Sermon: 25th Sunday after Pentecost 15 th November 2015

Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost – Series B

St Alban’s, Epping

15th November, 2015

Rev. Ross Weaver

1 Samuel 1:4-20; Song of Hannah; Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Mark 13:1-11

I have been sorting through my books lately. I have so many of them. So now and again, I try to decide which I should keep and which should be discarded. Originally, my decision was based on the idea of keeping books I use regularly, and getting rid of books I will probably never use again. But I have begun to realise that I have another group. It is those books that I haven’t read for some time yet books that I plan to read again at some future date. These are usually novels or murder mysteries. They’re not necessarily good literature. But they’re books that I enjoy reading. And the pleasure of reading them is not reduced by knowing how they end. In fact, knowing how they end actually provides some reassurance, some comfort to me. They reassure me that the book will end the way it should. They comfort me because a book is like an old friend. And you can feel safe particularly when you know how the story will end.

On the other hand, it is very stressful when we are in situations when we don’t know how the story will end. When you are waiting for the results of tests from the doctor when things have not been going well and we wonder what will the tests reveal. Will it be good news or bad? And if it is bad, what will that mean? Where is this story going? How will it end?

This was the dilemma for the disciples in Mark 13. They had been caught up with the story of Jesus. They had seen him challenge the ruling authorities of Jerusalem. They had heard his claim to be Israel’s messiah. They had come to believe that he was the Christ. But the question remained when was Jesus’ kingdom coming? When would it begin? When would he become king in Israel? How will the story end? And what place would they have in this story? They could tell that things were moving to a crisis, the climax to the story. But when would that be? This was a confusing time for the disciples. What was important? What was unimportant? What could they trust in?

The chapter begins with the disciples thinking about the stones in the building of the Temple. This Temple was built from a beautiful white marble. The Temple was so large it covered one sixth of the area of the city. Much of the Temple was covered in gold. So on a sunny day the Temple shone white and golden – an amazing sight. The marble had been cut into large blocks to build the walls of the Temple. But Herod had done something different. He didn’t use the standard sized building blocks. He had the marble cut into amazingly long slabs and those slabs were used to build the walls. Some slabs were larger than a double deck bus.It was a very difficult way to build. And imagine the difficulty for the builders as they had to man-handle each of those large marble slabs into position – an amazing engineering achievement. No doubt you have seen pictures of people at the wailing wallplacing prayer requests on pieces of paperbetween these stones. But those are the foundation stones. On the walls themselves the joints are so tight there isn’t room for the thickness of a piece of paper.

If you go to Jerusalem today, it is possible to see some of those large stones. They haven’t moved in 2000 years, though the Temple itself was destroyed in AD 70. But this building was so impressive, the disciples could not imagine it ever being torn down. But Jesus underlines his warning to them by pointing out that the day was coming when even this great building would be gone. Not one stone upon another. The disciples couldn’t imagine the magnitude of the conflict that would produce so great a disaster.

They had been hoping for the coming of God’s kingdom. They had been hoping for the end of Roman rule, with Jesus as king of the city. What they wanted to know was, how would the story end? But Jesus answer was not good news. As he looked at the future all he could see was more wars and natural disasters and persecutions. In other words, Jesus is saying this is what the world will be like. Don’t hope for a golden age. It won’t be like that. Rather the world will be like what we see on the evening news each night. And Jesus says two things about that. First, don’t be worried. Now there are certainly things here to worry about. Jesus describes some dreadful events. But he is saying “Don’t be worried,” in the sense that things have not gone wrong. This is not a world out of God’s control. Rather, the point is, this is the way the world will be. And Jesus second point is that we need to be prepared for these events. Don’t be taken by surprise, don’t be off your guard. This is what the future holds.

Then the disciple asked a significant question. They wanted to know when these things will happen? They probably wanted to know two things. First, when will these disasters strike. And second, when will God’s kingdom arrive. But the question “When will these things happen?” is never answered by Jesus. Rather than considering when they will happen, Jesus is more concerned about what they should do during these events – how they should behave. The events Jesus describes are truly terrible. First there will be wars and rumours of wars. There will be earthquakes and famines. Brother will betray brother, children will rebel against their parents. People will hate those who profess any faith. It is not a pretty picture. Rather it is a picture of the breakdown of society.

The world will not always be a place that gets better and better. And Jesus is not concerned about when these things will happen. Sometimes people treat this chapter of Mark like it’s the prophecies of Nostradamus, that if only we can find the right key we can foretell the future. But that is not Jesus’ concern. He is concerned with the question of what we should do – how we should respond to this situation. His first command is “Be on your guard.” That is, be prepared for these hard times. It reminds me of the warnings we get from Paul in Ephesians 6. There we read,

“Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these,take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and request. To that end keep alert and always persevere in praying for all the saints.”

In other words, God will nurture us spiritually with the weapons of righteousness, and faith and the spirit and the word of God and the good news of the gospel. He has prepared us for when the battles come. But there is more. He talks about being arrested and being brought to trial. These are worrying pictures but Jesus’ point is that the spirit of God will sustain us through all things.

The picture of the future that Jesus paints is very bleak. It will be like that for some but for others it won’t be so bad. But Jesus is encouraging us to keep going to the end and he will sustain us through bad times. As we remain faithful to him, he will keep faith with us. And of course, we have the great hope that we will all share in the Kingdom of God even if we face a rough road to get there. Jesus was about to face the cross and he called on all his followers to take up their cross and follow him. So what about our future?What will tomorrow bring?It may be good? But it could be disastrous. Are we ready for that? Are we prepared spiritually? How is our prayer life? How strong is our faith? Jesus offers no guarantees that it will be easy. Rather, he promises he will be there at the end.