A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Two ministers were standing by the
side of the road holding signs of warning for the passing motorists. The first
minister’s sign read: “The end is near!” And the second minister’s sign read:
“Beware! Turn back!”
The first car of the day approached
the two ministers, they waved their warning signs feverishly, but the car sped
past. Seconds later they heard tires squealing and a loud crash.
They turned and looked at each
other, and one said to the other: “Perhaps we should change our signs.” And the
other replied: “Yes, maybe we should have written, ‘Stop! The bridge is out!’”
In your travels, you may have
encountered ministers holding or wearing signs that read, “The END is near!” You
may have had the faithful trying to hand you leaflets proclaiming the same. I
have heard street-corner preachers screaming their warnings at the top of their
Across the generations, there have
been many preachers that have interpreted this passage from Mark as a similar
warning. However, that was not what Jesus was saying. It WAS a warning, but it
was not a proclamation that the end of the world was near.
So then, what was he saying?
He was talking about the end, he was
talking about destruction, but his proclamation was directed exclusively at the
destruction of the Temple. Consider his audience, Andrew, Peter, James and
John. You will recall that James and John, and the rest of the disciples had an
argument on the road about greatness. Then James and John continued the
argument about their own status and places of honor. It is not surprising that
they would marvel at the glorious structure of the Temple.
And to be fair, it was a glorious
structure. Herod’s Temple was still in the process of being constructed but it
was known to be the most impressive and beautiful structure in all the land.
The stones were massive. The columns were made of pure white marble. The façade
was plated in gold. The building would literally glisten in the sun.
Herod and the Herod family were
terrible, abusive and illegitimate kings. They committed atrocities against
their own people. But Herod was also a great builder. He built impressive
structures … palaces, fortresses, aqueducts … all over the country. Some of
those structures still stand two thousand years later.
No doubt, the Temple was the
crowning glory. However, it was not constructed to the glory of God. It was
constructed to the glory of Herod! The center of the Jewish life and faith was
a monument to human pride and ego.
And the religious practices
surrounding the Temple had become just as corrupted.
We know that Jesus had been clear in
his teaching and preaching about the importance of humility. He had been clear
about the importance of service over the desire to be great. And Jesus needed
to reinforce that teaching as his time with the disciples was nearing its end.
Very soon, they would have to walk without him. Very soon, they would carry the
Kingdom mission forward. They needed to be ready.
That grand and glorious, massive and
impressive building would be destroyed. Not a stone would be left standing. And
everything that it represents would also be destroyed. The Kingdom of God does
not need the Temple to usher it into existence. It needs the faithful followers.
To be clear, the End was coming. The
Day of the Lord is coming. But Jesus was telling them … and telling us … that
this is just the beginning of the birth-pangs.
I have never given birth. However,
many of you in this room and watching at home have. You understand the
metaphor. You know that when the contractions begin the process has begun, but
you do not know how long it will last. It may take hours, it might take days.
The term ‘birth-pang’ had often been
used to describe the process of something coming into existence. In this case,
the something is truly, exceptionally wonderful … nothing less than the Kingdom
of God! But this is just the beginning, and we know not how long the process
will take. And we do not know precisely what the process will look like.
Some would argue, “Of course we do!
Jesus told us.”
Well … not really. Sadly, this
passage has been misinterpreted, misused and abused across the centuries. And
interestingly enough, that was part of what Jesus was warning us about.
There are some very scary events
described in this warning from Jesus. “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars,
do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation
will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes
in various places, and famines.” (Mark 13:7-8a)
goes on to talk about other cosmic and celestial signs. But he was not giving
us a roadmap to the future. Rather, he was framing his teaching in words and
images that were familiar. For generations, the Jewish people had heard the
warnings from the prophets. They had offered prophecies of the calamities that
would befall the people if they did not change their ways. The Children of
Israel were well-steeped in the words of Daniel, Isaiah and Baruch, and Jesus
used their words and their images to make his point. As he often did, he used
words and images that were familiar to their ears.
horrible things will happen in the history of the world. Many horrible things
have happened in the history of the world. We have seen ALL of the things that
Jesus cited in his warning. But his words of warning were not about those
events. Rather, it was not to be mislead by them. Do not get whipped up into a
panic or a frenzy by them.
beware, because there will be those who will try to take advantage of your
anxiety and fear. There will be those who will rise up and use the name of
Jesus Christ, there will be those who will use the words of Jesus Christ
falsely. Do not be fooled. Do not be led astray. Do not allow your hearts and
minds to be twisted and manipulated by the things that they say.
patient and be faithful.
of those who would come in the name of Jesus and lead us astray.
are those who simply misunderstand. There is no malice of forethought. Their
intentions are pure, but their teaching and preaching may lead the faithful
down the wrong path; away from the path of light, and toward a path of fear.
course, there are those whose intent is malicious and evil. They will misuse
the name and the Word for their own personal use. They will strike fear in the
hearts of those who are struggling. They will take advantage of those who truly
long to see the Kingdom of God realized. They will fill their churches and
stuff their bank accounts with false promises. Beware.
by stockpiling, hoarding or hiding away. Not by fear-mongering. Prepare by
following the teaching of Jesus Christ. We prepare by loving and serving our
neighbors. The Kingdom ushers in an age of love and justice. Every act of love,
every act of service brings the Kingdom closer to realization.
patient and faithful.
will be difficult days and there may be terrifying circumstances. Do not be
fooled. Do not panic. Be faithful. Love and serve in the face of difficulty and
danger. Be steadfast in our knowledge that Christ is with us. He will see us
day, the Kingdom Glorious will reign over the earth. Until that day, let us
beware. Let us prepare. Let us be faithful. Amen.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072