A Farewell Message

November 11, 2018 Image for Sermon

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.


  1. Today, my message will have a different format. Think of the capital letter Y. There are two branches that come together at a single pole or trunk. The letter Y.
    1. One branch will be about Veterans’ Day – which use to be called Armistice Day.
    2. The other branch of the Y will be about Mark 13:1-8 — with a special focus on “These are the beginning of birth pains.
    3. Finally, the trunk or pole of the Y will be a reflection from the Book of James and you will need your pew Bibles to follow along.
  2. Now, the first branch of the Y
  3. Today is the Sunday before Veteran’s Day and the 100th anniversary for the ending of WW1.
  4. Veterans Day (originally known as Armistice Day) is observed annually on November 11th , that honors military veterans; that is, persons who served in the United States Armed Forces. It coincides with other holidays, including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, celebrated in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I;
    1. major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect
  5. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who died while in military service.
  6. This morning I plan to look at two things that are tied together — the verses in Mark 13:8 and about the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 and what lessons we can learn by the coincidental crossing of today’s Scripture and Veteran’s Day.
  7. First, WW1 – a long time ago and we only have recorded memories of the events and the results. There are no WW1 Veterans alive now. The last person died at 110 in 2012.
  8. What caused World War I? After reading several histories and analyses written during this centennial retrospective, the one cause that jumps out is sheer incompetence of the political and military leaders.
    1. The leaders of that day saw war coming for years.
    2. Germany armed itself to the hilt—in fact it engaged in the first modern arms race with Great Britain.
    3. Plans for a German invasion of France were known to be in place for years prior to 1914. Nationalist urges in the Balkans (Germany, Austria, Turkey, Romania, etc) were continual sparks, like matches repeatedly struck till ignited.
  9. And when the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated on June 28, 1914, weeks of growing tension passed that all could see would lead to war —but no one, despite good intentions, could stop the inevitable.
  10. There simply was no prewar leader in Europe with the stature, wisdom and diplomacy to halt the insanity. It’s one of the colossal failures of history that an interconnected Europe and wider world couldn’t prevent the largest, bloodiest war to that time. More than 8.5M soldiers died and countless civilians died.
  • Historians mention the level of globalization that existed in 1914.
    1. Transportation and communication along with industrialization had created the first “age of globalization.”
    2. Wealth flowed across the Atlantic between Europe and the United States.
    3. Advances in science and education were lifting the nations to a new era of prosperity.
    4. Social ills were beginning to be addressed.
    5. There was every reason to expect that a brighter era for all people was on the horizon.
    6. But the war ground these dreams, along with the lives of a generation of youth, into the mud of the battlefields.
  • Again, why? What ultimately underlies all this? Historians can recalibrate their studies and pore over the mountains of information seeking but not finding the ultimate cause for World War I.
  • One of the results of the War to End all Wars was the establishment of the League of Nations but the United States was not a signature of the pact. The idea was for the League of Nations to prevent wars through disarmament, collective security and negotiation. And it failed because it had no power to enforce their decisions.
  • In less that fifteen years, Hitler rose to power in Germany and the seeds for WW2 and the holocaust were being sown. More than 60 million people died in WW2.
  • Since that time, we have experienced the Korean War, Vietnam War, recently the war in Iraq and ongoing war in Afghanistan.
  • The bottom line is that humanity, at least to now, is inclined to solve its differences by war.
  1. Pause
  2. Now, the other branch of the letter Y.
  • We are continuing to work with the Gospel of Mark and today we read a very troubling passage — one that points towards the consequences of the troubles that lead up to the end times.
  • Mark 13:1-8 is part of – what is known as eschatological theology – or what the Bible says about end-times.
    1. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
  1. If I flip back to the beginning verse 1–“Teacher, what massive stones! What a magnificent, eternal-looking church!” exclaim the disciples. “Not a stone will be left on stone,” replies Jesus. “This great building destroyed, wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, earthquakes, famines.” And on it goes!
  • This is Jesus’ longest sermon in Mark. He speaks to the twelve, letting his inner circle in on a somber doomsday secret: this temple, appearing so eternal, shall end.
  • Contrary to what we have been led to believe, when Jesus talks of the end of time, he’s not predicting the future; he is speaking of the instability of the present.
    1. This temple, this world is not as stable, eternal as it appears.
  • Most Christians get nervous when Jesus talks like this.
    1. We prefer to hear Jesus as a great moral teacher. He is an example of compassion for the poor, or someone who gives us a spiritual boost.
  • None of that is in Jesus’ statements in Mark. The disciples and us are looking for Jesus to give us hope for the future, not words about the end of time and all the pain that will be associated with this
  • Jesus replies: God is going to destroy everything.
    1. All this, for any of its present glory, is ending, stone ripped from stone, all reduced to rubble is the message that Jesus is saying.
  • From what I’ve seen as a pastor, there is no arrival of God, without some sort of departure, no grasping of faith, without relinquishment. No dying of self without rebirth.
    1. When Ann and I left Christ House after only two years. Our vision of a ten-year ministry with the homeless was destroyed. We had sought this ministry for over eight years and in a short two years, the vision was vanishing.
    2. Ann and I learned, that from the pain of rejection and failure, a new life with a closer tie to the actual nudging of God would evolve.
    3. The birthing pains included failure and hopelessness.
  • In every move toward God, something is gained, but something also is lost, and the loss may be painful.
  • Jesus’ is saying instability, transitory situations in life where there is no stone left upon stone.
  • In our Gospel reading in Mark, Jesus concludes his cataclysmic destruction by saying, “This is the beginning of birth pangs” (13:8)
  • Sometimes, what we call death is birth when God is involved.
  • Only a living God can make the end, the beginning. Counter-intuitive isn’t it.
  • We may ask ourselves, Is today’s Gospel lesson in Mark– good news or bad? That may be dependent on where you are when you get the prophetic news.
  • Jesus’ fateful revelation reveals that reality may not be as rigid or imperishable as we have been led to believe. God the Alpha and the Omega and God the Beginning and the End
  • At the end, Jesus lets us in on a secret about our end: a world torn apart, the veil in the temple ripped by God at the time of the crucifixion, so that a new world might be made available by God.
    1. The end of your marriage, your pink slip at work, the empty nest, or the death of your beloved — by God’s grace, these endings may be birth pains, leading us into a new life.
  • It all depends on a truthful God who whose eternal love is our only hope. A friend of mine defines the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, in two sentences:
    1. God is going to get what God wants,
    2. No matter how much of your life God has to mess up for you to begin to experience the new life.
  • Let’s hold on to the ending thought — These are the beginning of birth pains.
  1. Now the stem or trunk or the vertical part of the Y.
  • What lies at the root of wars?
  • There is one source that tells us the cause of conflict among human beings of any age.
  • That source is the Bible, the Word of God.
  • The book of James contains the key explanation for war and conflict among the human race, great and small. Page 1883 in your pew Bible.
  • Notice what the author says (slightly paraphrased)
    1. Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes themselves an enemy of God” (James 4:1-4).
  • James lists within these verses the plot line for every war since Cain lifted his hand against Abel.
    1. From murder to battles to mass slaughter and world war, you see the seeds in these verses.
    2. From the envy and jealousy that pits brother against brother, father against son and husband against wife, it’s all outlined here.
  • Unbridled lust and desire for power and control over land and resources move nations to war.
  • Bloodthirsty desire to control the lives of men and women move dictators and kings to move armies against cities and lands.
  • The stories of World War I are those of petty, vile and base men who desired more—more power, more land, more prestige—more, more and more. And the result was indeed more —more death, more suffering and more destruction.
  • Like leaders who went before and have since followed after, they could not take a long view of life and history and make the right decisions for their people.
  1. They could not make sound decisions based on truth, justice and temperance—all of which are within our power to achieve, especially when mixed with greater humility and less pride.
  • These virtues—truth, justice and temperance—can be found in drawing near to God. Together they can help us all develop a friendship with God and become enemies of the culture of death so often spawned in today’s world. They can help us change our lives on the inside and produce thoughts and actions that lead to peace.
  • A study of a devastating war begun a hundred years ago can be an exercise in nostalgia and academic history.
  • For we who take a moment to reflect on what happened, let’s be sure to take away a lesson that helps us understand our present world:
    1. History existed before our birth, it marches on now, and decisions made by people long ago and far away continue to impact our lives today.
  • At the same time, know that the decisions you and I make in the present have an impact on our lives and the lives of others today and long into the future.
  1. We must learn to take the long view on life.
  • The world sorely needs leaders with a view different from leaders of the past.
  • The world needs leadership with the long view, the view of what is best and will benefit all others and avoid the destructive and bloody scourge of conflict and war.
  • We desperately need leadership with the long view to the world to come, when the world will know peace under the rule of the Kingdom of God.
  • Pause
  • Thanks be to God.