This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Monday, April 15, 2013
A New World: Wait for It
Preached on Sunday April 14, 2013
Scripture readings: Daniel
7:7-14; Mark 13:1-13, 24-37
Over Sunday supper, a family talked about that
morning’s sermon. It was about the second coming of Christ. The kids had a lot
of questions, and their parents tried their best to field their questions.
Photos from around home; Washtucna WA
After a while the dad said, “There’s an awful lot we
don’t know. The main thing, I guess, is just to live each and every day as if
it were your last.” At this point the teenager spoke up and said, “I tried that
once, and you grounded me for a month!” (From Robert Jarboe, in “Parables,
Etc.”, July 1993)
The Temple in Jerusalem was one of the
wonders of the ancient world. It was a shining mountain of white marble and
gold. It was visible for miles and miles around.
There was much more to the Temple than its size and beauty. It was the physical
symbol, in this world, of God’s presence with his people. It was the place of sacrifice
and mercy and protection.
The destruction of the Temple would mean the end of mercy and
safety, and the coming of judgment. It would mean the end of this world as we
know it, and the beginning of the kingdom
of God on earth. The
beginning of the kingdom
of God on this earth
would be a great, good thing; something to long for, something to hope for. But
the end of this world as we know it often looks very hard, and scary, and
So many of the changes in our life, and in our world,
are hard, and scary, and painful. There are plenty of good changes, but we
usually manage to take those for granted. We don’t spent nearly enough time
savoring those good changes and giving thanks for them. Human nature without
the grace of God wallows in worry, fear, blame, and anger. We may deny that we
love a good crisis but, in this world as we know it, crisis sells. Crisis sells
so many books that Christians buy and ministries they love.
The disciples wanted to be prepared for the crisis of
the end of this world as they knew it and they wanted to be ready for the
coming of the kingdom
of God. “Tell us, when
will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to be
fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4)
They wanted to be prepared. They wanted to know when
it would begin and when it would be over. So they asked Jesus for the signs.
They wanted to know how to know.
We can only understand what Jesus says about living
through the greatest crisis of all by taking him at his word when he says, “No
one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but
only the Father. Be on guard! Be
alert! You do not know then that time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33)
I know a minister who says that no one knows the day
or hour, but that doesn’t mean we can’t know the month and the year. That is simply
playing with the words of Jesus. It shows us how even Christians get impatient
with Jesus. Even those Christians that seem to hold the Bible up the highest
want to make it say things that it does not say.
Jesus said, “Watch”. It is as if Jesus said, “Wait”.
We are like children who don’t want to watch or wait. How can we ever hear
anything that Jesus wants to tell us if we will not listen to the simplest
things he says?
Most of the signs that Jesus gave us about the end of
the world as we know it are the very things that are happening in our world all
the time: wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues. It is not that
these are not important things. They deserve our care, our compassion, our
generosity, our attention. They tell us not to take this world lightly. They
tell us to remember how fragile and vulnerable this world is.
Even persecution happens all the time somewhere. The
people of Jesus always need the Holy Spirit to encourage them, and to give them
courage, and to give them the ability to speak and act to meet the trial: a
real trial in court, or to meet any kind of trial in which they might be
tested. Even we are surrounded by people who are watching, and listening, and
putting us on trial to see or hear whether we produce some honest evidence of
They may hate us if we give good evidence. They will
definitely hate us if we don’t. They will hate us with laughter and contempt.
This idea about persecution is a challenge, even to
us. There are many times when we think that other people are not being fair to
us. We may even think this has something to do with our faith. Jesus said, “All
people will hate you because of me.”
But how can we know that someone may hate us because
of Jesus? What if we haven’t really been talking and living like Jesus all
Maybe we have just been our comfortable, and sinful,
and shallow selves. Maybe we have been hated because we have been obnoxious,
and callous, and selfish, and short-tempered, and unjust; and not like Jesus at
all. Just because Jesus loves us and forgives us doesn’t mean other people are
obliged to do the same.
Jesus talked about “the abomination that causes
desolation standing where it does not belong.” It means the act of desecrating
the Temple. It
means something done to make a holy place to stop being the sign of the
presence, mercy, and protection of God.
Even that has happened more than once. Daniel wrote
about this desolation four centuries before Christ. He, himself, had seen it
done in his time, when the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and taken him and his family and
friends into exile. In the second century before Christ, a Greek king took Jerusalem and built an
altar to Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and sacrificed pigs on that altar.
Herod the Great, who rebuilt the Temple, in the way
that the disciples had so much admired, had put a large golden statue of the Roman
eagle over one of the gates in the Temple. This had caused riots and no one had
forgotten it. It was if Herod were telling them that the kingdom
of Rome was stronger than the kingdom of God.
Many of the people in the same generation that heard
Jesus lived to see the Romans destroy Jerusalem
and the Temple
in 70 AD. In the second century they rebuilt Jerusalem as a Roman city in which Jews were
not allowed to live, and they built a temple to the god Jupiter, the king of
the Roman gods, on the site of the Jewish temple. Later, the Muslims built a
mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Temple.
was a physical sign of the presence, the protection, and the mercy of God. It is
true that such signs can be destroyed. Americans have often thought that their
liberties were a sign of the presence, the protection and the mercy of God. We
have also thought that our freedom of religion was another such sign. It is
true that these signs can be destroyed.
There are many signs of God that make us secure.. A
community can be such a sign to us. A holy gathering, like a church, can be
such a sign. A marriage and a family can be such a sign. All of these can be
lost. It is true that such times of desolation can be dangerous and full of
fear, and hardship, and grief. What does it mean, when these signs are at risk?
What does it mean? But that is like asking, “What
will be the sign?” It is so typical of Jesus that he does not answer this question
the way his disciples want.
The first answer of Jesus is to say, “Watch out!”
There is a time when everything changes, and the world as we know it comes to
an end: except that it doesn’t; not yet. When we think the end has come, Jesus
says, “The end is still to come.” Life goes on, and here we are.
I think, toward the end, it will only seem as though
the world as we have known it no longer exists, when it has not really changed
at all. It has only shown its true colors.
The world will become more and more its true self;
and we will be confused by this. We never saw the world for what it always was.
Nations rise up against nations. Brothers betray brothers. It can happen.
Matthew adds some additional words of Jesus that say,
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”
(Matthew 24:12) When the world grows old love will grow cold. And yet this,
too, is the way the world is. When this happens we only see what the world is
really like when it is not the kingdom
The ancient people believed that the creation aged.
They believed that an old world would show the signs of aging. Earthquakes were
the signs of a tired planet. Lovelessness was the sign of a tired human race
that needed to be made new. But this aging happens because the kingdom of God, at some time in the past, went out
of this world.
Some very wise people have advised me against getting
old. “Don’t do it”, they say. And I hope I don’t get old. I don’t want to get
old without the kingdom
of God living in me.
I know a bit of what I am without God; without the
life of Jesus and his kingdom in me. What I would be like without Jesus
sometimes escapes and I see that identity clearly. It scares me and I it sends
me running back to Jesus.
Without Jesus I would be bitter, and angry, and
resentful. Without Jesus, I would be truly old. I would be a curmudgeon, which
means that I would finally harden into what I really am without him.
of God is forever young.
It keeps us free from the curse of the curmudgeons.
What G.K. Chesterton said about happiness also holds
true for what life is like when Jesus and his kingdom keep us young. This is
what he said. “Happiness is a state of the soul; a state in which our natures
are full of the wine of an ancient youth, in which banquets last for ever, and
roads lead everywhere, where all things are under the exuberant leadership of
faith, hope, and charity.” So I hope to become an ancient youth instead of a
But this world will become a monumental, planetary
curmudgeon. It will shake, and wheeze, and rant, and rave, and hit, and kick, and
We will have to watch out. When the world as we know
it changes, it will be hard to remember who God is in Jesus. It will be hard to
know how to live. It will be hard to even know ourselves.
It will be like learning to walk in the dark. The
times in which we are living seem to tell us to live without hope, or to live
for ourselves. That is darkness.
I knew a girl in college who had some birth defects.
She confided in me once that she was not supposed to be able to walk. When she
was born the doctors told her parents this sad news. Only she didn’t know any
better. She learned how to walk. She did it like any other baby. She got up,
and watched out, and went forward, and she kept on doing that.
My mom has had to do physical therapy a couple of
times, now, when she has gotten sick. She has had to learn to walk again: well,
sort of. She has known how to walk for a long time but, when the world as you
know it changes, you have to learn to walk by watching out. Where are you
putting your feet? How are you aligning your hips and your back? My mom hates
learning how to walk. She hates that physical therapy. She threatens not to do
it, but she has done it. And so she can walk.
We have to watch what we say and do. We have to watch
the thought we put into this. And then Jesus tells us to not be afraid. We
think we watch all the more when we are afraid, but fear makes us watch all the
When I was eight years old, I went to YMCA summer
camp, and my cabin went on a hike where we had to cross the Grand
Canyon using a stick as a bridge. Well, it was a deep-set creek
and we used a big fallen tree trunk.
I tried to cross by watching out, but I watched the
creek far below my feet, instead of watching my feet, and the trunk, and the
other bank, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get the nerve to do it. It was so
embarrassing. We have to watch out the right way if we want to learn how to
cross through the times when the world, as we know it, has changed. We need to
learn to cross the time of our lives by not being afraid.
Jesus also says we cross such times by not being
deceived. “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name
saying, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” (Mark 13:5-6) He is telling the
people who know him not to think that someone different can be him. This is
Then, I think that Jesus gives us a clue about faith
and how to not misplace our faith. The deceivers will go around saying “I am
he.” Jesus very seldom says this about himself. In the gospels, Jesus even
tells the people who received miracles from him not to tell others about it. He
was amazingly quiet about himself. (Mark 1:43-44; 3:11-12; 7:36; 8:26; 8:30)
Watching, waiting, and listening to the Holy Spirit and
letting him tell us what to say and do are quiet things. The deceivers will
compete with our crisis by making a lot of noise about themselves and what they
are doing. They may even try to entertain us.
There is a passage in Isaiah that seems to speak to
this. It even tells us about the danger of trying to escape from our fears
instead of watching our world without fear. “This is what the Sovereign Lord,
the Holy One of Israel says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in
quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have one of it. You said,
‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee! You said, ‘We will ride
off on swift horses.’ Therefore your pursuers will be swift! (Isaiah 30:15-16)
We avoid deception by quietly remembering the Jesus
who first came into our hearts. We avoid deception by quietly remembering Jesus
as he comes to us in prayer and in his word, the Bible.
Jesus says that we cross the place where the world as
we have known it has changed by means of faithfulness. We have assigned tasks
in the household of God. The household of God is where we worship, but it is
also wherever we live. It is our life with our families, and neighbors, and
We have allotted tasks. We are servants who care for
the children of the house; and we are all both servants and children. We feed
each other and keep each other clean. We take care of each other.
We cannot all stay up twenty four hours a day and
seven days a week, to keep watch, so we watch over each other. We keep each
others’ watch for Jesus. This is a blessing to be called to do this; to even be
allowed to do this.
Sometimes we have to keep watch out over our own
faithfulness so that we don’t take anything for granted. Do we hear a noise within
that we should not hear? Do we hear a silence in our heart that means trouble?
I was talking to someone about their prayer life and
this person was very honest and said that they really did a lot of talking to
themselves. So I asked if they talked to their better self or to their worse
self. This is part of keeping watch over our calling to be faithful. This is
how we keep on crossing to the kingdom
of God when the world as
we know it has changed.
Part of keeping watch and staying faithful comes from
watching Jesus in a different way. Jesus quotes some words from the prophet
Daniel in the seventh chapter of his book. The actual words in Daniel are
these: “I looked and there before me was one like a son of man coming with the
clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his
presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples,
nations and men of every language worshiped him.” (Daniel 7:13-14) This is
Jesus and, in Daniel’s vision, he is coming on the clouds to his Father, because he has defeated the final monster
that rules the world as we know it. It shows him coming into the presence of
his Father, the Ancient of Days.
This is what Jesus did after he died and rose from the dead. You can read about
this at the end of the Gospel of Luke.
So the funny thing about this picture Jesus gives us
of coming in the clouds will not be a really new thing, but something that will
have already happened before. Jesus is telling us to watch for his coming by
thinking about him as we already know him. We are looking forward to the Jesus
who is familiar to us.
We know the real victory of Jesus. It is the cross
where he died to take away the sin of the world, and our sin. And the victory
is the resurrection of Jesus to defeat not only sin but even death itself; and
our death and the death of those we know. Jesus has turned back the monsters
that have overrun the world since the human race was driven from Eden and this world began
to grow old.
The cross and the resurrection are Jesus’ faithful
watchfulness over us, the way we know. Because of him we do not have to be
afraid when we cross through a world of crisis. In Jesus, we carry the new
world of the kingdom with us even now.