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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Mark 13 01-07
57-ORD33-G-Year B
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
November 16, 2003

Since our context is Stewardship Commitment Sunday, and since the Bible wasn’t written with chapter and verse numbers, I want to back up into the paragraph that precedes this one and read the context for today’s lesson – Mark 12:41-44.

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

The scripture today isn’t just about the end of the temple, and the end of the world. And the story about the widow giving her last two coins isn’t about the end of her bank account. When you put these scriptures into context with each other they tell us: Jesus is here to flip the whole world upside down. The poor become rich, the rich become poor – the temple comes down and nations rise up. The coming of Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world. But it does mean the end of the world as we know it. Jesus slams the stuff in the world feet first into the air.

It also means that when the world is going down in a bucket, that’s exactly the time we should be on the lookout for the kingdom of God. When nations rise against nation, when the ground of life shakes, when the people we thought would save us break our hearts – those are the times when small acts of love are the biggest signs of God.

If you’re a fan of supermarket tabloids (and who isn’t?) you know the world’s going to end – real soon. You also know the President meets with space aliens, AND the Bat Boy is helping hunt for Saddam, AND Arnold Schwarzenegger will be governor of California. (Wait, I think I saw that in the other papers.) There are any number of TV preachers who claim to know the secret codes of scripture and can prove the Bible says the European Union and bar codes are bringing on the Apocalypse. But honestly, if you read the “legitimate” papers or watch the news, a person could get pretty depressed over the way the world’s going. Seems like it’s not having “birth pangs,” but “death pangs.” Seems like the words of Jesus are televised nightly, as nation rises against nation, kingdom against kingdom, with earthquakes, fires and famines.

So is Jesus predicting the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD? Or is he speaking in symbols? Or is he talking about our day and time, right now, when so many of his predictions seem to be coming true? Yes? No? All of the above? Was Jesus wrong in his prediction? After all, nations have been rising against nation for a couple thousand years, and we’re still here. Earthquakes, famines, etc. happen all the time, and humanity always finds a way to survive.

That’s the problem when we take scripture out of context and start trying to decode a piece here and a part there. We pick up a tabloid theology that feeds on fears of everything coming to an end. But put his comments in context and Jesus isn’t so concerned with death pangs of the world. Jesus isn’t talking about the end of the world; he’s talking about the beginning of God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom of hope. So when it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and the whole world’s turning upside down – we should look NOT for the end of the world; we should look for the infant beginnings of God’s hope. Almost unseen behind the world’s big signs of small-minded troubles are God’s small signs of big love.

A small sign of God’s big love is when a church of only about 300 people (and you know that’s nothing compared to the Baptists) – a small sign of God’s love is when a church commits to share its money, believing it can do something big. Whether you’ve got big bucks or only a few little coins, when we can cheerfully and confidently turn it over to God and a Presbyterian session – that’s a sign of a greater kingdom being born.

A small sign of God’s big love is when a Scout troop of about 20 boys (and you know that’s nothing compared to the number of kids in gangs, or (even more) the number of kids doing absolutely nothing) – a small sign of God’s love is when a Scout troop and its leaders teach skills to “be prepared” for the times when life’s going to knock them upside down.

A small sign of God’s big love is when we pray together as a church. I have a sign in my office. It says, “The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.” We are a group of people who are brave enough to come to church with the cracks in our armor showing. We stand up and we share our broken places as well as our healing. And in response we might bake a casserole (and it’s a proven fact that churches can’t exist without casseroles), or we send a card, or we put a hand on a shoulder. We pray. We might think it’s not so much. But when the things we CAN’T do for each other seem so big, and the things we CAN do seem so small, the fact that we care enough to try is a sign of God’s greater kingdom being born.

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars… [when] nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… [when] there are earthquakes and famines…” – Yes, Jesus is talking about our day and time right now. And if the ground beneath your feet is shaky, and if you’re thirsting for relief from your problems, you may THINK it’s the end of the world. But someone might bring you a casserole. Or someone might do some other small thing. For a few minutes that small thing can become more important than all the junk life’s thrown at you. Then you’ll feel a birth pang of God’s greater kingdom.

The Anthem today was called “Beyond the Rain and Rivers.”

Far away I’ll go, beyond the rain and rivers, far away beyond the sun,
To a place I have known where my heart may find a home;
Where my spirit finds refreshment, quiet and peace.

O for such a day and such a place. And in the resurrected Christ we can trust and hope in these words. But in this life, in the Living Christ, we can also sing this:

Here and now, I am, beneath the rain and rivers, here and now beneath the sun,
In a place I know well where my heart seeks out a home;
Here my spirit finds refreshment, quiet and peace.

Refreshment and peace, NOT because this great big world is always so kind and loving to us. But refreshment and peace because there IS kindness and love in this world – at all. The miracle is that we experience these in our context – and not only in the promise of heaven. So while the headlines remind us how bad things continue to get, we hold up the example of a church pledge card, of an Eagle Scout award, of a prayer. Not denying the world, we do these in spite of it. And in merciful love of it.

May God heal those places where the world is broken. But even more, may WE commit ourselves to healing people the world has hurt – the people we’ve hurt. And where nations rise up against one another, or kingdoms against each other, or churches, or family members… where troubles shake us and spirits are dried up, may our simple deeds of kindness and love bear witness to a tiny birth of God’s great kingdom.