Sermon for Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, November 18
Mark 13:1-8 (click for the link)
We all have seasons in our lives. A season to grow, a season to learn, a season to be born, and a season to die. Right now, Maggie and I are in a season. We are in that season of our lives where everybody we know is getting married. It’s actually pretty ridiculous. There was a stretch of time when we would have a wedding every month. It became a game with us, we started ranking all these weddings. Who had the best food? Who had the best service? Who had the best band? But that was the wedding season.
And we all know that after the wedding season, there comes something else. The season for babies. Our friends are getting pregnant all the time. Maggie and I are drowning in babies.
Now, I think it’s pretty clear, I will never be pregnant. But, as a priest, I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff with babies and pregnancy. One time, after a particularly hard child-birth for a parishioner, I rushed over to the hospital in my collar. I walked into the recovery room, where the new mother looked, well, awful. She had clearly been sweating hard. Her hair was all bedraggled. It looked like she had just gone through twelve rounds of a boxing match. I’m sure every mother in this room could share her story.
But for that parishioner it was all worth it. The pain and the agony, the discomfort during the pregnancy, the hard birth – all that was counted as nothing. For that child, who became the first person I ever baptized, is a precious, loving, little daughter.
Now, I would like to think that I’m a little bit like Jesus. Mainly because Jesus was never pregnant. But even though he never bore a child, Jesus used the imagery of birth. “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For 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 birth pangs.” The birth pangs.
So often when we think about “the end of the world” our minds race with images of death and destruction. Pundits and charlatans tell us that the Mayans knew the world was going to end, and that we should expect some great cataclysmic event. We think about giant asteroids plowing into the earth. We think about volcanoes and earthquakes that swallow cities. We think of wars, and the rumors of wars and how the end might come through violence and devastation.
Really, what’s going on, is that we think God is like a little kid in a sandbox. The kid carefully builds the sandcastle, with a moat, and turrets and drawbridge. But then the kid gets bored, so he kicks the sandcastle over and ruins the whole mess. The little kid brings wars and earthquakes and famines against his sandbox world. Sand nation rises up against sand nation. The little kid brings destruction and devastation to the little world he had just created.
But God is not a little kid. And our world is not a sandbox. So I’m going to ask you to use your imagination, and stretch yourselves a little bit. Think of what Jesus said, that all the tragedy in the world is but the beginning of the birth pangs. Rather than picturing God as the little kid in the sandbox, imagine God as a pregnant mother.
The wars, the rumors of wars, the stones being thrown down, nation rising against nation, the famines, earthquakes, and plagues: we know that these are real. We don’t have to read the Bible to know that these things are taking place. But read about all those awful things in the way that Jesus describes them – as the birth pangs. What we see in the world now is the hard pregnancy, and the struggle during labor. It’s the pushing and the sweating and the pain of giving birth.
It’s that dreaded phone call you receive in the middle of the night. It’s those words that come from the mouth of the doctor. It’s when you get fired or laid off. It’s the charlatan who leads us astray. These are the hard things. But they are but the beginning of the birth pangs. The world is going into labor.
And it is God who is giving birth. God is giving birth to a new world. God is not a little kid who destroys the sandcastle. God is like a pregnant mother, birthing a new world. Right now, all the garbage and the junk of life are but the pushing and the sweating and the birthing. What is being born is a new world: a world with no war. A world in which the nations are at peace. A world without earthquakes or famines or pestilence or plague. A world without cancer or divorce or unemployment. This is the world that God is birthing.
And that’s what we mean by “the end of the world.” The end of the world is not about God devastating and destroying the earth. “The end” is not about Mayans and their goofy calendar. When Christians talk about the end of the world, they mean the end of the world as we know it: the end of all the garbage and the junk and the pain and the torture and the downright awfulness.
Now, some will say that we must leave this world in order for things to get better. Or that this world must be destroyed in order to be made new. But that’s now what I am seeing.
Every day in my ministry, I see a new world being born. I see people studying the Bible for the first time, and hearing the good news of God. I see how Jesus is transforming the lives of parishioners through their ministries. These boxes – these gifts for the sailors who come into the Port of Houston – these are the first fruits of the new, loving world, that is being born. Or children, right here, in this very church, are learning how to follow our Lord. These are signs of the new world that God is birthing. What we see here at Holy Comforter is but a glimpse of that new thing that God is doing.
The twenty-four news networks and the newspapers and the politicians would have us focus on the agony and the birth pangs. And the worst part is that we listen to them. All too often we get distracted and focus on the pain and the sweating and the agony and the pushing. But if you ask that mother I visited in the hospital, she wouldn’t be complaining about her struggles during labor. No, she would be doting on her daughter and telling everybody just how awesome that little girl is.
So when you see wars and rumors of wars, when you see nation rising against nation, do not be alarmed. These are but the beginning of the birth pangs. And with every birth pang, there is the renewed promise that God is making all things new.