These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
As some of you know, a few weeks ago I was called to jury duty and I was chosen to serve as an alternate. It was a fascinating experience.
When I was being interviewed, they asked, and I told them that I was a Presbyterian minister. I thought that shot down the chances of being selected to about 10%. But I was wrong.
After we were chosen to sit on the jury, we were led to the deliberation room while lawyers and judges do whatever they do when we are in that room. There we are, strangers to one another in that room. And the first thing one man says to me is this:
“So you are a preacher!”
“Well, preacher, a friend of mine tells me that the world is going to end in December. What do you think?”
(Well, hello to you too! Apparently his friend had been reading the news about the Mayan calendar suggesting that the world will end on December 21st of this year).
“Preacher, my friend says the world will end in December. What do you think?”
You know what I said? He sort of put me in a mood. I said,
“Well, let me put it this way: I haven’t sold my investments. I’m still saving for the future.” I also could have said, “I still plan to buy Christmas gifts this year!”
That event came to mind when I read this conversation between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus has given them a heads up that as impressive as the temple is, one day it will be destroyed. No small thing. Indeed it was destroyed 40 years later in the Roman- Jewish war—Jerusalem was under siege.
It was their 9-11 (their World Trade Towers falling) and for many, a sign that the world as they knew it was coming to an end.
Jesus’ comment triggers the question from his lead disciples: “Tell us, when will these things happen? What will be the sign that these things are about to be completed?”
Then comes the part of the answer it seems Christians miss the most. He doesn’t answer them. He doesn’t give them a date on a calendar. Quite the opposite. He says be very careful of anyone who gives you a timeline.
“Take care that nobody deceives you… Plenty of people will come in my name saying “I’m the one” and they will lead plenty astray. But whenever you hear about wars and rumors about wars, don’t be disturbed. These things have to happen, but it doesn’t mean the end is near…”
There will be all sorts of signs: international tensions and natural disasters… but don’t let anyone fool you—the end is not here.
Even as they go through very hard times—personal crisis- and they will—Jesus goes on to spell out a very hard future for them if they keep following him: they will be handed over to courts, beaten in synagogues, stand before rulers and kings, face persecution… all because they follow Jesus. (and you thought we were asking a lot when we asked you to pledge this year during Stewardship)
It may look like the end, but it is not the end.
Do you know what Jesus is trying to do? He’s not interested in describing the end of the world. But he does want to prepare them for his personal absence. In a matter of hours, Jesus will be gone. It will be a traumatic crisis of life and faith for them. They will be separated until the end of the age. Jesus sees the time coming when he will no longer be there in person to hold them by the hand and encourage them when the going gets tough. It will be hard for them, as it is for us.
He is warning them: things will get worse before they get better. But listen to what he says: they will get better.
The signs that they think are about the end of the world? Actually, it is quite the opposite. Those may be signs of something new—a new world- ready to be born: “this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Labor pains.
The picture of birthpangs had been used for centuries by Jews as they reflected on the way in which, as they believed, their God was intending to bring to birth his new world, his new creation, the age to come in which justice and peace, mercy an truth would at last flourish. From the great prophets onwards they spoke of the world going through labor pains that would herald the birth of the new day.  This would be good news!
Paul himself would use this language in Romans:
“I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…”
So, Jesus is not going to give them a calendar, but Jesus is going to give them a vision…something to hold on to… that when things get worse, it may simply be the prelude for God about to do a new thing.
Things may get worse before they get better, but they will get better.
So what Jesus wants them and us to do is to stop checking the calendar for a date or listening to people telling us this sign or that sign means the world is coming to an end… rather what Jesus wants us to do is to be patient.
Live faithfully. Live in hope. God is not done. Something new is about to be born.
He tells his disciples… the one who endures to the end… the one who is patient to the end… that one will be saved.”
In the meantime, live faithfully. Even when, especially when, things are falling apart.
Jesus knows it requires patience (which is not something most of us are known for)… but in times like these, patience is required.
And in this lesson, I hear two words of wisdom that I would pass on to you as we patiently wait for God’s new day to come.
Don’t let present circumstances rule your heart. It is so easy to become discouraged and often for good reason. But endurance requires vision and patience… to see God working through the hardship, suffering and pain.
I was reminded of this by a friend after the election. Some of you saw this post on my facebook.
It was a quote written by one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century, Reinhold Niebuhr.
He offered great wisdom to the Christian community during two World Wars and the Cold War. No doubt many people thought those wars were signs that the end was near.
Hal Lindsay (how many of you remember him) made millions in the 1970s telling people that the end was near in his best seller, The Late Great Planet Earth. I never found much wisdom there. Or hope.
But I found wisdom and hope in what Niebuhr said about living faithfully.
He puts life in perspective for me which is what I think Jesus was trying to do for his disciples as we patiently wait for a better day:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, could be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint; therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.
What I hear Niebuhr telling us is to trust that in God’s providence and God’s time we are saved…and that when life is confusing, the faithful are saved by hope, faith, love and forgiveness.
The other word of wisdom for faithful living came to me as I was thinking about this week of thanksgiving.
I was remembering the story of the Pilgrims… how many hardships and deaths they endured… yet they did not give up on God… perhaps they saw their challenges as but the labor pains of a new day God had in store for them.
So even as their world was falling apart, they paused and gave thanks. There is wisdom in that.
Thanksgiving grounds you in the providence of God.
Those who have learned to be thankful seem to find a peace… that others do not have. For some people this is a way in which they are saved.
I think of the story of a young woman who died of leukemia when she was 25 years old. For almost three years she struggled with the disease.
During this time she had a good friend who walked that journey with her.
They often shared together, read Scripture together, prayed together. One cold evening, her friend visited her at home. She greeted her friend warmly at the door; a gown wrapped around her frail body and she invited her friend inside.
She made coffee, toasted some hot-cross buns, buttered them and brought them to the kitchen table. As she did this, this is what the young woman said:
“You know, when you have been through what I have been through, you say thank you for everything, even coffee and hot-cross buns.”
I think her gratitude saved her during those last days.
I find it interesting: when we were small children we had this capacity to say thank you for the good things in our lives. Have you ever listened to a child say grace? They go on for ever! “Thank God for the food and the dog and the cat and the butterflies and the sky and the grass and my teddy…” One day, without realizing it, somehow the gratitude suddenly goes away. It’s just, “give me the jam.” Those people never seem that happy or content to me.
If we are fortunate, we can rediscover the capacity for saying thank you before we die.
We can even learn a more mature form of thanksgiving that can save us. This thanksgiving is not dependent on circumstances, but on faith.
Paul, was writing some of his friends about the hardships they were facing… instructing them about how to wait for the coming of the Lord… and do you know what he told them?
“Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit.”
Thanksgiving- may be just want saves you—what brings you contentment and peace when you live through hard times.
You know, when the guy in the jury room said to me, “Preacher, my friend tells me the world is about to end in December. What do you think?”
I shouldn’t have been so flippant. I just couldn’t help myself. I should have said,
“I don’t know. But this I know… until that day comes, I will do my best to faithfully and patiently wait. For God is in control. Things may get worse before they get better, but they will get better. In fact, what you think is the end, might just be the beginning of a new day God is offering us. Until then… until then… you know what I think? I think I need to ask God for patience to endure… and I think need to give thanks to God… for his goodness and his faithfulness in any and all circumstances. Those who are able to do those two things… who are patient and thankful to the end… it seems to me, those are the ones Jesus says will be saved.”
That’s what I should have said.
What do you think? Amen.
 P 177 Commentary on Mark by NT Wright