This was the message that I presented for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost (B), 16 November 1997, at Pleasant Grove UMC, Brighton, TN. The Scriptures for this Sunday were 1 Samuel 1: 4 – 20, Hebrews 10: 11 – 14, and Mark 13: 1 – 8.
This has been week with rumors of war and the possibility of war. For some, the prospects of a war in the Middle East are the precursor to the End Time. But, as Jesus told his disciples in the Gospel reading for today
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.
Now, I see the visions of Revelation as a warning of what can happen if we are not careful, if we are not aware. Throughout this particular passage in Mark, Jesus was constantly reminding his disciples, and that includes us, to be alert to the possibility of deception
“You must be on your guard” (v. 9),
“So be on your guard” (v. 23),
“Be on guard! Be alert!” (v.33),
“Therefore keep watch” (v. 35) and “Watch! (v. 37)
There will come an end time but it will not be through wars or famine or other destruction but when we allow ourselves to be deceived, to be distracted by society, when we lose the vision of Jesus’ sacrifice in our hearts. The writer of Hebrews spoke of this very point when he spoke of the priests and their daily sacrifices.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
The problem for the Israelites was these daily sacrifices had become routine, something expected by society but not done from the heart. As a result, they had no meaning. When your spiritual activities are done in this manner, they, too, lose their meaning.
It is times like these when the outside pressures start pushing on us that we might easily forget where the center of our activities lies. But it is also the one time in our lives when we need to realize that Jesus went to the cross for each of us. When the pressures of the world seek to drive us away from God, that is when we, more than ever, need to “draw nearer to God.”
The writer of Hebrews established five conditions for drawing “near to God”. First, we must have “a sincere heart.” This means our undivided allegiance in the inner being. As St. Teresa of Avila wrote
Likewise, I have already said that we cannot speak with God and the world at the same time. And that is what one does who say her prayers and, at the same time, listens to conversation going on around her or thinks of whatever comes into her mind without checking the thoughts. Sometimes, however, no matter how much a person tries she cannot control these distractions, either because of some indisposition, particularly if she is inclined to be melancholy, or a weakness of mind. Sometimes, too, God allows his servants to have stormy days for their greater good and, although they are distressed are seek to calm themselves, they are unable to do so. No matter what they do, they cannot pay attention to the words they are saying. Their minds cannot concentrate on anything, but wander so haphazardly as to seem a prey to frenzy. From the pain this causes them, they will know that the fault is not theirs. Let them not be distressed, for that makes matters worse; and let hem not tire themselves seeking to infuse sense into an understanding which is, at the moment, incapable of it. But let them pray as well as they can and even not pray at all, but consider the soul to be sick and give it some rest, busying themselves in some other act of virtue. (From “Way of Perfection” by St. Teresa of Avila)
Each day we should spend a few moments in prayer but this time should only be for prayer and we should not allow there to be any distractions.
Second, we must continue to hold the “full assurance of faith.” Faith that knows no hesitation in trusting in and following Christ. We must have no doubt about trusting Christ. I am reminded of what Wesley said when he came to Christ at Aldersgate.
Here was Wesley, having been a minister for a number of years but having a sense of failure for the work that he had done, stating that in his heart he knew that Christ had died for him, to save him from his sins. This is the assurance that we must understand and hold to.
The third point is hold unswervingly to the path of Christ. Hannah was tormented by Penninah yet she did leave God behind.
Fourth, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on.” Through our prayers as a congregation, we continue to let people know that they are thought of and even when things are tough, there is someone/somewhere to turn to.
“Let us not give up meeting together.” The Greek word translated “give up” speaks of desertion and abandonment (see Matthew 27: 46; 2 Corinthians 4: 9; 2 Timothy 4: 10, 16). Throughout the early days, Paul was constantly encouraging the new churches to continue, even when the struggle seemed hopeless. Even today, our presence here today shows that we can continue.
The conclusion to all of this is simple. The end time will come when we allow the outside world to take over our lives. But it will not happen as long as the center of our live is Christ.
Only by denying the world can you live in it, that only by surrounding yourself by an artificial, self-induced quietude can you live in a spiritual life. A real spiritual life does exactly the opposite; it makes us so alert and aware of the world around us, that all that is and happens becomes part of contemplation and meditation and invites us to a free and fearless response. (“Reaching Out” by Henri J. M. Nouwen)
What do the scriptures tell us? First, do we spend time in prayer and meditation with God? Is time such that there are no distractions and interruptions?
When Hannah went to the temple to ask God for a child, her concentration was so strong that she was not conscious of what she was doing. That is why Eli thought she was drunk. But through her devotion, through her faith, her prayer was answered.
The early church felt discouraged at time, we all feel that way. Now, I entitled this sermon “What Time Is It?” because, for some, it is the End time. But as we close today, I ask you to consider your relationship with Christ, to ensure that no matter what else might happen, that your relationship is strong and healthy.