife…as midwives were all the rage in Jesus time…and husbands got kicked out the house until it was all said and done. And yet…as Jesus is addressing the “end times” this is the analogy that he uses.

But before I get into that, I need to back up…perhaps share a little background…here we are towards the end of Mark’s gospel…and as in all of the gospels…we hear about the end times…these different apocalyptic messages within the final week of Jesus’ life…this is no different…though perhaps it’s a little more fitting that here in Mark…its chapter 13…lucky number 13 as we hear somewhat cryptic messages about what is to come at that unknown point somewhere out in the future. (pause)
But the funny part of all this…is what sparks off the conversation in the first place. After walking out of the temple for the last time here in Mark’s gospel…one of his disciples…we’re not sure which one, but one of them takes a gander at the incredible size of the buildings…and the individual stones that make them up…some of which were as large as 40 feet long and 20 high…and that disciple can’t help but marvel…at least for second…until Jesus rains on his parade by saying “there will come a day when all this will be gone. It’s all going to be destroyed.”

And its at that point, that Jesus gets the million dollar question. “When will this be? And what will be the sign that it is about to be accomplished?” (pause) Then Jesus takes a breath, and spends the remainder of the chapter 33 verses… 6 different sections…all aimed at the end times. (pause)

Now admittedly…apocalyptic texts always give me a little bit of pause…but at this time of year, each and every year in the lectionary…we get them. Earlier in the week, I was in conversation, and the individual that I was talking to reminded me just how much I tend to cringe at this type of text…that its one of my least favorite things to discuss…much less to preach on.

And it is…but I do have to say that this year, compared with last year, is a little easier. Last year, we got apocalyptic texts for about 4 weeks straight…but now this year…its just this one…just one week…just one text…and yet, it raises the exact same grimace for me.

But why is that? Good question. What is it about apocalyptic texts that tends to bug me so much? And the answer…the typical reaction of those who hear it…I’ll be honest, as a pastor there are certain types of scripture that illicit a pretty normal response no matter who it is that you are engaging with…and inevitably when we get started on this dire predictions for the unknown end times…I know I’m gonna get the question “What’s it gonna be like? When will it happen? Is it already going on?”

And the tricky part about this from my end of the discussion, is how many times can you say “I don’t know” before people start to wonder if you have any idea what you’re talking about…but the long and short of it is that we don’t know. (pause) Scripture gives us little glimpses…but there is no roadmap to when it will occur…there is no indication of if it will be short…or if will be long…if we’ll all know in an instant or if news will need to spread….the thing is…that we just don’t know.

And yet…we all want to don’t we…all of us…I think we all hear texts like this and wish that we had some indication of when its all going to happen…but despite an entire chapter devoted to recognizing the reality of the end times…that at some point that God the father has ordained, Jesus will come back and there WILL be a new heaven a new earth…and those who have died WILL join Jesus in the resurrection….despite all that…Jesus really doesn’t give us much to go on does he?

“Jesus…when will this be? And what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (pause) Wars…nation against nation…earthquakes…famine. (pause) Come on Jesus, that’s not a ton to go on here…and perhaps we turn on the nightly news and it seems like this stuff is already going on…and you know what…it has been…because wars and natural disasters and hunger…that’s all been around since Jesus day…and so it seems that the disciples who heard his message that day…and everyone who has read it in the scriptures all the way up to us today…we pretty much all have the same thought that Jesus…you’re warnings…they don’t really reveal very much because we already live in that reality. (pause)

And it that’s the case…then I guess Jesus could come back any second couldn’t he? And I don’t know about you but there are plenty of times when I watch the news or hear the reports and think to myself that it would a whole lot easier if he would…Come on Jesus…enough is enough…let’s get this show on the road here. (pause)
And you know what…followers of Christ have had that reaction as long as there have been followers of Christ. His earliest followers…some of those who literally walked along with him…they thought he’d be back during their lifetime…and many of the other 1st century converts though the same thing…so much so that the Apostle Paul had to write the letter of 1st Thessalonians to ensure them that the death of believers was not a bad sign…and this notion has continued through countless dark times for the past 2000 years.

And in the midst of all this, Jesus reminds us…quite calmly…do not be alarmed…not when you hear of wars and disasters…Not when you hear of freak November tornadoes…or wildfires in Colorado…or earthquakes in California…or hurricanes in the southeast…or devastating storms in the north east…Jesus tells us that when you hear of these things…don’t be afraid…for they are only the beginning of the birth pangs.

Birth takes a long time…and for that woman in the midst of it…feeling those devastating labor pains wracking her body…it probably feels like an eternity. (pause) Likewise, Jesus tells us that we need to be in it for the long haul…because these devastating events…they’re only the beginning. (pause)
That’s what he told the disciples 2000 years ago…and that’s what he’s still telling us today…isn’t it something that we share the same reaction as Jesus’ own disciples when we start to think about the end times? But maybe it shouldn’t come as a shock to us…because its human nature…we want to know…we want to understand…even that stuff that’s beyond our ability.

But remember this…Jesus doesn’t seem interesting in determining when its going to happen…but rather, he wants us to be prepared. That’s what the vast majority of Mark chapter 13 is about…be prepared. Now that the gospel has found you…now that the Holy Spirit has worked within you…now that Christ’s work in our reality has brought you into faith…simply live each and every day hopeful in the promise that through Christ you have been given eternal life…whatever that looks like. Live today like Jesus is going to come back tomorrow…even if all signs point to the notion that it won’t happen during our lifetime.

As followers of Christ we have been given the promise that we don’t need to fear…not the disasters describes in the end times…not the trials and tribulations that we face in our day to day lives…and ultimately not even death…because God has claimed us in the here and now…and that promise goes right on through to eternity.

So when you start to think about the end times…try not to stress…because remember that God’s in this for the long haul…and he’s promised to bring you along for the ride. Amen.

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