Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming this morning.
Easter is coming up very quickly! We’ve got today, then the next week is Palm Sunday, and the week after that is Easter.
There’s a lot of things about to happen – people are working on the Easter breakfast, the Flowering Cross, the Easter egg hunt, special music, family meals, and lots of other things.
I hope that you will all do your best to reach out and invite everyone to come and be here for Easter.
We had a long fight to survive COVID. We tried to keep everyone safe, and keep the church alive. We did incredibly well! But now we need to do an equally hard fight, to bring people back, and re-build the things we really want to see happen here again.
And you all can contribute to this effort. In fact, what you do is the greatest contribution of all.
People come because they feel joy. They feel the joy in the singing. They feel the joy in friendship. We need to sing that, and share that. And people especially come, because someone they knew invited them. That’s the reason that 90% of people come to worship. Someone they knew asked them.
So, your homework for this week, is for you to get on the phone, or better yet, go and see everyone in your family and your friends, and ask them to come here to worship again.
You can say, “I’m going to be here. I hope you’ll be here, too!” It’s that simple. “I’m going to be at Springfield for Easter Sunday. I really want you to come here and share it with me!”
If you all do that, this place will be filled. If you don’t do that, we’ll keep on struggling.
Now, Easter is just two weeks away, and we still have a lot of story to cover. We’ve been reading through the gospel of Mark this winter and spring, and we’re moving steadily towards Easter. That’s the way the gospel works. All four gospels choose a beginning point. They present Jesus’ teachings, and healings, and public ministry.
They reveal who Jesus was, where he came from, and why he came. And they all lead up to the Easter story.
Today we’ve got a really interesting reading from Mark chapter 13, where Jesus talks about how people will know when he’s coming back again – and also about how easy it is for people to get hung up and panicky and to misinterpret the signs of the times.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 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. These are the beginning of birth pains.
“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”Mark 13:1-13
Let me ask you a question. Do you all know what the earliest Christian prayer is? What was the first prayer in the early Christian church?
You probably think it’s the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father. That’s the prayer Jesus himself taught us.
Another prayer from those early days was simply, “Lord, have mercy!” That is actually one of the oldest prayers we have. And it wasn’t just a common expression, the way you hear people use it today. It’s a prayer. People said it a lot!
“Lord, have mercy on us! Lord, hear our prayer!” We can get overwhelmed at times, and not know what to say. But we can always pray for God to have mercy, to bring light and life and forgiveness and mercy to any situation.
Another prayer from the early church is one we don’t say so much, and maybe we should. It’s another prayer Jesus taught in one of his stories. It goes, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. . .”
Jesus used to say that if we focus on other people’s sins, or on things they did wrong to us, that’s not going to help us much. But if we focus on our own shortcomings, if we ask God to help us to do better, that’s where we’ll make spiritual progress.
But there’s one more prayer from the early church, which people used to say all the time. It’s actually the last prayer, on the last line of the entire Bible. Do you know what it is?
“Come, Lord Jesus!”
It was part of the faith that kept them all going, during terrible times of persecution. It was the hope people had, that things would get better – that Jesus was coming back again, just the way he promised.
“Come, Lord Jesus!” It’s in the last line of the book of Revelation.
Didn’t Jesus use to say, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God – believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are all kinds of rooms. . .I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also. I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. . .” (John 14:1-3)
People believed that Jesus was coming again, and they believed it would happen soon. They wouldn’t have long to wait.
I had a teacher once, who told us that in the early Christian church, when people went on a journey, if they came to a hill, they’d leave the road, and climb up the hill, and look around from the hilltop, to see if Jesus had come back yet.
I don’t know how often that happened, but it shows the kind of hope people had, the expectation that the Lord would soon return.
So today, in our gospel reading, we’ve got a kind of an echo of that expectation. Jesus and his friends were all at the Temple, and they were admiring how incredible and beautiful it all was.
People back then came from all over the world to see the Temple. Even today, you can see where they’ve excavated part of it, and the foundation stones were absolutely colossal – 30 and 40 feet long, 10 feet thick, still in place today, all moved by hand.
The Temple was built of white marble, and the top was covered with polished gold, so that when the sun shone on it, it blinded you. It was one of the wonders of the world.
And Jesus said, “You think this is great? Not one stone will be left standing. It’ll all come down.”
And Jesus was right. Just a few years later, the Jewish people tried to throw off the Roman invaders. The Romans besieged Jerusalem, and destroyed it. They sacrificed a pig on God’s altar, and put up a pagan statue in the holy place. Then they burned the whole city. It was never the same again.
But all that was years in the future. Jesus’ closest friends, Peter, James, John and Andrew, took Jesus aside and asked him, “When’s this going to happen? How are we going to know?”
This has been a huge preoccupation for so many Christians. “When is Jesus coming back? How will we know the time?”
People have spent incredible amounts of time and effort, trying to predict the time, and nail down the date. Whenever there a war, or an epidemic, or an unusual event, an eclipse or something like that, people get scared.
People look for signs in the sky, or signs in the daily news. And somebody always says, “It’s the end of the world! It’s the end times! I know it!”
Jesus himself said, “Don’t let anyone lead you astray. People will come in my name, and pretend to be me. There will be wars and rumors of war. Nation will rise against nation. Kingdom will fight against kingdom. There will be earthquakes, and famines. If anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here’s the Messiah!’,” Jesus said, “don’t believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and do all kinds of things to lead people astray. When you see all these things happen, know that the day is very near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. So beware and keep alert; for you don’t know when the time will come. . .“
These words, or some version of them, show up in all four gospels. This was a really important idea in those early days.
Yes, Jesus was coming back. We’re not alone, Jesus would never abandon us. We have faith in Easter. We have faith in the Resurrection. Jesus is alive, and that means that death isn’t the last word. We don’t need to be afraid!
But no, we don’t know when it’s going to happen. Nobody can say – not even Jesus himself could say. The day and the hour are hidden, even though we all know he’ll return when it’s time.
That was what people said. And in those early days, people expected Jesus was coming back soon.
Time went on, and it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen – at least, it hadn’t happened yet. The return of Jesus slowly got de-emphasized.
A lot of people today don’t think about the return of Jesus at all. “Didn’t happen then, hasn’t happened since, ain’t going to happen at all. Forget about it, and just do what you want.” That’s their attitude.
But we live with a deeper faith. We believe in Easter. We live as though he might come back this week.
Jesus gave us plenty of things to do in the mean time.
- Feed the hungry.
- Clothe the naked.
- Visit the sick.
- Pray with the lonely.
- Never give up.
- Always be ready to tell people what God has done for you.
- Welcome the stranger. Especially, welcome the children.
- Break bread together with glad and generous hearts.
- Forgive each other.
- Bear one another’s burdens.
- Let you light shine. Be the salt of the earth.
- Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
- Go the extra mile.
- Don’t put on a show. Pray secretly, and God will hear you.
- Don’t worry about your life – your life is more than food, and your body is more than clothing.
- Don’t judge one another.
- Always tell the truth.
- Ask, and it will be given; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will open.
We all have plenty do, while we’re waiting for Jesus to come again.