Welcome to worship on this 25th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on November 14, 2021! We are glad that you could be here!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. The bulletin will have the order of worship, the words of the liturgy, the hymn/page numbers out of the ELW hymnal, and the sermon in full. The sermon is also included below the video.
For a fuller worship experience, you can have a lit candle in your space. Also you can prepare something small to eat and drink for communion.
May the hope in God’s wisdom shine in and through your spirit, this day and always!
Almighty God, speak your Word to us and guide us in our understanding that we might be hearers and doers and proclaimers of your love through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Anyone here ever give birth to a baby? I haven’t, of course, but I come from a family that has a long history of childbirth. And throughout that history, the parts that I know of at least, and being present in the room when my own below-average sized wife gave birth to 3 above-average sized babies, I can tell you that childbirth isn’t exactly easy or pleasant.
I don’t mean the children that come out, mind you, not all of them anyway. But I mean the actual act of a baby of almost any size passing through what seems to be impossible passageways. Yeah I know in these days of modern medicine we have methods and techniques and substances that can help with the whole process, but we can’t deny that it still is an ordeal on the mother’s body either way. Childbirth, by design, is just difficult. It’s painful, it’s uncomfortable, and it could maybe even make you faint. However, those three times that I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes, it was also the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever seen.
However, I do want to be sensitive to those who haven’t had kids or can’t, or those who had bad experiences with child bearing that continue to be bad for them and their families. I know sometimes child birth isn’t the beautiful thing that I’m making it sound to be, and there are real dangers and lasting hurts that could come from it. But I think in its purest sense, we can all agree that children being born is a great and beautiful miraculous gift from God to allow us to live beyond our time and extend all the goodness of humanity for generations. So what I’m saying is that even in the bad experiences or non-experiences, God is still present and with us through it all.
And I get that my wife and I are lucky that all 3 times went without a hitch, really. I mean the whole labour process was relatively short for her, and she more or less came out of it all unscathed. An extra kid to care for, for the rest of her life, but pretty unscathed. And if I’m honest, I feel as though I love her more for having gone through the process, being with me as we started this family that can by trying at times, but a family that I would ever change for the world. A new car, maybe, but not the world.
That’s the thing about this childbearing business, it’s not easy. It’s unpleasant. And the work of being a parent for most mothers continues on well after the event of birthing that child. I know for my wife and me, our lives have never been the same as before having children and I can’t see it ever going back to how it was, and I imagine that to be the case for most other parents out there. So it is life changing, world shaking, reality altering for all those involved.
Yet, people still choose to have kids. Even after the first one, people decide to have another or more. It is life changing and difficult, yes, but it is also beautiful and life giving… like literally.
So I wonder if this is what Jesus is trying to allude to when talking to his disciples in today’s Gospel lesson. The band had just left the temple, fresh from Jesus pointing out the imbalance of wealth in their society and the injustice of a widow offering her last three copper coins to the temple treasury to feed this building that was built on the backs of slaves and paid for by unfair taxation to be completely grandiose, over the top, and awe inspiring. And what do the disciples do? They are awe inspired by the building.
And really, we probably would be too if we were to see the temple in all its glory. It was massive, covered in gold, and used the finest engineering the world had ever seen at that point, and perhaps ever did since then. About this temple we could honestly say that they don’t make them like they used to. It was marvel of their ancient world and it continues to be a marvel to this day, as it was that great, that amazing, that absolutely awe inspiring.
And Jesus said it was going to come down.
He wasn’t wrong, you know, as by the time the Gospel according to Mark was written, the temple had either already been destroyed or at least it was clear that it inevitably would be soon. This would have been heart breaking news to anyone who heard it at the time. I mean, like I said the temple was an engineering marvel. But not just that, it was the center of Jewish worship and life. To say that this unfellable building would eventually fall would shatter the faith of everyone in everything.
But to this, Jesus says that it is but the beginning of the birth pangs. The wars, the rumours of wars, the earthquakes, the famines, the utter destruction of all we’ve known and loved will be taken away but that would just be the beginning? What would be next? We might shudder at the thought.
So I wonder if Jesus was very intentional in his use of words here. I know, some of you might have doubts on the historical accuracy of every syllable that is recorded coming out of Jesus’ mouth, and that is ok. But whatever the case, what if the term “birth pangs” was to hold a specific message for us? What if there is a deeper meaning to these wars and rumours of wars than just difficult times? What if we needn’t be afraid of what is to come?
Now, I’m not talking about the end of the world or anything as many might see this as, but I’m talking about the possible and perhaps probable end of our world. I’m talking about the inevitable change that will come to society, to our communities, and in our own individual lives. I’m talking about the difficulties and discomforts of some sort of event that could and perhaps would happen to us, one that is life changing, world shaking, or reality altering… like the fears and anxiety that being a new parent can be.
But this event in our lives doesn’t have to be a baby per se, I’m sure many of you, especially the younger ones , are hoping it isn’t. But perhaps it’s a change in jobs or professions. Maybe it’s a move to a different area code or time zone. It could be a death of a loved one. Or it could be something like a global pandemic.
The thing is, change happens to us all the time. Change happens in the world. Change happens to our countries and policies and how we do things. Sometimes this change is uncomfortable. A lot of times this change is unwanted and resisted. Some might even think that the change is wrong. But the fact remains that change will happen regardless of whether we welcome it or not, whether it makes us comfortable or not, whether we think it’s the right kind of change or not.
So then I wonder if Jesus chose to use the term “birth pangs” here not just to highlight the discomforts and difficulties, but also to instill in us hope in the midst of this change. I wonder if he’s saying that he understands that the change can be difficult, like something like the destruction of their beloved temple, and compares it to the difficulties of giving birth to a child and reminding us that like giving birth there is something beautiful in that change. I wonder if he is telling us to not lose heart even when the change doesn’t seem to be going anywhere good, because he is with us among the change, guiding us, comforting us, and helping us to manage the pain and disorientation of the whole ordeal.
One commentator on this passage I’ve heard called Jesus a “cosmic midwife” in that he has been and is with us every step of the way. He has equipped us and prepared us, he has taught us and strengthened us, and he stays with us in birth pangs and reminds us to breathe.
See as scary and wrong as change can feel, good can come out of it. As much as we want to resist the change and force things to go back to how we thought they were best again, we can open our minds and have faith that God is present in the possibilities and guiding us into a better future. As much as change can disrupt our lives and bring about so much disarray, we can believe and trust that God can make it into something beautiful.
As we approach the end of this season after Pentecost and look ahead to Advent, may we embrace the change set before us by God through the Spirit and see the gifts and blessings in them, that we may be filled with the hope of Christ for the salvation a world in need of a Saviour. Thanks be to God. Amen.