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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2009-11-15 Mark 13:1-13

2009-11-15 Mark 13:1-13 
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
James McTyre

Destruction. Wars. Earthquakes. Famines - and we're just getting started, folks. Trials, beatings, betrayals, and death panels for grandma.

No, it's not Lou Dobbs. It's the Bible. But it sounds like Lou. Sounds like any one of the TV and radio people predicting the end of the world, the country, and life as we know it.

Don't we come to church to get away from all this stuff? There are Sundays I don't like preaching on the Bible. Because the Bible can really be a downer. This is one of those passages. The Bible's supposed to make us peaceful. Make us know our troubles are all the same, where everybody knows our name. Like Cheers.  

I like it when Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me." I don't like it when Jesus says, "Your own children are going to rise up against you and have you put to death." Don't give them ideas, Lord. I was hoping for a retirement village and a pimped-out golf cart.

We expect the Bible to fulfill our fantasies. But the Bible's about reality. Jesus was about saying what's real, instead of telling people what they want to hear. If you read more than just the passages you like, you'll find that Jesus is an equal opportunity offender. He offends liberals in one place and then turns right around and offends the fundamentalists. In fact, if you read enough, it starts to seem that what Jesus likes to do best of all is to shake us up. If you think Jesus is all puppies and kittens, say hello to some fire and brimstone. If you think Jesus is all about destroying the evildoers, shake hands with the sinners and outcasts. Jesus likes shaking us up, and he really, really seems to like shaking us up when it comes to talking about the future. 

Yes, the Bible can really be a downer. But that's not always a bad thing. Maybe Jesus really does think think the future's all gloom and destruction. But I doubt it. We don't need Jesus to help us be pessimists. Just turn on your TV or radio and you can get that 24 hours a day. Maybe Jesus is a downer because he's trying to scare us out of our future fantasies and bring us down to this reality.


Those of you who like the idea of future catastrophe are in luck. You remember 'Independence Day,' when aliens destroyed the White House with a laser beam? 'The Day After Tomorrow' when a new ice age froze the Statue of Liberty waist-deep in ice? Last Friday, the 13th (appropriate date), director Roland Emmerich, brought us his crowning achievement of global destruction, "2012". 

Roger Ebert says, "You think you've seen end-of-the-world movies? This one ends the world, stomps on it, grinds it up, and spits it out."

Hollywood Reporter says, "If you rolled every disaster movie into one spectacular package, you would wind up with something close to '2012,' [this year's] latest apocalyptic fantasy."

Taking a theological tone, Variety says, "The notion of playing God is implicit in the job of a film director, and rarely has the sense of a wrathful, vengeful deity at the helm... been so comprehensively felt as in '2012.' For demolition maestro, Roland Emmerich, 'Independence Day,' 'Godzilla,' and 'The Day After Tomorrow' were mere appetizers for the lip-smacking smorgasbord of global annihilation laid out here."

And in a faithful, yet solemn review, Entertainment Weekly prayed, "God forgive me, but I enjoyed [it]."

Nothing quite says "Christmas Season" like the end of the world.

I can't predict the future, but I'm pretty sure it will be a cold day in Cairo before our family goes to see this movie. First, because it doesn't star Zac Ephron. And second, because it contains neither singing nor dancing. When '2012: The Musical' comes out, we'll be first in line. Until then, the only hope I have of seeing this movie is if the guys of the Middle School Youth Group need a chaperone.

Whether it's at the movie theater, or from the podiums of political pundits or the pulpits of paranoid preachers, apocalyptic fantasy always gets people's attention. Maybe because it's like a bad dream. When it's over, we wake up and say, "Whew. I'm still here. At least Godzilla's not chasing me. At least aliens aren't taking over" (although Lou Dobbs would argue with that). Vincent Price said that the point of all these movies is to make us laugh at our fears.

The world is destroyed in a movie fantasy and people race to see it at $10 a ticket.

But a lone shooter steps onto a table at Fort Hood, and a nation is still.

Airplanes fly into towers, and something within us all dies with the victims.


"Then Jesus asked... 'Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another. All will be thrown down.'"

"'...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....'"

Maybe Jesus could see into the future. Or maybe he could simply see the truth. The truth that only in fantasies do the works of our hands and our footprints on the earth turn to anything else but dust.


But true.

Jesus looked at the shiny golden walls of the temple, a structure twice as large as the Roman Forum, four times larger than the sacred Acropolis in Athens, where a single stone weighed over one hundred tons -- Jesus looked at this marvel of earthly achievement and said, "Not one stone will be left here upon another." 

And he was right.

Maybe he saw the future, or maybe he just saw the truth that nothing earthly remains.

If you think your accomplishments will save you, if you think your parents will bail you out, if you think your children will support you, if you think you can construct your own immortality, think again. 

Jesus says as much in the language of armageddon and people think they know what it means in a "we'll win, they'll lose" kind of way, but they're wrong. No one is exempt. It's not apocalyptic prediction, it's simple, human truth.


It's telling that this passage comes immediately after the story where Jesus sits and watches all the rich men dump their big bags of gold into the temple treasury, money that helped build the amazing, huge temple. But you remember how the story goes? They aren't the ones he cared about. The one he lifted up to the eternal pages of scripture was the widow who gave her two cents, all she had to live on.

Elsewhere, Jesus says, Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)

Again and again, Jesus warns us, if you want eternal life, stop trying to make yourself last eternally. Care for the poor, release the captives, visit the sick, love your enemies... not because these things will make you indestructible, not because they'll make you unforgettable. But because they'll help someone else live one more day. Give your two cents, give everything, not because it'll make you last, but because it's a sign of the everlasting. This, this stewardship of life, is the work of your soul. In reality, right now.

Jesus calls us each to go out and minister in his name. Not when we get it all together. Not when the world is a nicer place. Not in some imaginary day after tomorrow in 2012. Jesus calls us in to send us out, right now. Jesus calls us to ministries of eternal things, right now. Eternity is already in your grasp, if -- if -- you can let go of the things that don't last. If you don't get hung up on imagining the future. If you take a step at a time onto the earth beneath your feet you'll realize that today you're already standing on the threshold of eternal.

What's scary, really scary, is how many people miss that. What's scary is how often we miss it by concentrating on our own fulfillment instead of heeding Jesus' warning. If your soul is empty, if your heart is self-absorbed, you don't have to wait until the "end times." You've got your own little cataclysm going on inside. Famines, earthquakes, and all that's just finishing the job. But if you live, following Jesus on good days and bad, knowing that whatever lies ahead you're grounded in your faith, you're already living eternally with him. 

Let Jesus scare you out of your fantasy and back into reality.