11/15/15 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
November 15, 2015
25th Sunday after Pentecost
“In the Waiting Room”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
To begin, a Minnesota classic. There were three fathers to be in a hospital waiting room, waiting for their babies to be born. The first nurse comes out and tells the first father, "Congratulations you're the father of twins!" He says, “Great! I am the manager for the Minnesota Twins.” The second nurse comes out and tells the second father, "Congratulations you're the father of triplets”! He says, "That's cool! I work for 3M.” The third father faints onto a near-by chair. The third nurse comes out, and asks, “What’s the matter with the third father?" One of the other fathers said, "Oh he just fainted.” The nurse asked, "Why?" He replied, "He works for Seven Up!”
This morning’s scripture passage is somewhat of a classic, but not necessarily for seemingly happy or hopeful reasons, at least on the surface. It’s classic in that all of Mark 13 follows the apocalyptic theme found in Ezekiel and Revelation. What makes Mark 13 stand out a little more than the other books, is that Jesus himself issues the visions, and at one level, it has come to pass.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
Thank you, Missi. If we think about it, Jesus’ disciples were generally not big city folks. They were fishermen and such from mostly small towns. But now in Mark 13 they are in - Jerusalem - and they predictably do the touristy thing of being wowed by the big buildings, by the Temple masonry work, by the sense of history that permeates the place. If they had had cameras, the shutters would have been snapping away wildly. One can imagine the Facebook status updates, the Instagram posts: “In Jerusalem—can’t believe the Temple’s grandeur!” “LOL: Peter, James and John doing the selfie in front of the Temple Portico itself!”
“Master, get a load of this limestone block! Can you imagine the work it took to lift these one on top of the other?! (I know I have said the same thing about the work it took to lift this sanctuary to put the Red Room under it in 1907.) For his part, though, Jesus turns a rather blank face their direction and swiftly deflates their enthusiasm with the words, “Impressive? Maybe. Shame about the impending destruction, though, because somebody is going to take those impressive blocks of stone and scatter them all around Jerusalem like a child’s Legos.”
Jesus’ prediction about the fall of Jerusalem was fulfilled in the year 70 AD, at the hands of the Romans. It was another example of why it’s better that we don’t know about the future, because imagine how wigged-out the disciples would have been if they’d known - not just about the temple destruction and Jesus’ death, but their own deaths, of which most were horrid.
A photographer for a national magazine was assigned to take pictures of a great forest fire. He was advised that a small plane would be waiting to fly him over the fire. The photographer arrived at the airstrip just an hour before sundown. Sure enough, a small Cessna airplane was waiting. He jumped in with his equipment and shouted, "Let's go!" The tense man sitting in the pilot's seat swung the plane into the wind and soon they were in the air, though flying erratically.
"Fly over the north side of the fire," said the photographer, "and make several low-level passes." "Why?" asked the nervous pilot. "Because I'm going to take pictures!" yelled the photographer. "I'm a photographer, and photographers take pictures." The pilot replied, "You mean you're not the flight instructor?”
As flight instructor, Jesus, in verse 5, tells the disciples, and us, “to watch.” Interestingly, Jesus says it again in verse 9 - the beginning of the next passage - and again in the end of chapter 13.
Ironically, all through the history of the Church - people have been “watching” for Jesus’ return, but so often this “watchfulness” gets translated into a kind of starry-eyed sky gazing - whereby watchers scan the distant horizon for any and every sign that could get interpreted as some impending arrow pointing forward to the return of Christ. Although I don’t know of any specific incidents, I’m sure that there are some folks out there using Friday’s Paris bombing as another confirmation of Jesus’ imminent return.
Even before Friday, this passage seemed to be all about doom and gloom, until you remember to include the little line at the end of this morning’s passage; there’s that curious little sentence: “These are the beginning of birth pains.
Chris Hayes, of Ministry Matters, had this to say about that little sentence. “Jesus wants to remind, encourage, and warn the disciples and us that there are many opportunities to hear legacies and create legacies that will draw us off course from where God intends for us to be, but when we follow the legacy of the Christ, we can weather the storms and trials that come and we can move forward in faith.”
The main point of Mr. Hayes’ commentary on this passage was that people who know they are going to die tend to leave legacies in their last words, thoughts and deeds. As Jesus got closer to his impending death, he would naturally want to leave a lasting legacy with the disciples - and us. So he tells about the coming tribulation - that took place - and then gave the promise of birth pains.
Most of the time - so I’ve heard - there is a great deal of pain in the giving of birth, but the immediate look and feel and sound and smell of a baby seems move the memory of pain far away from the joy of receiving what was so long awaited.
Those birth pains happened to the disciples when Jesus was buried; his resurrection birthing a new era with a resurrected Messiah. Perhaps there are birth pains for the Jewish people as they await the third temple to be built on the Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem, prophesied in the book of Ezekiel. And perhaps our current wars and unrest, political hotbeds, natural disasters and famines are the birth pains for Jesus’ second coming.
The thing is, we can get all torqued up about what is going on around us, or we can remember that Christ already came, and left us with the Holy Spirit. We certainly need to be sympathetic and helpful as we can, but as Mr. Hayes said, we can’t let the “news” draw us off course from where God intends for us to be. Following Christ, waiting in the waiting room, as it were, “we can weather the storms and trials that come and we can move forward in faith.”
The best part of Mr. Hayes’ statement is that very last snippet about moving forward in faith. Despite Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, the refugee crisis, the college campus unrest this week, we all need to move forward in faith. That means praying for our world, the strangers who live lives unknown to us, our neighbors, families, friends, co-workers, as well as those who “check” us out, who wrap our stuff, keep track of our treasures, and the oh-so-many-other individuals that touch our lives.
We take a step forward in our faith when we stop, in the middle of dashing between the car and the house or store, to listen and to feel whatever wind or breeze there might be. We step forward by bringing out the good in others as well as our own selves. So I give you this poem by Steve Garnass-Holmes.
I am this morning meadow
into which you pour yourself.
I am the still air
in which you rise, a mountain, huge.
I am this city street
which you walk, a crowd
with your stories, your nations.
I am this bird
and you are flight, and song.
I am the ocean
and you are my water.
I am the desert
and you are my stillness.
I am this heart
and you are my beating.
You are this day
into which you pour me,
breath by breath.
we are this life.
The other thing we can do in this waiting room is to pray together. Great God of all Creation, thank you for that which you are constantly birthing. Thank you for this time you give us - to explore, blossom, grow into that which you know we can be. Enable us to help those who need help, encourage us to step up when we are needed. Be with those who are mourning, grieving, struggling and frustrated. Give them encouragement and hope. Most of all, thank you for your love and provision, that we are never alone, and always being born into new versions of ourselves after you. And all your people say, Amen.
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