And all God’s people said…Amen.
And all God’s people said…Amen.
…and I feel fine.
Six o’clock – TV hour. Don’t get caught in foreign tower. Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn. Lock him in uniform and book burning, blood letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate. Light a candle, light a motive. Step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh, this means no fear – cavalier. Renegade and steer clear! A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline. It’s the end of the world as we know it. It’s the end of the world as we know it. It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
If you knew anything about music in the late 80s you recognized the second verse and chorus of REM’s song, It’s the End of the World as We Know It. Okay maybe you didn’t realize the actual words but I guarantee you have the tune in your head now. That is where I got the title of my sermon today. It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
The movie 2012 came out this weekend. The plot line: it is Dec. 21st 2012, the day the Mayan calendar says the world will come to an end. It sounds so original. According to National Geographic a new cycle of the Mayan Calendar happens every 1,872,000 days and on the winter solstice of 2012, Dec. 21st, that cycle will end. Some doomsayers suggest that the end of the world will happen that day. So it is time to dust off your water bottles and canned food items you stored up 10 years ago when the solar calendar went from 1999 to 2000. I think we all know how that ended up!
I hate the fact that for the next three years we will be hearing about this. I am sure the Discovery, Science, National Geographic, and all the other cable channels will have at least 17 special reports each on this looming disaster. These stations always have programs on about how the world will end because of a comet or a meteor hitting the earth. Then there is the story line of a disease that will take out the earth’s population like in I Am Legend. As long as there were movies there have been disaster movies, like the 1933 movie Deluge. But we saw a huge influx in the last couple of years in the 90s. You had asteroids coming in Deep Impact and Armageddon. Dante’s Peak and Volcano were about, well volcanoes. The list can go on and on.
You can go to any time period of any nation and find predictions and stories of the end of the world. Some of you might think this was a modern phenomenon but if you turn to Genesis 6 you will learn of God saving humanity through Noah and the world being swallowed up in water. There is something engrained in our DNA that is fascinated about the end of the world. We want to speculate on how it will happen but we hope we are not around when it does.
It is all in fun when we see them in the movies but there have been times when we thought we were living through it. World War I was called the “War to end all wars.” In the dirt, gas and rot of the trenches almost 10 million soldiers died. The casualties of this war, military and civilian, are thought to be 37 million. Yet, we know that this was not the war to end all wars. World War II came along only two decades later.
The place Alycia and I lived in England was called Mossley and one of the past times was watching the planes circle around to land in Manchester. As we got to know the church members we learned that they would stand at the edge of the hills which over looked Manchester and watch the Nazi bomb the city. The planes would fly right over, drop their bombs and then fly right back. I have never stood in a place that saw war that recent. North Carolina last saw war during the Civil War in mid 1800s. Since then it has been peaceful. War seemed too far away and something that happened somewhere else.
When we have these moments of peace we think nothing will ever happen to change it. Nothing can really break up the way we live life. This sanctuary has been here for 48 years, it seems like it will always be here. That is what the disciples were thinking when they walked out of the temple with Jesus that day. Jesus had been in the temple teaching and had just got done comparing what a widow gave to God over a rich person. Now he and his disciples were heading out to the Mount of Olives. An unnamed disciple says to Jesus, “Jesus, what large stones and what a large building.” It was true, the second Temple was a spectacle to behold. The stones the disciple was referring to weighed about 40 tons. And if needed the temple could hold a million people within its walls. Not only was this place massive but it was also holy. It was were the presence of God lived, behind the curtain, in the holy of holies. The disciples were walking with the Son of God, in the temple, it must have been a moment to soak in and that is why the disciple mentions it.
Yet I don’t think they were ready for the answer. Jesus looks at him and says, Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down. Now this is pretty unbelievable. 40 ton stones will be toppled? A place large enough to hold a million people would be so destroyed that not one stone would be left on another? This seemed farfetched…yet in 70 AD the Romans took the temple apart and completely destroyed it, just as Jesus said.
I don’t like watching the disaster movies anymore because they use to be fun. It used to be fun thinking about a meteor coming down and cutting through buildings and people running in fear. It use to be fun because the thought was so out there. I am sure that the disciples had the same thought, “ha, that’s a good one Jesus. That will be a site to see!” Yet after watching two buildings that people thought would stand forever come crashing down, it isn’t funny anymore. When people go through tragedy, or war, their innocence is lost and reality is much scarier. I am not interested in seeing a plane fly under two skyscrapers as they collapse. I have already seen planes cause two skyscrapers to fall. We all witnessed the impossible become possible and it is not something we like to relive because in that moment our world became unstable, chaotic, and filled with fear.
The author of Mark’s gospel, the earliest gospel, is said to have written this around 70 AD. It was written in and around the Jewish-Roman war. There were plenty of people who wanted to get rid of the Romans, we see this all over the gospels. During this time there was a huge push for nationalistic loyalty and passion. The Jews were seeking willing fighters against the Romans. They claimed that this was the moment when God was returning, the was the battle of Armageddon. I have already told you how it ended because it was around this time that the temple was destroyed. In this time of uncertainty, anger, and angst we get Jesus’ message, one that is the opposite of a call to military arms. Mark wrote his gospel in the other light that this was not the moment of the end of the world. God was not moving, God had already moved in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his Son.
It happens in every lifetime. There is an event or a war or a moment that people think the world is coming to an end. During these times the calls go out, just as they did during the Jewish-Roman war. There is a call to arms and a buildup of nationalistic pride and passion. This is it, they tell us. This is the moment we have been waiting for, it all ends here. For some, those directly involved, their individual worlds just might. But for others life still goes on. There has yet to be a worldwide event that affects every single person on earth. Life simply continues to go on.
There is a moment when that change will happen. God promises that it is coming yet we still don’t know when. We want to though. Our human nature really hopes it is as easy as a date on the calendar. Peter, James, John and Andrew are intrigued by what Jesus told them and so they go to him and ask him for how they can tell the end is near. “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 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.”
Jesus is telling them that there will be many times in our lives when things look like they are coming to an end but those are just deceptions. I took a Bible Survey course in High School, yes public High School, and when we got the book of Revelation the teacher unfolded this huge map of how this book predicts the end of the world. I heard about bar codes being linked to the sign of the beast. The fact that there is a road being built right now from China to the middle east and this means the war is about to begin. The list went on and on. Then I just learned about something called the Rapture Index. This a website that places a numeric value on how close the rapture is to coming. On Nov. 9th it was 167 which means that there is an imminent threat that the rapture will happen at any moment. The website tells us to “fasten our seatbelts.”
We dive into works of fiction like the Left Behind series or listen to TV preachers say that they have the keys to understanding when this event will take place. But if you tune all that out, what does Jesus say? Jesus says to the disciples who were asking the exact same question we all ask, he says, “These are the beginning of birth pains.”
With all the kids that have been born in this place I am sure you all can tell me what the first signs are that a person is going into labor? They might start to nest, clean up around the house getting ready for the new arrival. Contacts might start but many times these are just Braxton Hicks contractions, or practice contractions. Then there is the thousand other signs that it might happen. I can’t tell how annoying it is to listen to everyone and their grandmother gives their thoughts on when your wife will have her baby. “Oh sweetie, she has dropped, it definitely will be this week!” “I can see that your nose is getting bigger, that means any day now.” “Have you lost your mucus plug?” “How effaced or dilated are you?” I means I remember standing there sometimes and hearing these questions and wondering…these people know what body part they are asking about right? This is starting to make me uncomfortable.
A baby comes when a baby comes. We can guess and guess but unless we have a C-section planned, we do not know the day or the hour. Jesus tells us, all these signs that people point to and tell us the end is near, don’t really know. He tells us we should not be focused on that. We should focus on what we can do for God today and not worry about tomorrow. Although we would love our focus to be on that great event when the New Heavens and New Earth will come into being, we really should stop focusing on when and focus on who is coming. Jesus Christ will come again. Instead of trying to center on when that will be we should focus on what he is calling us to do now. That way when it’s the end of the world as we know it…we’ll all feel fine.
And all God’s people said…Amen.
Ben was stopped by a man as he headed to his car after a long day in his office at church. The man told him that he was in the AA group that meets at church and that he left his jacket in the room and asked him if Ben could open the door so he could retrieve it. Ben let him in and asked if he knew where the room was and the man said yes. As Ben checked on something else at the church the man disappeared. Ben soon found out that the man stole some media equipment from a classroom. He was just lied to, to his face. He was just taken advantage of, used. Ben was mad at the situation and for letting himself be taken advantage of. After reporting the incident to the police he went home bummed and angry.
About four to six weeks later Ben was meeting a fellow clergy for lunch about 45 minutes away from his church. I mention this just to let you know that Ben was no longer in his neighborhood. They met at one of those chain restaurants, like Applebee’s or Chilies. As they were sitting there enjoying their lunch Ben looked over at a booth and sure enough there the man sat. The same man that stared Ben in the eyes and asked him to open the door so he could get his coat was in a booth 20 feet away. The same man that used Ben to steal from his church was right there, right there.
If there was anything left on Ben’s plate, it stayed there, because anger and frustration was building up inside of him. Ben excused himself from his booth, his heart pounding and adrenaline pumping, and he headed for the table where the thief was eating. Ben with a polite smile asked the gentleman, “So, are you enjoying the church’s DVD player?” The man’s face go pale, he recognizes Ben, and before Ben could think the man ran out of the restaurant, jumped into his car, and took off. Ben jotted down the license plate number and headed back to the booth to finish his lunch.
The fellow clergy that Ben was eating with was very puzzled and Ben went into the story about what had happened. Ben was wrapped up in retelling the story and never saw the man coming back into the restaurant. Before Ben knew it the man he just chased away slid into the booth he was sitting at. Not across from him but right next to Ben. So now Ben is pinned into the booth and the only way out is through this man who stole a DVD player from his church and who now has his hood over his head.
It is at this point in the story that I wanted to smack Ben in the back of the head. He has a wife to think about. He didn’t have kids then but I knew he wanted to live to the day to have them. Now because his anger got the best of him he is stuck in a booth with a criminal who has who know what in his pockets and will do who knows what to get away with it. Ben assured me that this was all running through his mind and that he was really trying not to soil his pants at this point, as his heart started to beat quite rapidly and any color on his or his luncheon buddy’s face both left.
The gentleman’s in the hood had the floor and they waited for him to make his next move, in this crowded restaurant. The man looked at Ben…and began to cry. Through the tears he told Ben of his struggle with drugs and the other struggles in this life. He apologized for stealing from the church and confessed he felt he didn’t have any other option. It was a moment of desperation and he is truly sorry. The two clergy sat there stunned and just took this all in.
This is an amazing true story. It is almost as powerful as the story we receive from Mark today. Many of you probably thought, as I read the scripture today, “We just heard about money last week Jim. We don’t need to hear about money again this week!” Well you are safe because the story of the “rich young ruler” as many call it, really isn’t about money. It is really about the Kingdom of God.
This story is in all of the synoptic gospels. The synoptic gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke and they are called synoptic because they look like they have similar sources for their writings. John is completely different and stands alone as the fourth gospel. Matthew calls this person who walks up to Jesus “young.” Luke calls him a “ruler”. Mark refers to him as simply “a man” and only later do we learn that he had many possessions. Put them together and you get “rich young ruler” which is what we refer to this story as. In Mark this comes in a series of questions to Jesus. A Pharisee has just gotten done asking Jesus about divorce and trying to catch him in a false teaching. Then Jesus calls the children unto him after the disciples attempt to shoo them away. Then as Jesus is heading out a man runs up to him and asks him how he can get eternal life.
That is what we tend to focus on. We tend to say that we come to church and we believe in Jesus so that we can have eternal life. That is our long range goal in this thing called Christianity and that is where our focus tends to be. But Jesus changes the focus. He lists off some of the Ten Commandments and the man suggests that he has followed all of them. Like a check list needed to be done before you can enter heaven, the man had done everything. He just wanted to know if there is anything else on the list. Jesus finally tells him “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Mark says, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Interesting enough, many people think that left and did not sell all his possessions, but the scripture doesn’t say that. It only says he left said because he had great wealth. That might mean that he was upset because he had a TON of stuff he now has to put on Craig’s List. He goes away upset because Jesus just asked him to take a real hard first step.
As Ben heard the cry of the thief next to him, he realized this man needed help. Ben helped him get into a rehab group and at least pointed in the right direction. The hardest thing the man probably had to do was to get out of his car and walk back into the restaurant and confess he needed help. God, through Ben, offered compassion, caring, and love and the man was on his way.
We all have something that gets in our way of truly following Christ. If we walked up to Jesus and asked him this question, deep down we know what Jesus would ask us to leave in order to follow him. The problem we have is taking that first step and letting it go in order to follow Jesus.
We follow Jesus because we are a part of the in breaking of the Kingdom of God into this world. That is what Jesus refers to after being asked the question. Instead of talking about eternal life, Jesus starts to talk about the Kingdom of God. It is our duty to help the Kingdom of God come to life here in this life and on this earth. We say this all the time in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy Kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.” But do we mean it.
After hearing that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, the disciples start to worry. Are they worried about the Kingdom of God, no, instead they ask the same question as the man, “who then can be saved?” Jesus goes on to tell them that there is nothing they can do but that God can do anything. Then he give us a peak at the Kingdom of God when he tells them “first will be last, and the last first.”
My three year old has hit the “why” stage. I do have to say on a scale of 1-10, ten being the most annoying thing ever; he is about 5 most of the time with the question “why.” I realize that this is part of the developmental stages of life. At three a child starts to attempt to grasp the world around him and is learning, in depth, cause and effect. It is a stage that he will grow out of. At least that is what I tell myself when my patience wears thin. But do we grow out of it?
The Kingdom of God looks very upside-down to us. It doesn’t seem to make much sense. In the Beatitudes Jesus explains “the meek will inherit the earth,” “the poor in spirit will get the kingdom of heaven,” and so will “the persecuted for righteousness.” No matter when Jesus explains the Kingdom of God to us it doesn’t make much sense. Jesus says it is like a farmer who sows seeds or it is like a mustard seed. We constantly look at Jesus and ask “why?” because it doesn’t make sense to us. “Why will the first be last and the last be first?”
Now that never satisfied me growing up and I know it does not satisfy Dean but let’s face it sometimes it is the best answer. “Daddy, can you throw a ball and hit the moon?” “No.” “Why?” “Well, you see the mass of the ball and the force I can exert on the ball does not equal a force greater than gravity. Plus with the rotation of the earth and the moon, I do not know the right place to launch said ball into space in order to hit the moon.” Even if I did answer my son in that manner all his three year old mind heard was, blah, blah, blah, blah. The best answer I can give him, “because.”
“God, I don’t understand why the rich man cannot get into heaven. He seems to be following all the rules. So he doesn’t want to sell everything he has, so what? Why can’t the wealthy get in with their wealth? Why?” “God, this whole last first, first last thing doesn’t make sense. I know you are all loving and powerful but why set up your kingdom this way. Aren’t the last really in last place for a reason? I mean they don’t have what it takes to be first, so why make them first? Why God, WHY? WHY? WHY?” God, in all the Fatherlyiness he can muster, shakes his head, and says…because.
As followers of Christ, as worshipers of the One True God, as the people seeking to enter the upside-down Kingdom of God, need to get comfortable with “because.” Our minds cannot wrap around the answer. But our God does answer…how awesome is that. The answer is simply, because. God constantly asks us to do uncomfortable things when we become followers of Christ. We are asked to sell all we have; to head to a distant land to help feed children; to start a ministry to feed people here; to let go of a relationship that is holding us back and soaking up all our time and resources; to put the last first in our lives; and to transform to the world into the Kingdom of God.
Christ asks us to do the uncomfortable but all of the life altering things start with that awkward first step. Whether it is going back into a restaurant to fess up to what you have done or calling that marriage counselor, or coming to grips with your debt, or simply finally giving in to God who has been asking you to do something for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We don’t get another reason we just know we need to. We need to…well…because.
And all God’s people said…Amen.
My three year old has hit the “why” stage. I do have to say on a scale of 1-10, ten being the most annoying thing ever, he is about 5 most of the time with the question “why”. I realize that this is part of the developmental stages of life. At three a child starts to attempt to grasp the world around him and is learning, in depth, cause and effect. It is a stage that he will grow out of. At least that is what I tell myself when my patience wears thin. But do we grow out of it?
While listening to a Rob Bell sermon on “Blessed is the Poor in Spirit.” As his church dives into the sermon on the Mount he brought up some topics that reminded me of my son and most three year olds. As we hear about the Kingdom of God and we, as humans, try to make sense of it we constantly ask God, why? Why should the poor in spirit be blessed? Why do the meek inherit the earth? Or in the case of this week’s lectionary text, why should the first be last and the last be first. Why God? Why? Why? Why?
Now that never satisfied me growing up and I know it does not satisfy my son but let’s face it sometimes it is the best answer. “Daddy, can you throw a ball and hit the moon?” “No.” “Why?” “Well, you see the mass of the ball and the force I can exert on the ball does not equal a force greater than gravity. Plus with the rotation of the earth and the moon, I do not know the right place to launch said ball into space in order to hit the moon.” Even if I did answer my son in that manner all his three year old mind heard was, blah, blah, blah, blah. The best answer I can give him, “because.”
“God, I don’t understand why the rich man cannot get into heaven. He seems to be following all the rules. So he doesn’t want to sell everything he has, so what? Why can’t the wealthy get in with their wealth? Why?” “God, this whole last first, first last thing doesn’t make sense. I know you are all loving and powerful but why set up your kingdom this way. Aren’t the last really in last place for a reason? I mean they don’t have what it takes to be first, so why make them first? Why God, WHY? WHY? WHY?”
God, in all the Fatherlyiness he can muster, shakes his head, and says…because.
As followers of Christ, as worshipers of the One True God, as the people seeking to enter the upside-down Kingdom of God, need to get comfortable with “because.” Our minds cannot wrap around the answer. But our God does answer…how awesome is that. The answer is simply, because.