Who is in the driving seat?


Mark 13:1-8
2nd Sunday before Advent

I don’t know what sort of a week you’ve had but mine has been full of meetings. Even worse most have centred on matters of finance. Groan, yawn!

The Diocese has produced a Finance Paper that is now being discussed by the Deanery and we have to decide how to implement it. In short it is crunch-time as the Deanery Treasurers meet next Thursday evening to allocate the Parish Share. (Please pray for that meeting). Parish share is the money we have to pay to the diocese and helps to run not just us but the Church of England in general. If we don’t collect in approx £600 per week we’re sunk basically. This explains why most clergy appointed recently, including me are only paid half a stipend (living).

At one of the meeting, Clergy Chapter, we spoke about how much our old and historical church buildings cost and what a drain on finance they are. The church cannot afford clergy when our building cost so much to maintain. On top of this here, within the parish, Phil King keeps reminding me about the impending financial doom about to descend on us in Willingham. This is the result of our being forced to pay out so much to preserve and maintain this historic building that is revered by so many.

The disciples in this morning’s reading were revering the magnificent building that they worshipped in. I would imagine that anything any of us has ever seen would pale into insignificance at the side of the temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. With its beauty and massive stones it looked magnificent and very permanent. It covered an area of 35 acres.

The Jews loved their Temple. After the first Temple was destroyed, a second was built, and everything that love and devotion could get was lavished on it. It was only there, so big, so beautiful, because it was built out of love, and against all the odds. Built of white marble, covered with heavy plates of gold in front and rising in a succession of terraces high above its marble-cloistered courts, it was compared to a snow-covered mountain - a conspicuous and dazzling object from every side. "Whatever was not overlaid with gold was purest white” It cast its glorious shadow over the whole nation of Israel - the outward face of the Temple … was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendour.'

Jesus says ‘it will pass’. The sheer size of the Jerusalem temple created the illusion of permanence. Josephus says that some of the stones used to build the temple were sixty feet long. Archaeologists have discovered one temple stone in Jerusalem that’s forty-two feet long, eleven feet tall, fourteen feet deep, and over a million pounds. The temple looked as secure as the rock of Gibraltar, as firmly fixed as the earth itself.

That’s why people were so tempted to trust in the temple, to put their security in it. Yet what looked secure was going to collapse within 40 years and be torn apart stone by stone by the Romans.

At CYFA (youth group) we are looking at ‘the meaning of life’. Some of you may think the answer to this is 42 (from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). I suppose that’s as good an answer as any. But King Solomon, supposedly the wisest man to have ever lived decided to investigate all of the things that seemingly give life meaning. He wrote a book about it, it’s in the Bible and called Ecclesiastes. After looking at all things, wisdom, pleasure, work, advancement in life, money, he just keeps saying, ‘meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless. What really does matter then?

Despite all of these tedious meetings this week I have fortunately been very encouraged by glimmers, no more than glimmers, great shafts of hope that have come my way from the Bible. I love it when God speaks directly into situations and the first was whilst I was having a prayer time on Thursday morning. I was challenged in a book I’m reading by the question ‘Who is King of your life’? The book recommended that I put a label on my steering wheel saying ‘Whose driving you’?

I then went off to Clergy Chapter and during our Communion Service we were looking at a passage in the Bible about the Kingdom of God and were asked what it meant for us? The Kingdom of God is obviously ruled by a King. What is this all about? ‘Who is King of your life’? Who/what has first place in our lives? Who/what has first place in our faith? The answers should be the same. In other words ‘Who is driving you’?

Our first Mission Action Planning year said we should look to being ‘energised by faith’. Same question! What ‘drives’ this church? Is it a desire to keep the building up and running OR is it the desire to allow Christ to rule in our and over us? What is important to us, you, me, about church?

Who is King of our life? Are we part of the Kingdom of God? What is the Kingdom of God? Many think it is God’s Kingdom up in heaven, beyond the clouds somewhere. Many think it is the kingdom that will come into being at the end of time or after we die.

It isn’t! The Kingdom of God begins in the here and now and continues forever. It is NOT a future thing. It is not something happening elsewhere in heaven. ‘Your kingdom come’ in the Lord’s Prayer is referring to the here and now. The Kingdom of God is rightfully explained as being the ‘now and not yet’. His kingdom must rule in our hearts now. His kingdom must rule in SMAS now. In John’s Gospel he uses the term ‘Eternal Life’ which is interchangeable with the term Kingdom of God’. They BOTH begin in the here and now and continue into the future.

Because, like it or not, what Jesus says about the Temple refers to our church buildings too. Buildings come and buildings go. The only certain thing that starts today and carries on forever is God’s kingdom. This ‘going on into eternity’ is eventually what Solomon discovers gives life meaning. We have to decide in the here and now whether we are part of it or not. Are you?

And as Jesus points out it is all TOO easy to be misled about this. There are, He says many false teachers. Teachers who will point out that living a good and kind life is what we need to do. This often includes ‘being busy for the Lord’. Don’t be deceived! Ephesians 2:8-9

Teachers who say there are other ways to ‘eternal life’ a term used in John’s Gospel and interchangeable with term Kingdom of God. These ‘other’ ways could be simply a watering down of the Bible’s teaching. It could other religions or New Age type things, such as crystals, reflexology, Reike etc. They often seem good – but are so satanic and harmful.

Don’t be deceived! John 14:6

And don’t think it’s far in the future. It could be any time – even tonight. Don’t be deceived! Only the Father knows (Mark 13:32).

No matter how secure life seems, nothing is permanent except our life with God. We should not invest in the physical & temporal but build up treasures in heaven. Nothing we own will ever compare to the temple, but it was reduced to rubble, the people of Jerusalem massacred. Don’t be deceived! It is no good our storing things up. (Luke 12:16-21)

In our culture there’s emphasis on the physical; wealth, possessions, bodies, achievements, being famous, winning the lottery etc. etc. It might be that realising our own mortality pushes us to want to build structures and put things in place that will go on beyond our earthly life. But for all our life policies and pension plans it doesn’t take much to shatter the illusion. A hospital test comes back with a bad result, the economy takes another dive, a drunk steps out in front of our car. It doesn’t take much to shatter our illusions of security.

I wonder if you sometimes feel the world is out of control and we can do nothing to influence it? Even in our own lives we may feel out of control. With the busy-ness of jobs, families, preparations for Christmas. We may feel hopeless and powerless when we think of how the world is today, but God is in control. He has a plan.

Today's gospel reminds us that God is in control. That God is the only true rock on which we can rely. Everything else might fall apart around us but God stands firm.

We live in a society that does not trust in God and doesn’t know the reassurance of ‘life eternal’. In this passage Jesus was predicting the destruction of the Temple. This came to pass about 37 year later (70AD) – which shows we can trust Jesus’ predictions. (Some of the other things in this passage refer to the end times.)

Jesus also says that ‘the good news must be proclaimed to all nations’. We must do that, and the promise at the end of that passage was that ‘the one who endures to the end will be saved. Praise the Lord! Amen.