+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 13:5-8
Theme: Upheaval to the End
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
People generally hate instability. It may seem obvious to say it. We all know how uneasy we feel when unexpected change has a negative impact on our life. But there is more to peoples’ dislike of uncertainty than convenience, selfishness, or self-preservation. Human beings were created for an orderly existence. We have an innate need for permanence. God is the source of everything that endures. A consequence of sin is the severing of humanity from God as the source of stability and life. This is true not only in a general sense but personally for us in every expression of rebellion against God in our lives. Quite simply, we suffer uncertainty and decay because we have been cut adrift from the God who preserves all things. The repentant person grieves this fact.
During His earthly sojourn Christ was seen as a destabilizer. He Himself said, “I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…”1 Yet this is a necessary consequence of His work in destroying the power of sin and the rule of Satan. Christ is in the process of reordering things. The major events towards that end have already occurred. In today’s gospel account Jesus begins teaching His disciples about the end times. There will be violence, turmoil, chaos and upheaval up to the very moment Christ returns. Though we pray and strive for peace and stability we can expect no Utopia on this earth. In addition there will continue to be earthquakes, famines and various catastrophes. These things are all symptoms, external evidence, of the struggle of His reordering. Through the eyes of faith we see- and in our hearts we believe- that Christ is instituting His kingdom.
The primary warning Jesus sounds for His disciples today has to do with deception. He is not speaking of the general dishonesty by which people seek to take advantage of one another. He does not have in mind the type of fraud by which people hope to gain riches. He refers specifically to those who make particular claims about being prophets, saviours, and messiahs. The unique role of Jesus Christ will continue to be contested. His indispensable identity as the One who is the “way and the truth and the life”2 will be challenged. More generally, all kinds of false teachings will be proffered both for personal gain and recognition and also out of ignorance and naivety. And some of the most subtle of falsehoods are tendered with the best of intentions.
No wonder we receive this encouragement today, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”3. Falsehood is often masked in a friendly face. In this way Satan is more effective in his temptations. Our Christian journey involves continual perseverance in the truth of God’s word even when it is unpopular in the world. As the ethics of secular society regarding sexuality and sanctity of life become more godless Christians will increasingly find themselves in the (sometimes unfamiliar) minority. Solidarity with one another is important.
The writer to the Hebrews continues, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”4 Already in the New Testament era some people were forsaking public worship. It was indicative of the waxing and waning of peoples’ devotion that characterizes the church right up to the present day. Many churches in the West currently suffer decline. Maybe this involves a purge necessary for her well-being. We are not made Christians by the labels we give to ourselves. Not everything is true to label. But God’s knowledge is infallible. He reads to heart.
The temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed in 70AD dealing a crushing blow to the identity of the Jewish nation. But the real temple to be concerned with was Jesus’ body. Overcome by death it was ‘rebuilt’ on the third day. Believers now identify with this temple-His body- participating baptismally through His death and resurrection. Now ascended and enthroned He will come again to finish His work. The Scripture describes it this way, “Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”5 You see, death is the mature expression of a creation unhitched from its Creator. And that’s exactly what Christ came to rectify. Once sin was atoned for Satan has no basis for accusation and death has only fleeting power.
Dear friends, living our faith does not come naturally. We might say we’re leaving certain things to God, but then scurry around frantically setting contingency plans in motion. Fret and worry gets the better of us. And what does the Shepherd say, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”6 When we are at wits end, when the battle field of life is dark and grey, in the distance we see the faint glow of Easter morning and hear the chorus of angels. The hymn-writer says it beautifully, “And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph-song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.”7
Christianity is not primarily a moral paradigm. It is the reinstitution of a right relationship between God and sinners through Christ. Our morality follows from the righteous status Christ has bestowed on us by grace. Jesus was put to death on the cross for your sins and mine. He rose on Easter morning triumphing over death. Baptism gives you a permanent identity in His kingdom. The Holy Spirit not only seals you in this baptism, He enlightens you by the truth and sanctifies you in the word day to day- even every hour. He gives you access to the pardon and forgiveness offered in Holy Communion. These gifts accomplish true stability and permanence.
How much more upheaval will you see in your lifetime? Will you witness drastic changes? Will you suffer difficult tragedies? Who knows? But we do know the crucifixion shattered the power of sin. We do know that the decaying and declining reality we experience is not the pattern for the life to come. We do know the words of the Almighty will be fulfilled when He says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”8 God grant it for Christ’s sake, Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
18 November 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 10:35
2 John 14:6
3 Hebrews 10:23
4 Hebrews 10:24-25
5 1 Corinthians 15:24-27
6 Matthew 6:26-27
7 Lutheran Hymnal #213, stanza 5
8 Isaiah 54:10