Sermon 24 Pentecost Yr B

24 Pentecost Yr B, 15/11/2009

Mk 13:1-8

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“Jesus and our future”


How good are you at predicting the future? I’m not talking here about the obvious events like you predicting that tomorrow, most likely God willing, you’ll get out of bed in the morning; you’ll get dressed and eat breakfast. No, not events like that. Rather, I’m talking about the future that may seem certain and secure; however what most folks expect to happen does not transpire. Instead the opposite occurs.

History is full of such predictions. Listen to the following examples: Right here in Medicine Hat, John Palliser, in 1863, thought this part of the world was a barren wasteland. However, he was wrong, we’ve thrived thanks to our natural gas, grazing lands, and grain and vegetable crops, and now our future looks promising because of the sunlight and wind in this part of Canada, solar energy is becoming more popular, as is wind energy.

Perhaps some of you may also remember the following predictions: Thomas Watson, the chair of IBM in 1943 said: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Decca Records, rejecting a request for a recording contract with a group called the Beatles in 1962, said: “We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out.”1 Today we all know what happened to computers and the Beatles. In both cases those making the predictions were dead wrong.

In a reverse manner, from history past there were signs of the times that seemed so certain and secure, but turned out to be tragic and destructive.

Only 12 kilometres south of the popular Taizé monastic community in France, is the town of Cluny. Cluny was a thriving monastic centre from about the tenth to the twelfth centuries, with around ten thousand monks. The cathedral at Cluny was most likely the largest edifice of Christendom until St Peter’s Basilica was built in Rome five centuries later. Today no cathedral stands at Cluny. During the French Revolution in the 1790s, the cathedral was destroyed by the battalions of the poor and the stones were sold to finance the revolution.

In today’s gospel, Jesus has been teaching in the Jerusalem temple, and now he and his disciples are leaving that place. Standing outside the temple and looking at it, a disciple was impressed with the magnificent structure; admiring the large stones and buildings. Quite likely the disciples from the backwaters of Galilee had never seen the temple before. For them as for many Jewish people it was a symbol and sign of God’s power. The temple reminded them of God’s security and protection, a holy place of refuge. A disciple in amazement said: “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings.” The disciple was correct; the architecture was grand and impressive. Would such a solid edifice not last forever?

Jesus, answers the disciple in a shocking way, saying: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Wow! What a surprising prediction! Who would have expected such an answer? According to one commentator, the large stones were about thirty-seven and one-half feet long, eighteen feet wide, and twelve feet thick! Now that’s a huge rock! Think of all those rocks that size together to make a huge structure. What could be more solid and secure and long-lasting than such an architectural masterpiece? Yet Jesus says, even such a structure as this is not going to remain secure and last forever. In predicting the temple’s destruction, Jesus is, in effect, saying: “Do not be so mesmerized by these large stones and buildings. Do not place all of your security in them. Rather, your true security is in me and the heavenly Father alone—not in sacred places, no matter how large and secure they are built. Your ultimate, eternal security is in God alone.”

As they walk away from the temple and reach the Mount of Olives, the disciples are still puzzled and curious about the future, and so they ask Jesus: “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Jesus answers at first in a very sobering way, after which he gives them a seed of hope.

His sobering part of the answer is a warning; he begins with the word “Beware.” The word “beware,” to this day, is a warning, it reminds us to keep alert, observant; keep our guard up since certain dangers may be coming our way. Jesus then tells his disciples that they and many other folks shall in the future face the danger of being led astray by many false messiahs who come in Jesus’ name. He says to them and us that there will be snake oil smooth pretenders out there ready to lead you into a danger zone that will destroy you. Jesus warns the disciples and us that they and we could be at risk. He says, such charlatans shall say: “‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” In other words, they shall succeed. We know that Jesus’ prediction was right, as over the years and even today there have been many false sectarian leaders and cult figures who have brainwashed vulnerable people, and led many folks to commit soul-destructive acts, often ending with tragic deaths.

Jesus goes on to say that there will also be plenty of wars and rumours of wars, kingdoms and nations fighting with each other as well as so-called “natural disasters” like earthquakes and famines. All of these predictions, of course, have come true. In every century since Jesus predicted such tragic events, there have been plenty of wars and no shortage of “natural disasters,” as our news broadcasts have focussed on the Afghanistan war and the earthquakes and tsunamis in places like Samoa and Indonesia recently. All of these predictions of Jesus have come true and continue to occur. Is this the end? Shall Jesus come again and rescue us from all of these sufferings and disasters?

For a little comic relief, listen to the following joke, it makes an important point: A red Porsche convertible pulled up to the red light. Its vanity license plate had the letters J C on it, the owner’s initials. Two nuns were in the next lane and one of them, noticing the vanity plate, said, “I knew he was coming back, but I didn’t know it would be in a Porsche!” The joke drives home (pun intended) the point that people can easily misunderstand and misinterpret the so-called “signs of the end,” and wrongly believe that Jesus is here today, or coming at a specific time and place. No, Jesus says all of these signs do not tell you the end has arrived.

Rather, Jesus leaves his disciples and us with a final answer of hope. The hope is a seed of better things to come. He tells his disciples and us: “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.” The last word in Jesus’ sentence here, “birthpangs,” is the clue to our future hope. Another way of stating Jesus’ last sentence here is: “These things are like the first pains of childbirth.” Here we have a comparison of a woman giving birth and going through all the pain of delivering her child—Jesus says such pain is like what we experience from the sufferings in this world due to false messiahs, and the so-called “natural disasters.” However, we all know—and I suggest that women who have given birth to a child know this better than men—that the pains during giving birth are a sign of hope because from the pain a baby is born. The new baby is a sign of hope. We are reminded that the birth pains were worth it because they resulted in this wonderful, new human being. So, too, all of the sufferings that we have to endure lead to the new age—they usher in the kingdom of God, which one day shall come in all of it fullness. Until then, we place all of our trust and faith, and hope in God alone who is our only solid and secure Rock and Temple. Amen.

1 Cited from: David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle B (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2008), p. 276.