Sermon: Birth Pangs

Mark 13: 1 – 8
Rev 1: 4 – 8

In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, Beirut, Bagdad, and now Mali, and Cameroon, homeland security levels are “the highest they have been since 9/11.” One news reporter said, “The terrorists are winning.”

Are they? Really??

Throughout human history, there have always been terrorists. Attila the Hun was a terrorist. Genghis Khan and his hordes were terrorists, the Vikings, and Cortes and the conquistadors were terrorists. For centuries, pirates were the “terror” of the seven seas.

Early settlers terrorized the Native Americans as they pushed beyond their treaties into lands that weren’t theirs….Entire native tribes of men, women, and children were ruthlessly and systematically wiped out. Germ warfare began with giving Native Americans blankets infected with Small Pox.

The Nazis were terrorists. Good, frightened people avoided speaking out because they didn’t want to attract attention…and then, it was too late and Hitler’s power was too strong. The Ku Klux Klan is a homegrown terrorist organization who used random acts of brutality, torture, and murder to create a rule of terror that still lingers and poisons today.

In Jesus day, the Romans were the terrorists. They held brutal rule over their conquests. It’s why the Jewish leadership, the Sadducees, and Pharisees, and..even King Herod, were so worried about Jesus. Even a hint of rebellion would bring the Roman soldiers out into the streets indiscriminantly killing in order to restore the proper level of submission and fear.

So let’s not kid ourselves that “ISL” has invented some new form of warfare called “terrorism.” Terror is an indispensable tool of war that has been used throughout the ages. War and violence create terror.

For this reason, it is distressing to see so many people in our “Christian” nation surrendering to fear and trying to hold all Muslims responsible for the acts of a few rabid terrorists.

It dismays me to hear leaders of our country suggesting that Muslims should be put in Internment camps, that mosques must be closed, and that desperate refugees from Syria can only come to our country if they are Christians.

We mustn’t forget that as Christians we are called to provide hospitality and succor to the poor, the stranger, the immigrant, the sojourner, the orphans and widows, our neighbors, and even our enemy…..even our perceived enemy…

Chris Christie said that not even orphans under the age of five are welcome here because you are never too young to be a threat. Now we are supposed to be afraid of children. Desperate, starving, terrified children.

Really?

This is what happens when we let fear rule our hearts. Fear opens the door to hate. Fear paves the way for discrimination. Fear leads us down the bitter road of divisive scapegoating. Fear IS the mind-killer. Fear IS the little death.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated March 4, 1933, this country was in the darkest depths of the Great Depression. This is the beginning of his inaugural address.

“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we still have much to be thankful for.”

FDR made that bold statement 80 years ago. And…Our Nation has endured, it did revive, and it has prospered. And, more important….we still have so much to be thankful for…an one of the things to be thankful for is that those who came before us believed and were not afraid.

In our scripture today, Jesus and the disciples are leaving the Temple and the disciples pause for a moment to gawk at the beautiful edifices towering over their heads. Like excited children, they call out to Jesus, “Look, Look Jesus, what large stones! What immense buildings!” What wonders of human ingenuity and accomplishment! Magnificent! Awe-inspiring!

Jesus tosses his words like cold water on their enthusiasm, “Not one stone will be left here, one upon another. All will be thrown down.” Jesus goes on to say, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed…this must take place, for the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; and there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

Jesus is responding to how impressed and awed the disciples are with the creations of human hands. Jesus is warning them not to place their awe and wonder and trust and faith in the things made by human beings because human things perish.

Buildings are built and torn down, just like that magnificent Temple was eventually torn down by the Romans sending the Jewish population into exile. Buildings topple in natural disasters and blow over in storms. Buildings erode and decay. The things and kingdoms created by human beings are constantly eroding, toppling, changing, and morphing….

That is why Jesus points us always towards God’s spiritual kingdom where love, peace, hope, and joy get us through all the wars, earthquakes, fires, natural and human made disasters, Those are the solid eternal building blocks of God’s kingdom that we can rely on in our world, in our lives, and in our hearts.

How do we live with today’s threat of terrorism?

We do as thousands of people before us have done throughout the ages, we believe and be not afraid. We each do our part in building God’s eternal, unending kingdom. We depend on God and trust in Jesus.

Each Advent, we remind ourselves how to do that, by celebrating and giving thanks for God’s greatest gifts to the world. Each Advent we remind ourselves how to defeat terrorism.

We build our lives on God’s foundation of Hope. We defeat violence with peace. We overcome despair with joy. And we combat hate, with God’s greatest gift, Love.

Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.” God’s Advent gifts to us are God’s weapons of mass “construction.”

Weapons of Construction.

God’s gifts are how we build up God’s kingdom in the world, how we conquer terror, and how we participate in becoming the changes we want to see in the world.

Jesus says, “This is but the beginning of the Birth pangs.” Birth pangs are painful. But birth pangs herald something precious is on the way. Birth pangs are a body’s way of saying “get reaady!” Get Set…something’s coming…something miraculous…something brand new!

The book of Revelation begins with this salutation from John, “Grace to you and peace from God, who is and who was and who is to come…And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, He who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.”

Take heart! Be not afraid!
Jesus comes into the midst of the worst that we can imagine.

Be not afraid!
Jesus comes into the middle of all the messes we make.

Be not afraid! Be assured!

Next week Advent begins, to remind us that Jesus is coming. Jesus is always coming. Let us prepare once again to welcome him into the world…into our lives…and into our hearts. Jesus comes again.

Let us prepare the way and make it straight!

Most important…

Believe!

and,

Be not, afraid.

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