Monday, November 19, 2018

Faith In Changing Times

Readings: 1 Samuel 1:4-20 & 2:1-10, Hebrews 10:11-18, Mark 13:1-8
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 18th 2018

We are living today in an era of unprecedented change. When I consider the world that my grandparents grew up in, compared to the world that my grandchildren are growing up in today, it’s not just a different world it’s more like a different planet! How can we find faith in changing times?

Our Bible reading this morning pictures the disciples walking out of the temple in Jerusalem and taking the time to look back at it’s magnificent walls and structure. One of them is talking to Jesus. It’s almost like the disciple is a tourist walking through Manhattan. “Wow! Will you look at this place! Is this awesome or what? Look at the size of the stones. Look at the thickness of the walls. Look how tall the buildings are!”

Jesus gives that disciple an answer he hadn’t expected. After all this wasn’t just any old building in the city, it was the Holy Temple of God he was gazing at! "You see these great buildings?” says Jesus, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

The other disciples by now have their ears buzzing. But they are afraid to ask Jesus straight away what He means. Instead they wait till they are out of the city and up on the Mount of Olives before a group of them come and ask Him to explain. They want to know ‘how’ and ‘what’ and most of all ‘when’ such unimaginable things could happen.

Jesus will not be drawn into a discussion of dates and times or methods. Instead He offers them a strategy for holding onto faith in the midst of a world where things could go crazy at the drop of a hat.

One of my favorite bands of old "The Eagles" have a song that contains the refrain, “In a New York minute, everything can change.”  Having lived near New York City, I know how people are all too aware that even the tallest buildings in the world can be reduced to rubble. How in the midst of this rapidly changing, often frightening, often confusing world can ordinary people like ourselves hold on to faith?

Here’s the Mark 13 strategy.
  • Don’t be led astray.
  • Don’t be alarmed.
  • Do be alert!
Let’s think about each of those.
  1. Don’t be led astray. Verses 5-6 "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray.
Faith is not just about trusting in the right things; it is also about rejecting the wrong things. It’s about discerning the real thing from the false thing. If we follow the wrong thing, then we go the wrong way. If we follow the right thing it sends us in the right direction. “Beware” cautions Jesus that “no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say “I am he’”

Notice Jesus says “In my Name”? The name Jesus means “Savior.” He is telling His disciples that many would come and offer to be their Savior in His place. He is making it plain to them that in a changing world there would no be shortage of voices calling for attention, inviting investment, asking us to side with them, promising to give us the real picture of what is going on.

It is not so hard to identify such voices around us. Despite the twentieth century being one in which mankind created such wonderful things as weapons of mass destruction, there are those who insist here in the twenty first century that only the scientific viewpoint will eventually reveal all truth. Some encourage us to abandon our childish beliefs in an almighty invisible friend and trust that the rational application of inquiring minds will make all things well.

There are other voices that suggest we need to abandon over 2000 years of tried and tested Christian belief and practice and discover more informed spiritual sources. There are many religious and non-religious ideas that offer us the secrets of the universe.

Within Christianity itself you don’t have to dig far to find those who parade their beliefs as the only absolute truth. The red flag should fly when we see how often they are associated with nationalistic ideologies, partisan politics, or ethnic identity. That and the usual claim that God is on there side alone!

I could go on… but it’s enough to offer again Jesus words: “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' Many have come and many will come and suggest to us that we do not take seriously the teaching of Jesus Christ, but pay attention instead to them. Don’t be led astray.
  1. Don’t be alarmed.
Mark 13:7 “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”

Has there ever been an age in human history that has not had “wars and rumors of wars”? That’s the way it is. As Jesus says “Such things must happen.” Why? Reformed theology would suggest that it must happen because humankind is a fallen, sinful, self-seeking, power hungry race of creatures that never find their true relationship to each other until they are once more at One with God.

That the chaos and violence that is pandemic throughout all creation is the result of separation from God. In Jesus Christ God offers an opportunity to go against the tide, but until Christ’s Kingdom comes in all its glory then the chaos will continue. Mark 13: 8 “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.”

Our world continues to be a place of chaos and uncertainty. That should not surprise us. That’s the way Jesus said things would be. So when we pick up a newspaper or hear on the news of the latest tragedy that has rocked our world, maybe we should listen for the voice of Jesus telling us “Don’t be alarmed!

With the benefit of hindsight we can see how the words Jesus spoke to His disciples held incredible insight. In AD70 the army of Roman General Titus laid siege to city. The temple and much else were destroyed. They were terrible days, particularly for those who never fled to the hills and remained in Jerusalem. Elsewhere the Roman Empire was under attack around its borders. There were wars and rumor of wars. A great earthquake would devastate Laodecia and the volcano Vesuvius would erupt burying Pompeii in molten lava. In the days of Claudius a great famine did take hold in Rome.

Jesus told the disciples that events like these would continue to scar the ages. They were not to put their faith in human achievement and ingenuity, no matter how impressive. But more than that, they were not to be alarmed! God was in control.

Despite the seeming chaos and uncertainty and craziness God was in control and remained with them in the midst of these events. He would give them words to speak and the strength of His Holy Spirit to get through. As we put our faith in God we can make that promise our own. No matter what may come our way, God promises to travel with us, even, as Psalm 23 tells us, through the valley of the shadow of death.

We are not to be led astray. We are not to be alarmed. And thirdly (a positive, not a negative, this time) Jesus tells us;
  1. Do be alert
In Mark 13 verse 5 Jesus puts it so simply. “Watch out!” Be aware, be alert, be prepared for these things. Do not let them catch you out or catch you off your guard. If you have a worldview that only allows for the good things in life, then when the bad things come along your faith is going to be shaken to the core.

Tragedy, misfortune, disaster, disease, war and rumors of wars, persecution, famine and unrest, a constant cycle between belief and unbelief, a never ending parade of folks who offer a new view on things that they suggest will save us all, be they theists or atheists, theologians or philosophers, doctors or psychiatrists, sociologists or media superstars… “Watch out,” Jesus seems to say… "It’s all out there and unless you are aware of the things that can cause you to fall, they might just drag you down!"

For myself it’s a chapter that tells me that if I am going to put my faith in something then I had better put it in Jesus Christ. As He told His disciples…the greatest constructions of humankind eventually crumble into the dust. Nothing in life is certain other than somewhere along the way trouble will catch up with us. In a New York minute everything can change. An endless parade of folk seek for me to abandon my faith in Jesus Christ and trust in their views to be my truth, my reason for being and my salvation.

So I pray ‘Lord let me not be led astray, let me not be alarmed. Help me to be awake to all those things that would pull me away from Your love.’ There is, I believe, in the Christian gospel, hope for a hopeless world, good news for a society that is full of bad news and deep joy that awaits the transformation of sleeping souls.

Our world is constantly changing. But the love of God is solid as a rock. If we anchor our lives in the eternal reality of God’s love than we can discover that faith remains a glorious possibility in changing times. May God make it so for each of us here today. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

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