Sermon: Beware!


St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

1 Samuel 1.4-20; 1 Samuel 2.1-10; Hebrews 10.11-25; Mark 13.1-8

Last Sunday we noted how Jesus warned the disciples and the crowds to beware of the scribes who seek honor – they like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted with respect in the market place, to sit in the best seats of the Temple and to occupy the places of honor at banquets while simultaneously devouring widows’ houses and saying long prayers for the sake of appearance. Immediately following Jesus’ reference to devouring widows’ homes, Mark tells how Jesus noted the poor widow who gave everything she owned to the Temple treasury thereby making her situation even more dire. We raised the question: Might be an example of the scribes devouring widows’ houses?

In today’s gospel reading, Mark further notes Jesus’ emphasis on being aware. When Jesus and his disciples came out of the Temple, the disciples were astonished; one of them said, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings” (Mark 13.1; NRSV). This may have been their first time in Jerusalem; if so, they were highly impressionable. Jesus then foretold how all would be laid waste, how not one stone would remain upon another.

When Jesus and the disciples had traveled across the valley to the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately when this would be. Once again we read an admonition: “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray” (Mark 13.5-6; NRSV). Jesus then tells them not to be alarmed when they hear of wars and rumors of wars; he foretells earthquakes and famines; then, he tells the disciples that these “are but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mark 13.8; NRSV).

Although our gospel reading ends at this point, it is worth noting that Jesus continues to tell the disciples to beware. Jesus told the disciples a time of persecution would follow. In verse 9 we read, “Beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them” (NRSV). Jesus further noted that before the end times, the gospel would be preached to all nations. When called to account before the powers of the age, they should rely upon the witness and power of the Holy Spirit for their words. They should expect to be hated because of following Jesus, but Jesus assured them “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13.13; NRSV).

Jesus further warned of false messiahs and false prophets who will “produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect,” that is those who believe on Christ Jesus, and again, he cautioned, “But be alert; I have already told you everything” (Mark 13.22-23; NRSV).

Jesus then spoke of “’the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” and of the angels being sent out to gather the elect “from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13.26-27; NRSV).

Returning to the disciples’ question as to when these events should occur, Jesus said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13.32; NRSV). In the closing four verses of this chapter, Jesus repeatedly encouraged awareness, alertness, and wakefulness: “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mark 13.33-37; NRSV).

So how does this relate to our own existential situation? As Christians, we are living in unsettling times. Over the past few days, I have spoken to several people who are concerned about our country and the direction it appears to be headed. Truth no longer seems to carry any weight with those in power; the attitude appears to be, “In this post-modern, post-truth age, truth is whatever I say it is, and if you question my truth, I will see you no longer have this right.” Political campaigns are waged with the use of advertisements which are outright racist – they are meant to foment division and to stir up fear. These are some of the signs and omens designed to lead many astray.

Such actions and activities are contrary to the gospel. Some might accuse me of preaching a sermon that is politically oriented – to the contrary – it is gospel oriented and it contains a prophetic call to righteousness. Some may hold “righteousness” to be an outmoded, unfashionable word, but righteousness is part of the very character of God. Righteousness is one of the attributes of the kingdom of God and it cannot be separated from the love of God and our neighbor. Righteousness demands, as the sign so aptly puts it, “Love your neighbor –no exceptions!”

So, what are we to do? What would God have us do?

In Zachariah 7, we read: “The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (Vs. 8-10; NRSV).

In Micah 6 we find, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness” (Vs. 8; NRSV).

In our reading from Hebrews we find a call to persevere in the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. First, faith: Given that Jesus Christ has made the sacrifice once and for all, that Christ is “a great priest over the house of God,” we are to approach God’s throne of grace “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” We are God’s children, so we should place our full confidence and trust in God. Sometimes, that is hard to do. We need to encourage one another to trust in God’s promises.

Second, hope: In Hebrews we read, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” When others ask about our hope, we are to confess that our hope is found in Jesus Christ, and in Christ’s redeeming work. We need to remember that the news is only a portion of the story, that negative press sells more papers than positive press. We need to see the good that takes place about us, and we need to foster that good in whatever ways we can.

Third, love: The Epistle says, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day [of judgment] approaching” (Hebrews 10.19-25; NRSV). When we share our concerns with one another, we realize that we are not alone, that others are walking the same journey as us. We need to encourage one another to more fully love those around us. And we need to pray for one another.

It is tempting to withdraw, to give up in despair, to close ourselves off from what is happening. We must not do that. We must, as people of faith, exercise our faith. We must, as people of hope, bring hope to others. And we must, as people of love, commit to love more fully and more deeply.

Beware, keep alert, and pray! Choose to live in faith, hope and love.