25th Sunday after Pentecost
November 15, 2015
“Everywhere The Signs!”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, our great Triune God. The basis for the sermon is our Gospel lesson from Mark 13.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
I slumped down into my office chair after a very busy morning. It was the fallof 2001 and I was a vicar serving in Iowa. I had the radio going to try and catch up on the local and nation news, and that’s when the intercom went off: “Vicar Anderson, it’s Doug Laska* (*name changed) on the phone.” Not surprised; he called me all the time, and given the day’s events I knew he would be calling anyway. “Hello Doug,” I said cheerfully. “Vicar,” Doug said, “I’ve been watching TV and I gotta ask you…is this the end of the world?” Doug Laska called me on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Doug had been watching some TV evangelist who screeched that the events in America that day were a sign that the world was about to end. Well, this past September was the 14-year anniversary of the attacks of September 11th and to the best of my knowledge the end of the world is still not here.
September 11, 2001 was not the first time or the last time that people have wondered aloud, “is this the end of the world?” Since 9/11 our world has seen constant problems: droughts, hurricanes, flooding, tsunamis, warfare, violence, and bloodshed. And after each such occurrence, the question is always repeated: “is this the beginning of the end of the world?” And sometimes you may feel that way from the “disasters” you bring upon yourself: trouble at work or school or in your relationships. People are always wondering…“is this the beginning of the end?”
Today we consider these signs in light of our Gospel Lesson. In Mark 13 the Disciples and Jesus have just left the Temple. This was no simple building. Church historian Josephus reports that some of the temple’s stones were 37 feet long, 12 feet high and 18 feet wide. To help you visualize, it would be a single stone big enough to completely cover all of the pews here on the pulpit side and tall enough to reach higher than the tops of our sanctuary lamps. That’s a big stone! Yet despite the grandeur and sheer mass of these stones, Jesus told the Disciples that even these great stones wouldn’t last. He was right. In 70 AD Roman soldiers attacked Jerusalem to end a Jewish rebellion and the temple stones that made for such an impressive sight were literally torn apart and ripped down.
What people want to always focus on from the first half of Mark 13 are verses 7 and 8: “And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.” As Good Lutherans, we ask, “what does this mean?” Jesus was probably addressing the end of the Temple itself, but also stretching that forward as marks or indications of the end of times; a forth-telling of both the end of the temple and the Last Day. The Jews of Jesus’ day would have certainly associated the destruction of the Temple as a sign of the end of the world. That Temple is long gone, yet people want to know – “are these the signs of the last days or not? What does the future hold or will there even be a future?”
People by and large, including Christians, don’t like to prepare for an unknown future. And so we live based on an assumption. We live as if there will always be a tomorrow, so there’s no point in reconciling with that family member, because I can always say “I’m sorry” to them tomorrow. There’s no point in telling that neighbor or co-worker or friend about Jesus and inviting them to church because I can always do it tomorrow. There’s no reason to volunteer for that church board or for that position or support that ministry because I can always do it tomorrow. I can always quit that sinful habit tomorrow. I can always apologize tomorrow. I can always change that behavior or quit my addiction tomorrow. I can always say I love you tomorrow. I can ask for Jesus’ forgiveness tomorrow. And what if tomorrow never comes?
Mark 13, often called the “apocalyptic discourse,” does have an important message for us and all Christians. In verses 5, 9, 23, 33, 35, and 37 Jesus gives the same emphatic commands: Watch! Be on guard! Stay awake! (Greek imperatives). And as far as watching for the signs, there is only one sign that we need to keep our eyes on, and that is the cross. The cross is the sign that even when the end comes, we will be found ready. Newspaper headlines come and go. World events and leaders change like palm leaves blowing in the wind. You will experience anxiety and strife in your pocketbooks, bedrooms, and classrooms. But the constant sign that engages us in this life is the cross of Christ. On the cross Jesus Christ shed His blood and gave His body to redeem His people. Without the sign of the cross, when the end comes there would be a different sign for us to see: “One Way.” That one way sign would point us straight towards hell and damnation because we have sinned against God during our earthly lives.
However, Christ by His death and resurrection forever yanked that sign from its post and flung it as far away from us as possible. The cross is a sign of our restored relationship with God because of Jesus’ loving and selfless sacrifice that gives to us the forgiveness of our sins by faith in Him and His Word.
The sign of our salvation – the cross of Christ – changes us and our behavior. It reminds us that in the meantime we don’t just sit around looking at the skies. We are to proclaim the Gospel message to all the nations (v. 10) and that there will be some persecution and opposition. So be it.
Knowing that Jesus will return at any given point impacts how we deal with others. How long are we willing to put off forgiving someone or proclaiming the Gospel to someone or telling someone the truth or reaching out to that someone in need? What can you afford to put off until tomorrow if there is no tomorrow?
In 1970s the Five Man Electrical Band had a hit song called “Signs.” Some of the lyrics went like this: “And the sign says ‘Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight’ So I jumped the fence and I yelled at the house Hey! What gives you the right! To put up a fence and keep me out, or to keep Mother Nature in. If God was here, he’d tell it to your face, man, you’re some kind of sinner. Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs.” Oddly enough, the Five Man Electrical Band had it right! There are “signs” everywhere; we live in the Age of the Church, that is, the end days are already upon us. And God would be right in telling us to our faces that we are sinners. But He doesn’t. He doesn’t because of Jesus and the sign of the cross.
Despite violence in the Middle East or hurricanes or the constant decline of morality or strife in your home or work, God is still in control! The only sign that need engage you in EVERY situation hangs in full view in the front of this church, and that is the cross of Jesus Christ – a very good sign today which that makes the Last Day for you and I a very good thing indeed.