Keep calm and trust Jesus
Ordinary 33 Year B 2012
Sermon preached by Rev Charles Royden
As he 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 rumours 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.
Three days ago the Israeli Defence Force released black and white aerial footage of an airstrike on a car carrying Mr Jaabari the commander of Hamas' military wing. It was in response to cross-border rocket launches from Gaza which Israel says has risen from 310 in 2009 to 1,200 in 2012. As soon as news broke there were immediate calls for revenge from Hamas' armed wing who said that the attack had ‘opened the gates of hell’. Israel says the airstrikes are the beginning of a broader operation - codenamed 'Pillar of Defence' - launched in response to days of heavy rocket fire from Gaza. In we see televised pictures of dead children and wounded civilians caught in the raids. This is the first war that I can remember where we can have immediate updates from each side through their official Twitter pages, through which the Israeli military said a ground invasion was possible. It is believed to be in preparation for such an event that Israel is calling up 75,000 reservists and there is the impending feeling that this conflict is not going to blow itself out quickly or without more innocent blood shed. If we can get the decision makers to climb down is it possible that peace can last given the determination that Iran should not further develop nuclear capacity.
The Middle East is back on the map as a location with huge potential to ignite catastrophic loss of life. It all sounds dreadful but it is against such a background that we hear the words of Jesus from our Gospel reading today 'When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed.'
So what are we to make of it? Let’s look at the passage from Mark
First of all let’s remember what has happened. Mark told us in Chapter 11 that Jesus has entered Jerusalem. He curses a fig tree which is barren and then he goes to the Temple and attacks the money changers and those who sell the animals for sacrifice. These are prophetic acts against the religious system, against the way in which faith was operated by the religious leaders. A system which was supposed to bear fruit was as barren as the fig tree without fruit. Jesus knows that the people who have decided to kill him are there and in control in Jerusalem and Mark reminds us that the Chief Priests and Scribes decide to strengthen their efforts to have him killed because he was popular with the people who liked his teaching.
Jesus is walking into certain arrest and death. You would have thought that in this context the disciples would have been supportive and critical of the temple and all of its activity. Instead we read this morning that they marvelled at the temple and its beauty. They are wandering around spellbound by the magnificence !
In one sense this is understandable. It was a wonder. The temple was built upon Mount Moriah. When it was built they never levelled the mountain top, instead they created a platform by raising huge walls. Josephus the Jewish historian tells us that some of the stones were 40 feet long, 12 feet high and 18 feet wide! Josephus also wrote that the temple was covered by plates of gold of great weight such that when the sun shone you couldn’t look at it because it was like looking at the sun itself.
But Jesus sees that in spite of the opulence and beauty the temple and the religious cult associated with it was utterly corrupt. Jesus is forthright in predicting its downfall.
"Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
Jesus says that when the first signs of the fall came everybody should flee away to the mountains (v15) . What actually happened was that when Rome cam to lay siege everybody crowded into the city for safety. Again Josephus tells us that 97,000 were taken captive and over a million starved or were put to the sword. A million died. A woman cooked her baby to eat.
So let’s go back to those words of Jesus and see them in this context. In the midst of such terrifying activity Jesus tells his disciples that they should not be alarmed by catastrophe because God is still in control.
I saw that this week Clive Dunn died, he was famous as Corporal Jones in dads army. His catchphrase was ‘don’t panic’ But of course the problem with him was that he always did exactly that.
Jesus is telling his followers that they should never panic. I thought that a better catchphrase could be one which is very popular at the moment and it sums up the teaching of Jesus this morning ‘Keep calm and trust Jesus.’
God is not taken by surprises by world events, so do not be discouraged if it appears that things are falling apart. Things which for the moment may look out of control are nevertheless within God's purpose and providence. The time of the end is in God's hand alone. The Gospel of Mark is a call to faithful discipleship even in the face of severe danger and persecution.
These words of Jesus are words of encouragement in a time of great distress and persecution for believers. Jesus tells them decisively ‘Do Not Be Alarmed.’ The message is one of hope, there is to be huge destruction but despite the temptation to believe God doesn’t care, God does and he is with people. Appearances are deceptive, God can be trusted and believers should be encouraged and inspired.
The message for us is that we too in the face of whatever apocalypse we encounter, must continue to persevere, working with God to live in the way which Jesus showed. The words of Jesus teach us that we must not worry about or try to determine the "day and the hour" of his return. We trust that Christ will come and whenever that is it is for God to decide. In the meantime we do not down tools, rather we work to be Christ’s living presence in the world.
Mark needed to convey to the church the fact that this was not unexpected, Jesus himself had warned that this would be the case, and so they should continue to trust. In our times we face our own trials and tests as we live out our Christian lives. We face all manner of real difficulties, we perhaps have to deal with the loss of someone close to us, ill health can strike us down, a marriage might break up or we might loose a job. When such terrible time afflict us, then we all find them hard to face. Yet in times of testing Jesus gives his instruction to us that we must live without panic, keep calm and trust Jesus
Christians are to remain strong and faithful during such times of duress and be assured that Jesus will be revealed as the real King and Lord of creation.
Christ is faithful and will sustain us in times that test our faith, we are never alone.