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The Beginning of Birth Pangs: A Sermon on Paris

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Daniel 12:1 – 3 25th Pentecost, 2015 Psalm 16 Rural Retreat Parish Hebrews 10:11-14, [15-18], 19-25 Mark 13:1-8 This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. This line keeps ringing in my ears this week! In Paris today, the shock of what happened Friday afternoon is perhaps beginning to wear off. The barrage of unanswered questions, however, continues to grow. Yet, lest we forgot, there were also mass bombings in Bagdad and Lebanon, violence that continues to grip nations and people around this world. As families mourn, as nations attempts to put the pieces together, many nations corporately mourn the senseless loss of life, and also the sense of freedom and liberty to live life without always looking over your shoulder or suspecting anyone and everyone who looks a little different. The birth pangs are real right now for those who mourn the loss of loved ones and friends. The birth pangs are real for those who do not know where to turn in their anger and frustration, in their lack of understanding and inability to come up with answers that satisfy. The birth pangs are real for all those who suffer, who face the uncertainty of illness and the finality of death. We pray for those who mourn. We ask for swift recovery of those who are hurting. But most importantly, we offer a sense of hope for a peaceful future by living our lives as we were going to live them! The terrorists and others who commit violent crimes and crimes against humanity only win when we change our patterns of living, our ideas about our neighbors, and seek revenge and promote hatred against others based on race, religion or nationality in the face of senseless violence. This after all, is their main purpose! When we refuse to give into these knee jerk reactions, we do not fan the fire of anger, hatred and death that they desire. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. How appropriate to have a text such as this, which I usually lament preaching on this time of year, in this time and place. I am reminded that three years ago I was sitting in the Labor and delivery room as Chelsea labored throughout the day before Luke finally made his appearance in this world. It was a time of birth pangs, of anxious waiting and hoping for the arrival of this little one we had been waiting nine months to see. This anxious waiting, preparation and hopefulness is exactly why Jesus uses this imagery to talk to his disciples about what will happen! We need to remember that Jesus is in Jerusalem. The cross is only a few days in the future and Jesus sits with his disciples getting some last minute cramming in before the big moment. It is a time of anxious waiting, a time of uncertainty, a time of fearfully not know what is going to happen…even though Jesus has told them three times along the way what is about to take place! Jesus and the disciples sit at the temple, partake in its magnificence, and then Jesus comments on how even this seemingly indestructible building will soon be reduced to a figment of its former glory. The disciples demand to know when, how and what will take place! In some of the other gospels, the point is made that Jesus was actually talking about the temple that was his body. Not so in Mark. Mark is clear that Jesus is speaking of the Temple and most scholars believe that the Roman army destroyed the Temple around the same time that Mark’s gospel was being written. Thus this was real for Mark and his readers as violence, treachery and murders were happening all around them! It is important then that they understand the signs of the times! When Jesus talks about the end time, the rapture, the Armageddon, or whatever word we want to use for this time period, what is Jesus talking about? There is, of course, no perfect answer to this question, but one thing we should understand is that Jesus, throughout the gospels, makes promises about our future with God and nothing can take those away from us! Another thing we should understand is that anyone who tries to tell us that this is the time or these are the exact signs is wrong! The things Jesus mentions have always been happening in every generation. Nothing in that realm has changed as this is, and always has been, a violent and insecure world we live in! However, something has changed! As Jesus went to the cross, our relationship with God is changed forever. The threats of sin, death and the devil no longer hold sway over our lives as the people of God. The threats of this world and the people who perpetuate them: that this is it and these signs point to the end, should fall upon our ears without merit. They are empty threats from the world and have nothing to do with God and God’s love for us. On the cross and in the empty tomb, the world changed. No longer are our birth pangs empty of hope for the new life God has in store for us. No longer are our birth pangs without promise for the new life that is to come. We know that there are trials and temptations in this world. We know that we will face the sudden death of loved ones and friends. We know that illness will overtake us and if it doesn’t old age may. As someone used to tell me: “old age will get you.” While all of these things are true, the promise we hear from Christ on the cross and from the empty tomb, is that we will never suffer these things alone. God has been there, done that, and promises to be with us to the end of life as we know it. For you see, these birth pangs are always about the beginning of new life. Without the birth pangs, new life does not begin. Because of the birth pangs and the promised presence Christ, we are able to celebrate with joy and thanksgiving, the kingdom that truly has no end! There is only one kingdom that will continue forever, and it’s not found in this world. In God’s kingdom the worries and concerns listed in this gospel passage are simply not found: wars and rumors of wars, famine, and earthquakes, these have no place in the kingdom of God. The new life we are offered this day is not found in violence, empty threats and promises of future wars. Instead this life is found in the dying and rising we do each new day. This life is found in the meal we will soon share where Christ is our host and we are fed from the bread and wine of salvation. This life is found in the saints who gather to worship the one whom we cannot see, but who comes to us in liturgy, word, water and meal. This life is found when we leave this place strengthened for the days ahead, live into the promise of a future with God in Christ, and go about our daily lives without fear, but instead with hope. In these promises life, new life, eternal life is truly found and no terrorist, hacker, criminal or anyone else can ever take that away from us. The beginning of the birth pangs invites us to see in the midst of uncertainty, fear and death, the hope and promise of new and everlasting life with God. This was perhaps best envisioned by an unknown pianist who rolled his baby grand into the streets of Paris and played John Lennon's “Imagine” as crowds of people gathered around. This song, which imagines a world of peaceful existence brought hope to the gathered crowds. This is how we truly defeat those who would bring fear and destruction into our lives: we face them with hope for the future, not fear, only hope and trust in the one who promises to be with us always to the end of the age!

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1 Shawn Bose = ""1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! 2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? 5 And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: 6 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 7 And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. 8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows"Read and share your comments on Mark 13 here on Deily."
2 Michael McKissick = "What a beautiful reminder, that the love and sovereignty of God is exemplified in our moments of weakness, or "birth pangs" as you're referring to them. Throughout this sermon, I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:9, "But he said to me, 'My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me." "
3 Shawn Bose = " view full size"For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control." - 2 Timothy 1:7"
4 Shawn Bose = ""