Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost/Mark 13: 1-8 11/15/2015

This is a tough morning to deliver a sermon.

It should be a day when I can lift up all the good things happening here: The beautiful new upgrades to the sanctuary and the fellowship hall thanks to the generosity and hard work of the people of Bethany. Our celebration of Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and their many international care projects, their shut-in visits, and service within the walls of our church building. Within this sermon, I could lift up the faith formation commitment of Lutheran Campus Ministries in the NMU community. I could talk about the sacrifices of our veterans and all they have done for our country. If I wanted to I could even sneak in the Hematite’s win or the fact that it’s opening day for firearm deer season or maybe mention the Starbucks coffee cup controversy.

Yes. Some special things and even fun things.  

But they are all In the midst, of terrible tragedy.

Along with the good, there are other, distressing matters occupying our thoughts.

Heavy on our hearts and minds, are the terrorist events from recent days. We’re so appalled and angry at the actions of these extreme terrorists who have taken so many lives and changed forever the lives of many, many more. It makes no sense, any more than horrific acts have made sense in recent decades. These things seem to be beyond comprehension: violence rooted in the desire for power – violence set within the arenas of politics and religion.  

Yet, we don’t really want to think about these things. Better to shut out that which we can’t imagine.

But my role as preacher today is to do my best to tie-in life, even when life’s events are horrific, tie them in with the good news of the gospel, and so I shall do my best as we go to the Biblical text, to Jesus in Jerusalem as he approaches death.

Today our gospel reading in Mark is actually asking us to think about things we’d rather not even be reminded that Jesus talked about. End times. End times.

Readings at the end of the church year can make us pretty uncomfortable because they are about end times. This is the last regular Sunday of the church year – next week is Christ the King Sunday, and then we’re off and running in a new church year, with Advent. But we don’t get to end the church year without a bit of what is known in the academic world as “eschatology” – the study of last things, end times.

Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. Jesus has made quite an impression these last days. He has cleansed the Temple and he’s been teaching – sparring and debating with the religious leadership over all kinds of things. And now, on his way to a betrayal and crucifixion, he is ready to have that final talk with his disciples.

The group is leaving, on its way out of the Temple, and the wide-eyed disciples are behaving like tourists – they have never been to Jerusalem before – they’re not city slickers – they’re from the country, they’re fishermen. And one of them says, “Look teacher. What big stones. What large buildings!” He is not exaggerating! One stone might be as long as 37 feet – think of a three-story building lying on the ground; as high as twelve feet – okay a one-story building high; and as wide as 18 feet – half as wide as it is long. One stone – weighing hundreds of tons! And the overall Temple complex is huge – this is the House of God.

Is Jesus as impressed as the disciples? Not exactly. His response is, umm, guess what? This entire thing, the whole Temple is going to come tumbling down. This immense complex is to become rubble.

The four disciples try to digest this prediction by asking, okay Jesus, when exactly is this destruction of the Temple going to happen? What kind of sign are we going to see that this is really going to take place?

But they don’t get a direct answer to that question. Instead, Jesus tells them to beware, that others will try to lead them astray, false witnesses claiming that they are the Messiah. People will say, “I am he.” Not only that, but the disciples will get to hear about wars and rumors of wars, nations rising up against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms. There will be earthquakes and famines. And this will be just the start. Just the start.

None of this discussion is very reassuring. False prophets? Chaos on earth? But if we consider Jesus’ words carefully, we actually do see something hopeful. He is saying “don’t be alarmed” when these things happen. They must happen, and yet even then, the end is still to come. He is giving the disciples words of support and encouragement. “Don’t be alarmed when things are crashing down around you.”

And these words remain important today. Our false prophets have been different, but they have existed, claiming to be the one. Our wars have looked different, with bombs and machine guns and nuclear threats, but wars have never ceased. Nations and kingdoms may no longer have physical borders, like Al Quedah and the Islamic State, but they continue to rise up against one another. And certainly catastrophic events like earthquakes and famines still occur.

But Jesus speaks to us with the same, “Do not fear, do not be alarmed.” Like the disciples, we don’t get a sign either as to when the end might begin in order that we can be ready (no matter what the next doomsday prophet tries to tell us).

We actually get to be ready all the time because our future, our end time, has already been taken care of through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. We have forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. Because of God’s goodness, we get to live confidently now, experiencing God’s kingdom on earth.

And even in times like these, when our world has been shaken by such extreme events, when we experience times of great sadness, we get to hold on to the good news in Christ. Even in the midst of a world where terrorist activities seem to defeat us, to keep us from the joy and wonder God wants for us, we hold on to Christ. We are free to rise above destructive injustice, the chaos that comes from the actions of “kingdoms” like the Islamic State, and one way we can do this is by remembering that we are the body of Christ for the world. We can make a difference through prayer that results in changes within us and perhaps even meaningful actions when we’re fairly sure we can’t possibly make a difference.

Our instinct is to shut it all out. Not our problem. Not inside our borders. Give it a few days and we can forget all about it while we wait for the next tragedy to show up on our Internet feed or on the 6:00 news.

Because Christ loved us first, however, and freed us to from living only for ourselves, we have an option to shutting down, and that option is prayer. Seriously.

Prayer can change how we think. When we pray to God and when we listen to God’s response, our hearts and our minds are opened up to new possibilities, new hope, and perhaps sparks of truth that can lead us to some small, concrete actions that can bring us closer to those in need – in far-away places like Syria and Lebanon – and places a bit closer, like Europe with its hundreds of thousands of refugees. We are the body of Christ, and our sisters and our brothers in Christ are in need of prayer. One thing we can do is pray – please visualize with me:

  • for the victims who have died and those who have been wounded
  • for the families of those who mourn and those who are worried and anxious as loved ones fight for their lives
  • for all who are helping sort through the chaos and trying to piece together what has taken place
  • for those whose jobs are to heal and protect and support the afflicted
  • for those who are so angry and filled with hate that they are led to commit such terrible acts
  • for peace-loving Muslims who will now face increased discrimination
  • for the flood of refugees whose plight will now be even more difficult

Yes, there is much for which to pray.

Justice eludes us. Peace eludes us. Not just in Paris, but throughout the world – today and every single day.

History keeps repeating – wars, rumors of war, nation against nation, earthquakes, famine. Yet – despite all the suffering over the centuries and all the suffering today, the world hasn’t ended.  One day it will, and one day, Jesus will return with great power and glory.

But the end is not yet, and we have brothers and sisters who are in fear and who are suffering. We pray for a change in our understanding as we ask God for hope, for peace, and for Christ’s light in darkness.   Amen.

Vicar Terry Frankenstein

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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