The story is told of two parishes in a small village in England. On one side of the street was an Anglican church and on the other was the Roman Catholic. One morning motorists observed both priests standing by the road holding up signs. One read, “The End is Near!” and the other sign read, “Turn yourself around now before it’s too late!” the cars slowed down as they read the signs and sped up as soon as they finished reading.
One driver slowed down, rolled down his window, and shouted at them, “Leave us alone you religious nutters!” he yelled and then he stepped on the gas and sped around the corner. Seconds later the priests heard the inevitable screeching of tires and then the big splash. They looked at each other; looked at their signs, and then one said, “Well, that’s number 10 now. Maybe we should just hold up signs that just say ‘Bridge is Out’ instead?”
Do you believe the end is near? Jesus looked around at the Temple and predicted, “That not one stone will be left on another.” This prophecy came true by the way in less than 40 years. This statement was very shocking to the disciples. When Peter, James, John, and Andrew heard Jesus say that the great temple in Jerusalem was going to be destroyed so that not even one stone would remain upon the other they assumed that it would be the end of the world. They thought this for good reason. Did you know that the smallest stones in the temple structure weighed 2 to 3 tons? Many of them weighed more than 50 tons. The largest existing stone, part of the Wailing Wall, is about 40 feet by 9 feet, and weighs hundreds of tons! These stones were so massive that mortar wasn’t used; it wasn’t needed. The great weight of the stones kept the structures stable. The walls surrounding the temple towered over Jerusalem, over 400 feet high in one area. Inside the four walls was 45 acres of mountain bedrock that had been shaved flat and in the days of Jesus over 250,000 people could fit comfortably within this structure. Our largest sports arenas in America today can barely fit 100,000. It is no wonder the disciples thought the destruction of the temple would signal the end of the world.
The disciples wanted more information about the future. Everybody does. What is going to happen? When will what is going to happen, happen? Jesus as a prophet knew the future. He knew what was going to happen and he tells us, sort of.
Jesus starts off warning that there will be false Messiahs that show up. Then there will be wars in increasing number like a woman going into childbirth as the world gets closer to its end. Did you know that in the past 3,400 years of recorded history, there were only about 250 years of no recorded war going on, in other words, just 8 percent of recorded history.
Jesus said, “Nations will fight other nations. Kingdoms will fight other kingdoms. There will be earthquakes, and there will famines. These events are but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
What Jesus is telling his closest disciples is that there is a new world in the process of being born. This new world began its conception with the arrival of Jesus. This new world is in development, growing and maturing just as a baby in the womb matures and develops. In Romans chapter eight we are told that the whole creation itself is groaning in the pains of childbirth. It takes a human about 9 months to go from conception to birth. How long will it take for whatever Jesus is talking about to be born? That is what the disciples want to know, when will it happen? They think they know what is being born. They are expecting David’s kingdom to be reborn. They are anticipating the days when the Romans will be gone and Israel will be restored to the splendor it had under King Solomon. But the disciples are wrong. The kingdom under David and then Solomon was only a shadow of what was to come. The new world that Jesus is talking about encompasses the entire earth, the entire creation. The new world is not simply a better government, a government with Jesus as king and justice and equity and prosperity for everyone. The new world is not simply a better world with the lion lying down with the lamb, no more weeds in our gardens, no more harmful and annoying insects, and no more pollution. The real point of the new world, the real point of the new creation is to have better people; it is about new people. These new people are the children of God and will live with each other and before God without any sin! We are to be this new people!
We all want to live in a better world, a world with no sickness, no war, no poverty, no pollution, or other problems. But as we look through the teachings of Jesus, it seems that God is not as interested in these problems which are outside of us as much as He is as concerned about the problems within us. Jesus once told the Pharisees that they were concerned about looking good on the outside, but on inside they were full of greed and wickedness. We tend to think like they did. We try to look good on the outside, but we often ignore what is on the inside. God wants how we think and how we feel changed because it is what is on the inside that forms outward behavior. We are part of that birthing process taking place in creation. We are being formed just like a baby in the womb. But the primary difference in our spiritual birthing process and that of a natural birth is that we are consciously working at it. Christian formation is not something that happens by chance. We heard in our Hebrew’s reading today we are to provoke, or encourage each other to love and good deeds. We are to keep on meeting together; that is, we are to keep on coming to church. Paul wrote in his letters that he had to work at becoming more like Jesus in his attitude and behavior. He did not stop working at becoming a better person simply because he knew he was forgiven. We, like Paul, need to work as well. And how do we do it? Just like a basketball player has to keep practicing shooting baskets and dribbling, just like a musician has to keep practicing and playing her or his instrument, so we need to hone our skills to become better Christians. We hone our Christian skills by making time in our day for prayers; by making time in our day for reading the Bible. We make time to consider how much God loves us and then we work at mirroring God’s love for us to others. We make times for serving God using the gifts he has given us. Slowly through practice and God’s help, we become the people God wants us to become.
This month is our stewardship month. Part of becoming new people is being able to give back to God. It is being able to give back some of our money. It is during this month we expect our members and ask our regular attenders to fill out a pledge card so that we will be able to set up a budget for this coming year. We ask you to give 10 percent back to God of what God gives you to live on.
There is an amazing new world that is in the process of being born. As the two priests said on their signs, “The end IS near, and we do need to turn ourselves around.” God is creating a new world; this old world is coming to an end. As Christians we believe and affirm this. But as Scripture tells us the main point of this new world will be its new people, us! Let us continue to work at becoming God’s new people, his children. Amen