.2nd Before Advent
Mark 13 1-8
The writer to the Hebrews says:
"...let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. It is easy to live out the first HALF of that verse to provoke one another and neglect the second half – to love and good deeds. I am sure at some time in our lives we have been guilty of provoking somebody or even people. Provoking is an old fashioned word not used very much but we can all be infuriating, aggravating annoying and I am equally sure we have all been on the receiving end of a bit of provoking as well. Sadly it is part of our flawed human nature, and we are not exempt in the church either, as the writer to the Hebrews points out. A recent letter to the Church Times wondered, not that the church shoots itself in the foot so often, but how it can reload so quickly.
The writer to the Hebrews gives us this wonderful reminder of the magnificence of Jesus Christ - his once-for-all sacrifice, the final conquest of every enemy, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the surpassing confidence we can have as we approach the throne of grace. Now, get on with the job in hand he exhorts.
I especially like the way we are told to go about the process: "...not neglecting to meet together... In other words - Come to church. I realize that I am preaching to the converted here, because you ARE in church, but if you have ever needed an occasional reminder about why we bother to get up and get going on a Sunday morning when it would be just as easy to worship with the Fellowship of St. Mattress here it is. We gather together from week to week to remind ourselves WHO we are, and WHOSE we are, and WHAT we are to be about. The ideal is to provoke one another IN THE RIGHT WAY -- or as the New International Version has it, "spur one another on" to what? -- "to love and good deeds," and to ENCOURAGE one another. We surely need all the help we can get.
For what it is worth, if we feel discouraged by the fact that some of those who should be here are not, the problem is not a new one. Even back in the New Testament days, some must have chosen to sleep in. As the text has it, "...not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some."
The reading from Mark's gospel offers us some powerful encouragement. It begins as Jesus and the disciples are leaving the Temple - one of them remarks what a magnificent building it is. This was the third time lucky for the Jerusalem Temple: the first had been planned by King David and constructed by his son Solomon and was exquisite in every way. That structure had been leveled by Nebuchadnezzar when the nation was carried off into exile in Babylon. When God's people were allowed to return to their homeland, a second temple was built, but it paled in comparison to the original, and people were embarrassed by it. Even so, for 500 years, that had been the centre of Jewish worship. Then along came the Romans and Herod the Great as king in Israel. Herod knew that the Temple was not all the Jews wished it to be, so in an effort to curry favour, and at the same time, leave a monument to his rule, he embarked on a Temple renovation and expansion project that would make it bigger and better than it had been before. But Jesus said that it would not last; "Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
Quite something to imagine when you realize that according to the historian Josephus the stones were 40 feet long, by 12 feet high and 18 feet wide about the size of a bus. And with the benefit of hindsight...we know he was right. By 70AD it had been raised to the ground with the exception of the Wailing Wall, parts of which still stand today.
As Jesus and his friends continued to walk and talk together, they made their way across the valley and finally rested on the Mount of Olives. "Tell us, when will this be, the disciples asked, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be happen?”
Fair enough questions for we would all like to know the when and where so we can at least be ready!
Predictions of the future rarely help though.
Some classic examples:
·The day before the invasion of Pearl Harbour, Frank Knox, US secretary of the Navy, said
· "Whatever happens, the US Navy is not going to be caught napping."
·The day before the Wall Street collapse, Economist Irving Fisher announced to the banking world, "Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."
·When asked about the future use of computers in 1960, Thomas Watson, IBM chairman, 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, said "We don't like their sound. Groups with guitars are on the way out."
I bet they wished they hadn’t been asked for a prediction. Jesus warns us about being led astray by others opinions He gave us things to be warned about, wars, earthquakes, famines. As we know we are still in the midst of all these nasty predictions. The big question is how can we handle Nasty?
Jesus offers advice: when life is falling apart - and it sometimes does, even for the best of us - when it seems as though one stone is crashing down upon another, that is when we are more likely to listen to any voice that promises to help. Jesus says ‘be careful.’ "Beware that no one leads you astray."
But then He says some incredibly comforting words; he says, "This is but the beginning of the birth pangs." As God's people, understand this, even if we forget it at trying moments. I am reliably told that birth is a painful process, for both mother and child.
But look at the end result. Yes, many transitions are painful, but we know that blessing awaits when the process is complete. As the old adage says ‘no pain no gain. ’The thing that will sustain us in the dark moments will be our faith.
I am sure you have heard someone say "I would never have made it without my faith.". and faith is nurtured and grown in the fertile soil of church. Not the building but the people.
History tells us that when tragedy strikes, whether it is individual or nationwide. When people's minds are disordered and their hearts are failing them for fear, when it seems as though not one stone is left on another, then the thing of supreme importance is the church. People seek the building and the people in it for comfort. The Death of Diana princess of Wales being a good example.
Just two days ago Alison and I met a lady in Repps church, her daughter had died in childbirth, and her husband died of a heart attack. She and her remaining daughter are struggling just to get through each day. She said there is no one left for me. She comes to church every day. The Church is where people come to have their faith strengthened, their thoughts clarified, and their fears relieved. It is also just a place just to come. Having said that it is not enough. For our trust is not to be in any man made thing, not even in the Church or prayer; our trust must be in God alone. Jesus did not say’shall you shall not be tempted,’ he did not say ‘you will not be tossed about by storm and tempest’ he did not say ‘you shall not be distressed’ , but he did say ‘you shall not be overcome.’ No matter how dark the days, the Light of Christ is with us; we are never alone or left in the dark. Victory is ours through God who loves us.
So let us get start some serious provoking today.