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We Have Lives of Purpose

Reverend Philip Stringer

Mark 13:24-37

LET US PRAY: Come, Lord Jesus-- and fill us with expectant waiting. Give us ears that hear your coming and receiving hearts. Come and lead us into the world to serve you, as we watch and pray for your coming in Glory. AMEN

On Friday night I returned home from a trip to northern Indiana. On Thursday, I drove from my dad’s house in Ft. Wayne, up to the rural area northwest of town to have lunch with a friend. There’s a large Amish community in northern Indiana, and I hadn’t traveled very far out of town before I began to see horses and buggies on the road.

The Amish are very deliberate about choosing to do a number of uncomfortable things. To a certain extent, some of what they commit to doing is done specifically because it is uncomfortable. You are likely familiar with some of these decisions:

They do not use modern conveniences like electricity. They also don’t use combustion engines — no cars. No washing machines. No refrigerator. No zippers.

There are other uncomfortable practices by the Amish of which you may not be as familiar. For example: worship. In the Amish tradition, there are no church buildings. Instead, all their religious services are held in private homes, and when a congregation grows too large to meet comfortably in a house, they split into two groups.

A pastor is chosen by lot from among the men. The bishop places a marker in one of a group of hymnbooks, and then each man selects a book. The one who draws the marker is assumed to have been ordained by God as the new leader.

Bishops, who usually serve from two to four congregations, are chosen in the same manner from among the pastors.

For each worship service, a big black wagon full of benches is driven to the designated home, and the worshipers gather. No one knows in advance who will preach the morning sermon. Again, this leader for the day is chosen by lot or by last-minute consensus.

Consider how your Sunday morning would be different if you came here with that same possibility before you! When Jimmy Carter was visiting an Amish community, he asked the bishop how people could prepare for a sermon if they didn't know when they would be called, and the bishop replied, “We always have to be prepared." Ultimately, it’s not a matter of IF but WHEN, and one must always be refreshing oneself so as to be ready when the time comes.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus said to the disciples, “what I say to you I say to all: keep awake.” That’s his message for us, too. Be alert. Be ready. Not because the coming of the day of the Lord is a day to fear, but because to keep oneself alert and ready is to remember that Jesus Chris t— crucified and risen — creates a new context in which we live with purpose.

Regardless of your occupational status.

Regardless of your age.

Regardless of your level of education.

Regardless of your health.

Regardless of your skills or abilities. Jesus fills your life with purpose. Jesus calls us to a life of joy and thanksgiving, regardless of whatever else may be going on around us.

Jesus was crucified sometime around the year 33 AD. About 30 years later — in 66 AD, the Jewish people rose up against their Roman rulers in revolt. They succeeded in expelling the Roman forces from Jerusalem.

The Roman imperial legate in Syria, Gallus, responded by sending a military detachment to recapture Jerusalem — but they were attacked by the Jewish forces along the way and defeated. The Jewish victors set up a government and settled in.

It was an ill-conceived notion that a tiny provincial people could throw off the yoke of Roman rule. Rome had had enough of this nonsense and sent the full armies of Titus and Vespasian to crush the rebellion. They overwhelmed the Jewish forces and swept across the region. Jerusalem was retaken in 70 AD — the Jewish state collapsed and the Temple was burned. And it must have seemed like the end of the world.

In 70 AD — or very soon thereafter — St. Mark wrote the first of the four gospels. It had only been about 30 years since Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection — many of the Christians who lived through those events were still alive when the Temple was destroyed and they remembered Jesus’ words to his disciples foretelling it’s destruction. Mark recorded these teachings of Jesus because those Christians recognized that in his words, Jesus was encouraging his followers to not give up hope — no matter whatever else happens in the world — remember that you live within a greater context. You live under the canopy of God’s grace. You are Children of God. You are workers in the vineyard of God; servants in the house of the Lord. You have purpose and meaning, and nothing that happens in this life can change that.

We gather today with joy and thanksgiving for all that God has done for us. And that is the life to which Jesus calls us: lives of joy and thanksgiving.

There are plenty of things for us to worry about today.

For starters, we are getting older!

Our bodies fail us — in big ways, or piece-by-piece.

Our loved ones die.

And the world we have known also fades away. Whether happening now or sometime down the road, world events today remind us of how fragile this planet is and how fragile are the empires we build.

What Jesus said to his disciples he says to us: Don’t let the moment sweep you away. Remember who you are: Children of the most high.

People have been trying to predict the end of the world since the beginning, but even Jesus said that he didn’t know when it would happen. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.”

The fact is, however, that sooner or later, the world ends for all of us individually. Maybe the end of your world — or the end of our world — will be this afternoon. Or maybe it will be 10,000 years from now. Who knows?

For us as Christians, it doesn’t really matter -- because right now we have a job to do.

Years ago — when I was in college — my mom gave me a small sign for my desk, Psalm 118, verse 24: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

That is the job that is given to us — to live lives of thanksgiving for all that God has done for us.

My mom was healthy when she gave that sign to me. She has Alzheimer’s Disease now. I don’t think she was foolish to give me that sign. In fact, I think that if she knew then what the future held, she would still have given me that sign.

In all times and in all places — no matter what ever happens in this world, nothing can change the fact that Jesus died and rose in order to redefine both our present and our future.

We are Christians. We are people who know that God’s love is greater than any other force. God’s love never ends. God’s love holds us safely.

We gather today, in joy and thanksgiving as a people with purpose. We have a job to do — and that job is to point to the one who loves this world and everyone in it.

We gather around this table to be refreshed and strengthened through God’s grace. And we go from here with a mission to serve the LORD.

It is a day that the LORD has made. We are called to rejoice and be glad in it.

So I will end today with a blessing:

May the love of God — poured out for you in Jesus — continue to spill from your life into the lives of others.



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