Posts Tagged ‘Mark 13:1-8’

Only the Beginning 11-18-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 13:1-8, Jesus gets apocalyptic. This is normal at the end of the church year. Unfortunately we’re only given little glimpses but we are given the promise that we will never be left alone in it.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/only-the-beginning-11-18-18

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

The Grace and Peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Just out of curiosity…how many of you out there were raised in the city? Any city…doesn’t matter which one? (Pause) Okay now on the flipside…how many grew up in a small rural town, or even out in the country? (pause) Okay, now I know what I’m working with.

As many of you know…I was a farm kid growing up…living a few miles outside of a town about the same size as Underwood…roughly 800 people. Now one difference was the proximity to urban areas. Around here we’ve got the Omaha/Council Bluffs metro just a few minutes down the road…but we often joked that my hometown was 3 hours from everywhere. The Twin Cities…three hours.  Des Moines…about three hours…Omaha, yep, that’s three hours. Sioux Falls…OH!!! That’s only 90 minutes. (pause)

It probably goes without saying…that in my normal day to day life growing up…I was pretty used to open fields…and the tallest structures out there were usually a silo or the local elevator if you happened to be in town.  And because of this…the rare times when I ended up in the downtown area of a city were eye opening.

I can remember being in downtown Des Moines during high school for state FFA convention…and thinking how crazy busy it was as we small town boys made our way around the skywalk.  And maybe even more memorable…my freshman year when we traveled to Chicago for a music trip…and I found myself standing on the sidewalk beside the skyscraper known then as the Sears Tower…just staring up at this monstrosity of architectural and construction achievement.

It was just so huge…I couldn’t even begin to understand how anyone would make something like that…and on the flipside…now that its there…I couldn’t imagine anything ever bringing it down. (pause) Anyone know what I’m talking about?  Standing there looking at something, whether man-made or something in nature…that is just so huge…so grand…so massively immovable, that you find yourself in awe? (Pause) Well, as we consider today’s gospel lesson, you are in good company…as Jesus and his disciples go walking out of the temple courtyard in Jerusalem.

As we start to think about this…remember that the 12 disciples were likely pretty young…maybe in their teens or 20’s…and most of them, perhaps not all, but most of them were from small towns or communities…particularly the small communities from the somewhat backwater region of Galilee…communities where the biggest structure they would ever see was the local synagogue.

But now they find themselves in the middle of the city…staring up that enormity of the temple…which by every description we have available…must have been impressive.  Keep in mind this is the 2nd temple…completed by Herod the Great a generation before…and it was comprised of many different structures and courtyards and staircases…all surrounded by a giant wall, all built over the course of decades…it must have been a site to see…and for these small town boys…I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been…and we hear it from them…Teacher, look at these enormous, magnificent stones and amazing buildings.

I bet it was impressive…I’ve seen first-hand some of those stones that are still standing today in what’s called the Western Wall…or Wailing Wall…the only part of that entire enormous structure that is still standing…and those stones alone are huge…roughly 4 or 5 feet cubed…and solid rock…can you imagine trying to put those into place? We’d need a crane of some sort now, but they did it with basic human labor…and even more amazing…those were the smaller stones…recent work in Jerusalem has uncovered massive foundation stones that were upwards of 20 feet long and 10 feet high. (pause)

Starting to see why these simple farm boys and fishermen were so impressed? (pause) But here’s the thing…no sooner does this one random disciple make his wondrous statement to Jesus…then Jesus makes a prediction that must really rain on his parade.  You see these stones…the day will come when not one will be left on another…and then apparently with no other explanation…he walks away.

With that, we find a scene change, as Jesus and the disciples have gone out of the temple area and crossed the Kidron valley to the east…and then plopped themselves down on the Mount of Olives…a vantage point where they can see the glory of the temple mount from a distance…and the first four disciples that Jesus called…Peter and James and John and Andrew…the epitome of the backwater country bumpkins…they figure its up to them to figure out how this is all gonna happen.

Master…what will be the sign that this is about to take place? (Pause) It seems that they want to know what it is they better be looking for…because anything that is massive enough or strong enough to destroy the utter gloriousness of the temple mount…well that’s probably gonna be a bad thing isn’t it?

But Jesus doesn’t really give them a straight answer does he? He starts off with a warning that they not allow themselves to be led astray…and then he gives warnings about wars that will come and go…and nations rising up against nation…and natural disasters…and all kinds of stuff. Stuff that sounds…REALLY BAD…stuff that if we found ourselves on the receiving end of it…would be something we’d call “the end of the world.” And, to be honest…isn’t that type of thing what we all hope we’ve got a little advanced warning for? (pause)

Now…this first portion of chapter 13 is actually part of a larger account of Jesus teaching the disciples about (air quote this) “the end times.” And the fact that we run into it here in late November is quite normal…as we come to the end of another church year, we always run into these texts…texts often described as “apocalyptic” in nature…texts which we all commonly think of as describing those end times.

And after many different conversations with people based on this type of text over the years…I know its pretty common for all of us to hear them and think “well that doesn’t sound good…but it also doesn’t give us a whole to go on either.” And isn’t that true? I mean, its so true…and fairly universal interest in it is so real…that many people have made attempts to explain it away…even “read the code” to uncover just when it’ll happen…and how all the bad stuff that happens in the world…whether natural disasters or human centered misery…is actually a roadmap that points to just when “the end” often called the rapture…is going to be.

I always chuckle and shake my head when I hear these predictions on the news…and then I flat out laugh when the day comes and goes and the person who made the prediction in the first place sheepishly reports “We may have misread the signs.”  DUH!

But all sarcasm aside…I think it is human nature to look at the state of the world…to see horrible event after horrible event and think…Well this must be the end.  Oh no…well now this one is it…Oh I guess not, but THIS time is it right? (pause)

Maybe, just maybe, we humans have a really hard time seeing beyond whatever is staring us right in the face…whether its marveling at giant buildings or natural features like mountains or cliffs that we think will never be knocked down…or on the other end of thing to see forces at work which we are powerless to stop…like category 5 hurricanes or tsunamis or even the apparently blind hatred expressed by one group for another group.  And as we witness these different things we can only think “this is it” and nothing I can think or do or say is going to change it.

And that’s daunting isn’t it?  And maybe, just maybe, if we bring things down to a smaller scale we begin to realize that sheer size or magnitude isn’t the sole factor either.  Think about the lost job.  Or the cancer diagnosis.  Or the balance due notice…or the family standing at a graveside to bury their loved one…those moments when it feels like life is over, even as the rest of the world is going on about their business.  Are the dire feelings that come with those moments any less real than the sense the disciples felt when Jesus tells them the temple will be destroyed? (pause)

So are we in “the end times?”   Is Jesus about to come back? Well…I hope so…but honestly I don’t think so…and I don’t think that’s the point of all these different apocalyptic texts in the first place. Something that we especially see if we pay attention to Jesus’ final statement in today’s little section of this larger teaching.  This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (pause) This is the beginning.

I am, as you may have noticed…a guy…and I will never ever know the pain and agony of childbirth…and honestly, as my two kids were born by c-section I’ve never really been adjacent to it either.  But I do remember a mom being induced at 6am the day after my son was born…and she walked the halls of that OB ward in the hospital for more than 25 hours before finally going to delivery…and then spending 2.5 hours pushing before her baby was born…and I can only imagine that for her…or for any of you moms out there that went through labor…that in the midst of it…it must feel like an eternity and that it will NEVER end.

And yet it does…and at the end…there is new life in that child…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what we need to remember as we consider these troublesome texts that point towards something unknown, but seemingly pretty earth shattering…just as labor pains leads to the joy of new life…it would seem that there’s new life on the other side of this unknown future that’s coming…and the idea of looking for something good and wonderful and joyful on the other side of things…there’s a name for that…Hope.

Now as followers of Christ…we’ve been given a promise…an assurance that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us…that it is here now and that we are invited into it…and at the same time we are also promised that there are aspects of this kingdom that haven’t come around yet…and that whatever they are…they lie out there on the other side of that unknown future…and for many of us, they lie on the other side of the boundary of death…and because of these promises of Christ…we hope…we are united by our common hope in this promised but unrealized future.

And there’s one more little detail from today’s story that points us in this direction. Jesus and the disciples are sitting on top of the Mount of Olives, looking across the valley at the Temple…now the temple pointed them towards God…it was the place where God is…the sign of God’s presence and God’s promises…that’s what they were looking at.

But the valley that lies between them…even back then…was a graveyard…and it still is today…they sat on one mountain…looking across the literal presence of death…and beyond it was the embodiment of hope.

I can’t tell you what that embodiment is for you. Maybe it’s the cross…or maybe it’s a song that’s especially meaningful for you…or maybe it’s the truth that is revealed to you in the scriptures…or maybe it’s the sacraments…the washing in the waters of baptism and the shared meal of holy communion…those physical elements that combine with the promises of God to reveal the reality of God’s grace and love for you…made real through the life death and resurrection of Jesus.

Remember these promises are made for you and TO you…not just once, but always…and we are given these blessings and mercies…new every morning.  No matter what the situation is…remember…this is only the beginning.  Let us live out this day…let us live out every day which will follow…and let us experience whatever it is that lies on the other side of this existence as we know it…secure in the hope given to us through the promises of Jesus Christ. Amen

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.