Confessing Christ: Fearlessly

The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 18 November 2018
A Sermon on Mark 13:1-8 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS

Mark 13:1-8 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 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. The Gospel of the Lord.

Confessing Christ: Fearlessly

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Everyone likes a winner. When our team wins, it is the most satisfying conclusion to months of competition. Rabid fans wear the gear – jerseys, hats, and jackets. The wildest fans have flags on their cars on game day and maybe fly a team flag or hang a team banner on the outside of their homes or apartments.

A couple of years ago we were driving I-20 outside Tuscaloosa AL on a Saturday afternoon. Bright red cars and trucks filled with people dressed in red passed us right and left with red pendants flying. We stopped for gas, and the first sight by the door was a life-sized cardboard Nick Saban next to an large, iced tray of beer cans. The message was clear: real Alabama fans will buy whatever Coach Saban is selling. It’s a religion. It’s a way of life. Just ask any Auburn fan what they think about that. Or, better yet, ask an LSU fan how betrayed they felt when Saban took the Crimson Tide job. Who would have thought that Bama fans could almost forget the late Coach Bear Bryant? Alabamans used to say: “Bear Bryant walks on water.” And, then he died.

So, if your team wins, fans buy more champion gear, talk about it for days, but then the season is over and gone. Daily life with all its challenges goes on for those whose god is football.

New cars are no longer new once you drive them off the lot. New houses, new clothes, new furniture, or new jewelry all lose their newness before you know it. Plan a vacation, save for it, and count the days, and then, before you know it, it’s gone. New love…oh, how sweet it is, but the newness wears off. The illusion fades. The real you and the real her or the real him never measures up to the fantasy you and the fantasy love that snagged you. I have often warned that if the significant other is acting badly when you are dating, run…run…run. You are seeing them at their best when you are dating! It’s downhill from there in terms of being on their best behavior.

You can visit the winter and summer Hapsburg palaces in Vienna and the cathedrals in old Vienna and old Budapest. They are impressive buildings, but now the Hapsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary has been gone for 100 years. All that’s left are the trappings of past power and glory. Visit ground zero in Manhattan or go to downtown Oklahoma City, there you will find parks built to remember those who died in terrorist attacks on buildings that fell. One hundred years ago, Lenin was the czar of the Soviet Union. His embalmed body is still sadly unburied.

Many of us look in the mirror and see the slow aging of the body. Once we were young. Once we thought anything was possible. Once the future teemed with triumphs yet to come. The gift of growing old is we can see ourselves in those who are drawn to the latest fads and the grandest illusions, and we smile sadly at such foolishness. Practicing Christians – those who keep the faith daily, worship weekly, and study God’s Word – don’t believe any politician, prognosticator, or popular preacher holds any promise worth procuring apart from Jesus Christ. If your hope is built on anything other than Jesus’ saving death and resurrection, you are lost. All else will crumble.

This is precisely the Word the Lord Jesus is telling His disciples in Mark 13. These hicks from the sticks, these Galilean boys are so overawed by the big buildings of Jerusalem and by the magnificence of the Temple and its cult. But the Lord warns that Jerusalem was destroyed before and will be again. And preachers will show up claiming to be Jesus, like Jesus, or even better than Jesus, and they will all die. And what will become of those who got drawn into the web of their deceit? C.S. Lewis depicts this powerfully in the seventh and last book of The Chronicles of Narnia. The dwarves have become so cynical about any king, they cannot hear or accept the true Messiah when he comes. They keep repeating: “The dwarves are for the dwarves.” We’re for us.

Dear ones, everyone has a story by which he or she lives. Everyone has a type of salvation story, a story about meaning and destiny. Those who consider themselves to be unbelievers or to have no religion will typically not use that language. Indeed, they may say they have no story. But, as Martin Luther said, everyone has a god, that to which his or her heart clings. For some it is football or some other sport. For some it is politics, which is all about having and wielding power. For some it is career, fame, and fortune. For some it is love or family or their own worldview. For some it is beauty, eternal youth, and the quest for pleasure. Everyone dies. Big buildings fall or are no longer occupied by those who built them. Empires always reach an end.

So, what about you? To whom or to what does your heart really cling? If you are fearful about your life or fearful about the future, that’s a clue that you are really clinging to the wrong god.

So, now ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen to me?” Deep down inside you know you are going to die and so will everyone you love. Then, what? Do you suppose that a generic afterlife based upon your own musings is worth betting on? A lot of people think God and religion or even the afterlife is like a cafeteria of ideas. You get to pick your own eternity. Really? How narcissistic is that? And based on what? Feelings? Fantasies? There is only one certainty for people like that. They will be dead and have no control over what happens to them.

The Christian story is not based on fantasy. The Christian story takes place within a history that has a clear beginning, a clear assessment of humans as sinful and mortal as a result thereof, a clear assessment of what God does in human history about sin, death, and evil, and a clear ending in which those who have been baptized into the saving death and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus will likewise rise bodily from the grave and will live eternally in God’s light and love.

For those who have put their trust on some other story and pinned their hopes there, the biblical story is quite clear. To choose another story, to choose another god in whom there is no help, is to choose wrongly. That is why the marriage analogy of God and His Bride is common to both the Old and New Testaments. God is not polygamous nor does He wink at those who chase after other gods. Those whose love is elsewhere will discover they have trusted foolishly.

So, then, if you are not baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection, you have the promise that He has borne your sins and carried your sorrows on His lonely cross. He wants you to be His forever. He is seeking you like a Bridegroom seeking His Bride. He is reaching out to you like a Lifeguard rescuing a drowning person. He is calling to you like a Warrior coming to someone surrounded by enemies and facing imminent death. He is on His way to you as the Bread of Life for which you have been hungering and the Water of Life for which you thirst. There is no other Savior, no other Lord, and no other God. Ask today to be baptized. Let Jesus enfold you in His strong arms and give you freely the eternal life and love of the one true God.

Christ’s perfect love casts out fear. He speaks peace to the anxiety that envelopes this dying world like poisonous gas. No one has to be lost. No one is beyond God’s mercy in Christ. Do not be afraid that the story is too good to be true. Do not be fooled by cynical dwarfish rationalism.

The Lord Jesus says that when terrible things happen, even when false gods betray us and safe little worlds break apart, this is just the beginning of the birth pains. Paul says the same thing in Romans 8 when he writes that the whole creation is groaning with labor pains. The end as we know it is the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth. There could hardly be a more poignant example than the Lutheran church in Paradise, California, burning to the ground along with the homes, businesses, and, sadly, so many inhabitants. The old passes away first. Always.

Hear again what the Hebrews writer says to us today: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:23-25).

When you know that God has claimed you in Holy Baptism, you know that you already have a share in the eternal life and love of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Love is not a feeling. Love is not a fantasy. Love is giving ourselves away with Jesus in humble service to our heavenly Father and our neighbors. Love is forgetting our selfishness in order to serve.

We are all at different places along the road to the new heaven and the new earth. Some of us have lots of energy, time, and talent to share. Others have lots of money to share. Others have lots of time to pray and to encourage those who can roof a house or teach a class or play an instrument or plan and lead or sew a quilt or serve in one of the many Christkindlmarkt tasks! So, then, serve joyfully, dear ones, as you are able. Stir each other up to love and good works and do not neglect to gather weekly for the Word and the Sacraments, for Jesus is truly present here! You already know how the story turns out. There will be a happy ending for you. So, confess Christ fearlessly. Always!

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©The Rev. Dr. Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
szumwalt@bellsouth.net
www.societyholytrinity.org
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Confessing Christ: Fearlessly

Praying

O God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by your Holy Spirit, that being ever mindful of the end of all things and the day of your just judgment, we may be stirred up to holiness of living here, and dwell with you forever hereafter; through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 624).

Listening

Mark 13:1 “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”

Origen of Alexandria [late 2nd – early 3rd century African Bible scholar and theologian]: “The temple was not overthrown all at once, but gradually as time went by. Similarly, everyone who welcomes the Word of God into himself is something like a temple. If, after committing sin he does not completely fall away from the Word of God, but still partially preserves in himself traces of faith and accountability to God’s commands, he is a temple partly destroyed, partly standing. But he who after sinning has no care for himself but is always prone to depart from faith and from life according to the gospel, till he completely departs from the living God, he is a temple in which no stone of doctrine is left upon any stone and not thrown down” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, 181).

Mark 13:2 “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

St. Cyril of Jerusalem [4th century Patriarch of Jerusalem]: “Antichrist will come at such a time as there shall not be left of the temple of the Jews… For it is not until all the stones are overthrown, whether by the decay of age, or through being pulled down for building material or in consequence of this or that other happening, and I do not mean merely the stones of the outer walls, but the floor of the inner temple where the cherubim were, that Antichrist will come…” (181).

Mark 13:6 “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”

Origen of Alexandria: “Christ is truth. Antichrist falsifies truth. Christ is wisdom. Antichrist deftly simulates wisdom. All genuine excellences have a correspondence with Christ. All pretended virtues correspond with Antichrist. For each variety of good which Christ embodies in himself to build up the faithful, the demonic will find a way of mimicking in appearance to deceive the faithful” (181).

Mark 13:8 “There will be earthquakes in various places;”

Origen of Alexandria: “Just as bodies become sick before their death if they do not suffer violence from without, and in all cases the way of separation of soul from body comes through weakness, so it happens with the whole course of the world creation. When the creation begins to decay, having as it has both beginning and end, it must grow weak before its dissolution. At this point, the earth may be frequently shaken with earthquakes. The air having received some diseased contagion may become overrun with pestilence. Moreover, the vital energies of the earth itself may suddenly fail and strangle its fruits” (182).

Reflecting

Do I hold onto people and things as if they are not fragile and cannot ever be God for me?

Learning

The Ten Commandments (from Luther’s Small Catechism)

As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.

The Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife (or husband), or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife (or husband), workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

Doing

1. Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how the 10th commandment challenges Christians to serve joyfully our neighbor by helping to protect his or her marriage and way of life.

4. Join with our new Mission Team to serve neighbors whose property has been damaged by Hurricane Florence. Sign up in the Commons to provide a meal for an incoming mission team from another congregation or to join in recovery efforts.

5. If you have coveted what belongs to your neighbor, consider how this coveting has made the object of your coveting into an idol that cannot save or deliver you.

6. Practice the freedom of being God’s child in Christ this week, with the Holy Spirit’s help, by encouraging your neighbor to be a better steward of the neighbor’s relationships and possessions.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”