November 18, 2012
I. One of the hazards for we who are preachers is that we have to listen to our own sermons. Every Sunday I want to be sure I have heard from God for myself before I presume to speak to you. However, once in a while I feel that God is shouting to me, “Pay attention, Norm! This one’s for you.” That has been my experience this week. I definitely needed the focus of today’s message that with Jesus as our great heavenly high priest, we need not be alarmed by the uncertainties of the future, but can face them together with confidence.
A. I’m sure many of you know we made an impromptu trip to Dallas on Monday to help our son deal with a personal emergency. From his first voice-mail message I jumped to what I took as an overwhelmingly disastrous conclusion. When he phoned again a few hours later and actually spoke with Candy, we learned that though serious, his problem was not nearly as severe as I had imagined. I have to admit I wasn’t listening to Jesus at the moment.
B. Whether you are pleased or disappointed with the results of the election, the immediate political future is loaded with anxiety. Will the politicians care enough about the welfare of the people to find a compromise that avoids the fiscal cliff? David Petraeus’ personal behavior has clouded the already confusing Benghazi crisis. The violence between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza has eclipsed the violence in Syria and threat from Iran in this week’s news. Public anxiety about the future seems to be spiking this week.
C. In Mark 13:1-8 Jesus’ confrontations with the Jerusalem Temple leadership were behind him and the cross was approaching. Jesus’ disciples seem somewhat oblivious of the magnitude of the events they were experiencing. Jesus’ responses to their mundane curiosity moved them toward a future perspective.
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
II. Coming from rural Galilee, Jesus’ disciples were awestruck by the grandeur of the Jerusalem Temple. When Jesus pronounced its doom, their curiosity prompted them to ask for insider information. Jesus’ unexpected responses to his disciples remind us that with Jesus as our great heavenly high priest, we need not be alarmed by the uncertainties of the future, but can face them together with confidence.
A. Monday morning I needed to hear Jesus’ word to his disciples, “Do not be alarmed!” but I missed it until after midnight. Whether we feel like our personal lives are falling apart or the world is falling apart, we have a hard time receiving what we most need to hear from Jesus, “Do not be alarmed!” Jesus was not suggesting that the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple that was to come in 70 AD was insignificant or good. Rather, he called his disciples, and us, to be so anchored in him that we are not taken by surprise by storms but weather them with faith.
B. The disciples wanted a time line. They wanted a sign so they could have exclusive knowledge which would give them power over the future. But Jesus warned that seeking such knowledge and following those who offer it only leads us astray. Jesus is clear that these disastrous events are not signs that the end has arrived, but will be normal and expected for the world until the end comes. How easily we are led astray by preachers of doom and disaster, by commodity brokers hawking fear of the next crash, by politicians overplaying their power for good and overplaying the threat of their opponents for evil.
C. Jesus used the fascinating image of birthpangs to describe the future turmoil. Without pushing it too far, I believe Jesus told his disciples and us that beyond the pain is the joy of new life. Don’t despair because the immediate future looks to dark and difficult. God is bringing something new and glorious, and you get to be part of it.
III. Hebrews 10 continues the exploration of Jesus as our great heavenly high priest. It includes manifestly practical guidance for approaching the future that dovetails with Jesus’ word to his disciples. With Jesus as our great heavenly high priest, we need not be alarmed by the uncertainties of the future, but can face them together with confidence.
A. Verse 25 connects the exploration of Christ as the high priest taking his own blood into the heavenly Temple with Jesus’ word to his disciples about anxiety for the future and with practical guidance for us today. The writer of Hebrews turns to the practical conclusion of this theological and spiritual treatise on the hinge of seeing “the Day approaching.”
B. First, because of Jesus’ high priestly work, we can approach “the Day” with confidence, echoing Jesus’ word, “Do not be alarmed!” Verse 19 says that we, too, can enter the heavenly sanctuary and the presence of God by Jesus’ blood which he already brought for our redemption. Verse 22 tells us to approach with full assurance of faith. Heart and body, our whole person, has been washed clean by Jesus our high priest. So, as verse 23 says, we hold fast to our confession of hope, not because we are so spiritually strong or mature, but because Jesus our high priest is faithful to his promise.
C. Second, we face the future, anticipating “the Day,” not on our own but as a community of faith. Verse 25 tells us not to neglect meeting together. It reminds me of the Woody Allen line, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Facing the kind of future Jesus described is not for the fainthearted. We can’t do it alone. We need each other. Verse 24 tells us to provoke each other to love and good deeds. Facing the uncertainties of the future can be discouraging. Verse 25 tells us to encourage each other.
IV. In her 1980 book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeline L’Engle wrote, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability ... To be alive is to be vulnerable.” As we gather with friends and family for Thanksgiving later this week, we can be especially thankful that we do not have to be vulnerable on our own. With Jesus as our great heavenly high priest, we need not be alarmed by the uncertainties of the future, but can face them together with confidence.
A. In my interim pastor training we were taught that the interim pastor is to be a stable, non-anxious presence for the congregation through the uncertain time of transition between pastors. On Monday I was anything but stable and non-anxious. Candy and I are personally very thankful that in our three months with you, this congregation has not only accepted us but has supported us on our journey, which has its own twists and turns. Several of you have shared your own struggles with adult children. You have helped us know we are not alone. Many of you have prayed for us, not just for my ministry with you but for the concerns we have for our parents, children and grandchildren. Your encouraging words have protected me from discounting the validity of my ministry with you. Thank you!
B. In our three months with you we have walked together through funerals, hospitalizations and surgeries, career and family transitions, joys and frustrations. As you build your list of things for which you are thankful, I hope you will include the people of this congregation who have encouraged you at a difficult time, the people who have provoked you to faith and good deeds when you were faltering. My provocation to you this morning is to express your thanks to them personally. Face to face is probably best, but a note (even e-mail) or a phone call is good too.
C. I got to know Dave and Neta Jackson in a circle of young Christian writers in Chicago. In 1974 they wrote a book on Christian community called Living Together in a World Falling Apart. The writer of Hebrews emphasizes how much we need each other in the community of faith whether we feel like our personal lives or the world around us are falling apart. Sometimes the church may feel like a life raft that is just enough so we can survive. Other times the church may feel like an advance outpost of the Kingdom of God, representing Jesus in hostile territory. Sometimes the Church may feel like a warm family or village that comforts and celebrates together. Sometimes the Church feels like a safe zone where we are free to acknowledge our vulnerabilities. We are the people of Jesus looking to him as the Day is approaching.