Mark 13:1-81 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 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.
The Message of Judgement – v1-2
The things that we have come to put our trust in. The Temple, The Historic Church of Christendom. Our wealth. Our civilization. Our technology. Our military might. These Jesus teaches, are fragile despite appearances. But who can hear this message?
Story 1: Canon Clitheroe – vicar of Holy Trinity Coventry in the lead up to WW2 had a conviction that the Gas Warfare which was so feared by the authorities that they spent a fortune issuing masks to every man women child and baby, would not happen. Those who knew that there were vast stores of Gas ready to pour down were sure because we had them. Canon Clitheroe campaigned locally and nationally. He wrote to the papers. Her wrote the government. He predicted that the need was to defend against incendiary attack – fire. He wanted fire watches to be set up on every building. He wanted water tanks and pumps installed everywhere. He was a nutter. Right up until the Blitz started. No one wanted to hear his message of destruction.
Still today “The End is Nigh” is the stuff of lampoon and comedy. What does the church do with a message that no one wants to hear?
The Desire for Knowledge – v3-4
“When?” ask the disciples. They want to know. Knowledge is power. Such knowledge can identify you as one of the in-crowd. “We know something you don't know!”, Then, even if your warnings are rejected, you can feel vindicated. “Don't say I didn't warn you!” Some churches major on “the end times” for this reason. Premillennialist, postmillennialist, amillennialist sects filled with zeal still strive. Whoosh – straight over everyone's heads.
Story 2: In Bletchly Park a dedicated and incredibly able team of mathematicians had managed to decode the enemy's supposedly unbreakable transmission codes. They knew their plans. They knew about the Coventry Blitz of 14 Nov by 14 Oct. But they couldn't intervene. They couldn't let the enemy know that the code had been broken. Coventry was unprepared. That was the price. The warning message could not be shared. Those people had to live with the pain and guilt. That was the price too.
The only truth to hold onto is that Jesus says that no one knows – not even Him. So you don't need to know. Its better that you don't. Death is not the stuff of mission – life is.
The Birth Pangs - v5-8
Jesus offer the disciples the picture of those huge, beautiful stones that speak of the permanence and the power of their religion being destroyed, pulled down to lie scattered on the earth. And its not scaremongering. The message is – its no big deal. There will be a breakdown of the national and political system. There will be natural disasters. Everything that people put their trust in will fail them. But its not the end. Its not a threat. When a mother to be prepares for birth, when she labour pains start, of course they are all consuming. But above all the focus is on – the baby! Is the baby OK? How near is the Baby? What on earth am I going to do with a Baby! So Jesus calls these upheavals “birth pains”. The question we are pointed to is “What is coming to life here?”
Picture 3: On the morning of 15th November, not 50 years later, not 5 years later, not 5 days later, but there standing among the shock and stench of the shattered city. With those beautiful big stones of the Cathedral still smouldering around his feet. With Canon Clitheroe looking down from the roof of Holy Trinity where his fire guards and his water tank had succeeded in preserving his church. As the Bishop of Coventry in his cellar shelter was beginning to think that retaliation in kind might be justified, As the message of support from the representatives of the suffering city of London “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was being sent. One man, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was able to see what might be being born. From the smouldering ruins he wrote the words “Father Forgive”. And Coventry's ministry of reconciliation – small, squashed, helpless and feebly crying out; was born.
The church's place is to be in the wreckage. This is where the new age breaks through. This is where new life can come. This is where the kingdom of Heaven can be born now.
God forgive us when there are wars and rumours of wars, and we debate endlessly whether women can be Bishops. God forgive us when there are earthquakes and we tear ourselves apart over whether people with a different sexual orientation can be real Christians. God forgive us when we are so preoccupied with the birth pangs that we fail to see and to nurture the baby, that new life, which is being born.