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26th Sunday after Pentecost                           __Mark 13:1-8               __             November 18, 2018

1989 was an interesting year musically. In that year along both Billy Joel and the American rock band REM came out with hit songs that offer rapid fire rants pertaining to the current events.  Some of those current events were controversial, some were depressing and cause for worry, some were whimsical, yet, worrisome.

Well, all that was 29 years ago. At lot has changed and yet at the same time a lot has stayed the same. So what might it sound like if a current day version were written? Well, I just so happen to have a possible option for your consideration—minus of course the musical backdrop. I will leave that to others more capable and talented in that arena.

So here we go…

California fires, volcanoes in Hawaii, earthquakes in Mexico, hurricanes in Puerto Rico…Pelosi and Trump and the mainstream press (enemy of the people) …Insects, mammals in decline, oceans filled with plastic bags, loss of wilderness…Embridge Line Three and Polymet for the phones and technology…Caravan of immigrants, capsized boats in the Mediterranean…walls and cities of refuge… Yemen, Gaza, Taliban, Afghanistan, ISIS is exploding car bombs in Iran, Somalis in St. Cloud and Al-Shababab in Mogadishu…Parkland, Santa Fe, Las Vegas, Sutherrland Springs, Pittsburg and Thousand Oaks, whose next in the half mast nation, mental illness, and 300 million guns in America…Fake News, Fox News, CNN, MSN, Colbert is a comedian…DOW drops 600 million…Millennial anxiety, student loans, bullied youth and a fight for sobriety…LGBTQ, #MeToo, Catholic priests cover ups abuse… Homelessness in Minneapolis and Milaca too…Black Lives matter as do Blue lives along with every other color of the rainbow lives…Opioids and grass, diabetic insulin outrageously priced…Closer to home, 125 years gone by and still 22,000 in debt…and this is where Billy Joel would chime in… We didn't start the fire. It was always burning. Since the world's been turning. We didn't start the fire.
No we didn't light it. But we tried to fight it

In today’s gospel reading Jesus and the disciples are outside the Temple in Jerusalem and one of the disciples says to Jesus, “Look at all those large stones and tall buildings!” to which Jesus responds, and yes, I am paraphrasing, “Yea, about those large stones, not one will be left upright, they are all going to come down. In other words, this is the end of the world as we know it.” Later, while they are in the Mount of Olives Peter, James, John and Andrew approach Jesus and they want to know more asking, “So, when will all this happen?” and Jesus warns them of false teachers who will come and try to lead them stray, and make bold claims laced with fake news. There will be rumors of impending crisis and destruction of your happy go lucky way of life. And then Jesus lifts up that ever common theme throughout scripture, “Do not be alarmed. Fear not. Do not be afraid.” But then affirms that yes, things are going to get rough, there will be famine, there will be earthquakes and wild fires and all sorts of other miserable things. And then he refers to the beginning of birth pangs.

With the exception of these final words, there is nothing uplifting or encouraging about today’s Gospel—which, is not exactly what we want to hear on this our Harvest Festival Sunday…or is it? Throughout history there have been people predicting the end of the world as we know it. Religious cults and charlatans have centered their entire theological teachings around the end times, and yet, here we are. In the decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, it was believed by many that the second coming was near. The Apostle Paul was so self-assured of this Second Coming in his early writings that he discouraged single people from joining in marriage because there was important work to be done. In his later years when he realized that maybe, the end was still out there and if you can’t control your urges then you really ought to marry. Even Luther in his day and age believed that with the advancing of the Turks on the Austrian borders that surely the end was near.

Predictions, speculations and fear mongering and diatribes to batten down the hatches, circle the wagons, and gather in your bunkers is nothing new…and I suspect they will continue. Let’s face it, in every age there has been something to be fearful of, something to cause us anxiousness. Some of it real, some of it stirred up to fit someone’s agenda or sales pitch.  And this is not going to change, try as we might to fight it.

So what are we to do? How are we to respond? I want to suggest the following. Listen again to the words found in Hebrews 10: verse 23-25

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching,”

Or, consider this version from the Message: “Let's keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. “

As I read these lines, from both translations I can’t help but think, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This passage was written nearly two thousand yes ago and yet it could have been written yesterday. In the face of all the bad news we encounter in both the mainstream and the fake news, all that we hear about terrorists’ attacks and caravans and natural disasters and wildfires and economic uncertainty, the writer encourages us to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.”

When Christian leaders wonder what the heart of the faith is, when even Christians seem so divided, when we look out into the culture and wonder where the faith fits, the writer reminds us to keep it simple. “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”

When we look to the life of the local congregation—when we look to the life of our congregation—and wonder what people actually do with their time, from Sunday worship to finding opportunities to bring people together in groups, the writer cautions us to “not neglect to meet together…” which is a challenge today just as much as it was already a challenge in the 1st century, “as is the habit of some…”

And still, to “encourage one another” which is very different from shaming and blaming.

As I pay attention to the events of the day and consider the events of days gone by, I am convinced that the more things change, the more they stay the same. And for that reason, the words from Hebrews are as important now as they were in the 1st century.

·       Hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he—that is Jesus--is faithful.

·       Provoke one another to love and good deeds.

·       Do not neglect to meet together

·       Encourage one another

And this leads me to the Jesus final words in today’s reading, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” While it seems like just yesterday when Julia was in labor with our first child, Katie 20 some years ago.
As Julia labored and as she held my hand—leaving permanent fingernail scars in my hands as each contraction kicked in—she was also trying to figure out how she was going to tell me that we were never doing this again! And then when that blessed moment arrives and baby Katie entered our lives and placed in Julia’s arms, the birth pangs subsided and the joy washed away the pain, the suffering, the anxiousness.

Life is filled with birth pangs, some are literal and some are metaphorical. As individuals we experience suffering and challenges in a host of ways.  And then we don’t. We survive.  We are healed and cured. We struggle and then we coast. As a nation we argue and we bicker and we divide. And then something happens and a bridge is built and there are rays of hope as we lay down our arms and extend them to one another.

One of the realities of life as children of God is that before we can encounter the joy of the Easter resurrection we have to experience the darkness of Good Friday. And I believe the sooner we wrap our heads and hearts around this truth we will experience the peace that surpass all understanding. Life will be hard from time to time. We will struggle and maybe even despair. We will look at the world around us wonder whether the world is truly going to hell in a handbasket—the end of the world as we know it.

And to all this we are reminded:

·       Hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for Christ Jesus is faithful.

·       Provoke one another to love and good deeds.

·       Do not neglect to meet together

·       Encourage one another

On this Harvest Festival, let us give thanks for the faithful presence of our Lord who continues to walk alongside us and support us in times of challenge. Let us give thanks to those who continue to serve our neighbors with acts of love and good deeds so that others will know we are Christians by our love. Let us give thanks for the opportunity to meet together and let us never take this simple time together for granted. And let us give thanks to those dear saints who offer encouragement and support, lifting us up when we fall and stumble in all aspects of our personal lives and our congregational life. Life is filled with birth pangs and hard labor—and life is filled with gifts of joy, grace and new hope—and for this we say. Amen. Thanks be to God.


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