Text: Mark 13:1-13
This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
13 As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him:
“Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
The reality of this became a bit clearer to me a few years ago. As I do sometimes, and you may do as well, I looked at a place of my youth to see what it was like today. Growing up as a young boy in Pennsylvania I searched a bit about the church that I had been baptized in and that my family attended. It was Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. It was made up largely of Slovaks who had immigrated to the McKeesport area to work in the mills.
The church was founded in 1892 in a former Jewish Synagogue of all things and the building I was baptized in had been built in 1911. It was a beautiful and big church with two towers and steeples in the front and some of the most beautiful stained glass you could imagine. It was often packed with worshipers in their Sunday best when I was a child, and even when we visited on vacations after moving to Michigan in 1960.
I found a site on the internet that had some beautiful pictures of Christmas and other services that took place in the church and information about the merging of Holy Trinity with two other Catholic churches into one parish family in 1993. The most beautiful feature of the church was a painting in the dome area above the altar where two figures sat on thrones with ministering angels around them. The older had gray hair and a long beard represented the Father while the younger had brown hair and represented the Son! Between them were two letters from the Greek alphabet the alpha and the omega, though I didn’t understand what that meant at the time. The dove as the Holy Spirit was painted above them and rays of light shown down on the Cross of Jesus below showing the fullness of God’s involvement in bringing about our salvation.
Looking through these beautiful pictures brought back wonderful memories and I even thought about taking a trip back to visit and maybe even attend a service again there. When I got to page two of the picture page all that changed for me as this once beautiful church was turned to rubble … not one stone left upon another … just a pile of debris – even the two steeples of this beautiful church were thrown down.
As is the case with many churches in the intercity as the population moves away the churches that at one time had flourished are now closed and many unfortunately see that same fate as the property is cleared and repurposed.
The one who endures to the end in Christ will be saved!
3 And [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”
The disciples wanted to know when the end of the age would be. We might also want to know. Jesus says that there will be signs and don’t be led astray. Some will claim to be him and the second coming and there will be wars and rumors of wars – we’ve seen them – both foreign and domestic. The attacks in Paris this weekend bring to light the brokenness of this world.
To quote the Buffalo Springfield song from a sermon a few weeks ago:
“There’s battle lines being drawn.”
Stephen stills – For What It’s Worth 1967
Nations and Kingdoms will rise against each other and this will only be the birth pains. We’re not there yet. So, keep watch and be on your guard. The disciples expected Jesus to make things alright in the world and we do too.
Our Elders meetings have been difficult. We see the signs too. Average attendance in 2005 was 160 and in September of this year it was 76. The households that haven’t attended Peace in at least 5 years is large while many have been inactive over 10 years. I would love nothing better than to see our church return to how it was when I first attended … where the church had overflow seating for Christmas and Easter. We also had an active pre-school and were looking to add an additional staff worker. Many of our once active members who had built this church have been called home, some have moved and others have fallen away.
These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
This is a harsh reality. It is a hard pill to swallow. It tears at the very fiber of every pastor, called worker and lay servant of Christ who desires to see the church grow under their watch.
Jesus says though:
9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.
The one who endures in Christ is saved!
It is the witness … not the building; it is the witness … not the numbers; it is the Gospel … of Jesus Christ that changes the heart and brings to faith by the Holy Spirit.
10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.
This has been going on since the church was founded on the day of Pentecost and will continue until the Lord returns. We must continue to proclaim the Good News and the truth of Christ Jesus in a world of sin and doubt to family, friends and strangers. It has been going on for over 2000 years and will continue so that the Gospel can go forth into the entire world.
And while buildings may fall and the stones may be torn down and not left standing; while some members may become apathetic and listen to the world, their own sinful flesh and a devil that calls them away from the truth, God will continue to call them back by his word through his Spirit to an eternity that he has won for you and me at his cross.
Luther said in a sermon for the advent season:
The rejection of Christ does not happen only with [others] but also among us, for the high and mighty scorn us because of our gospel and sacraments. What folly [foolishness], they say, that I should let myself be baptised with water poured on my head, supposedly to be saved thereby; or that some poor parish preacher, barely able to put a coat on his back, should pronounce forgiveness and absolve me from my sins; or that by receiving bread and wine in the Sacrament I should be saved. On that basis they despise a Christ-preacher.
And he concludes:
But no one ought to despise Christ in that way, for he is our Saviour and seeks to give us everlasting life. It ought not faze us that he comes in poverty. He requires neither armour nor mounted cavalry for his message; but simply proclaimed: "Whoever believes in me shall have everlasting life."
Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, House Postils I.35-36. Sermon for Advent I, 1534
The one who endures in Christ is saved!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!
Holy Trinity McKeesport Pa. 1911-2011 The church of my youth. The church though is not the building but is made up of those brought to faith in Christ!