November 18, 2018–Birth Pangs

Posted on November 13, 2018 by faithlens

Mary Ellen Helms, Loveland, OH

Warm-up Question

What are some of the things going on in the world that worry you? How do you picture the end of the world?

Birth Pangs

When we turn on our smartphones these days, the news can be overwhelming. Whether you see articles on Twitter or a news site, there is always something major happening to cause concern. Political divide, natural disaster, war-torn countries in crumbles – there is no shortage of bad news. We can become overwhelmed with current events and want to tune it all out and just go on living without being informed. While this can be attractive and necessary at times (unplugging is good!); we are not called to be people who shut off our ears, eyes, brains, and hearts from current events. We are called to understand the overarching story of God’s love for God’s people and God’s desire that the Kingdom of God may come.

Recently, the United Nations released a study about climate change which might have a lot of us worrying. Summarizing the report, this article about the danger of doing nothing about this impending disaster warns that “‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ are required to ward off the worst impacts of global warming.”  This language is intimidating and can make us feel powerless in caring for God’s creation.

When we think about our first call to be stewards of creation (Genesis 1:26-28), we remember we are partners with God in caring for creation. That is a hard job! Instead of ending on a note of negativity, the article closes with a quote from one of the report’s authors, Natalie Mahowald “We have a monumental task in front of us, but it is not impossible, this is our chance to decide what the world is going to look like.” It is not too late to care for our world.

Discussion Questions

  • When you think about current events, what makes you worry about the future? What are stories that give you hope?
  • What do you think God sees when God looks at how we care for creation? How might we do better?
  • Think of a time when you’ve needed to unplug from the news. What was that like for you? Did it help the problem go away? Why or why not?
  • What actions can we take to make the world a better place? What are some practical steps you can take today?

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Daniel 12:1-3

Hebrews 10:11-25

Mark 13:1-8

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

When we reach this point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ days are numbered. He has already ministered to many across the countryside and miracles have been done in God’s name. Before this chapter, Jesus answers many questions and shares parables with his followers. Jesus’ teaching ministry is coming to an end and it seems like he is trying his best to pass along a lot of nuggets of wisdom to his disciples.

It is no wonder that Jesus starts the teaching in today’s lesson by talking about how the physical things we’ve  built on this earth will not endure. Jesus walks with his disciples at the Temple and they point out the vastness of the things all around them. Jesus seems a bit frustrated;  They are looking at impressive structures dedicated to God and missing the point of God’s true power.

Jesus knows that the times to come will not be peaceful until the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. He warns his disciples about some of the upcoming threats, many of which we are still familiar with today: wars, political strife, natural disasters, and more. He prepares them by saying “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs”.

While this language and these images can bring stress and worry, they are really  pointing us to is the hope of the New Creation that God’s Kingdom will bring. When we think about ‘birth pangs’, we acknowledge there is pain and stress in labor, but the new creation – the baby’s life – makes it all worth it.

Our days are full of stress.  Many of us do not experience the immediate effects of warfare or environmental danger, but we do know many other kinds of pain—depression, worry, insecurity, judgementalism. We are called to look beyond the right now to the what’s to come. Jesus did not ignore the current reality of the world in which he lived.  Even though he knew that the things of this world would pass away, he taught, performed miracles, served, loved, and cared. In the same way, we are called to act, caring for the world we have inherited and the one we will pass on.  But we do this knowing we have a secure hope in eternal life because of Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  • When you read the list of what is to come before the coming of God’s kingdom, what worries you most? What have you personally experienced? How has that changed your life?
  • Are there times in your life where you’ve been led astray? What is that like in retrospect? How have you helped lead others to a life of hope instead of a life of fear?
  • What is it about Jesus that gives you hope, even in the midst of difficult times?

Activity Suggestions

  • Pick out a service project to do that benefits creation at your congregation. Ideas include starting a weekly recycling group, working with your property stewards to commit to using less electricity, speaking to your council about converting to LED light bulbs or something else.
  • Take a big sheet of paper and write down current events that have you worried about our world, our nation, your community, school, home, and yourself. Then, starting with the world, nation, community, school, home and ending with yourself, pray your way through the list asking God to help take care of all of your concerns. Brainstorm ways you can help with your neighbors’ concerns.

Closing Prayer

Loving, mighty, and powerful God, you remind us that even the strongest edifices will crumble someday. Remind us also that our hope remains in your eternal promise given through Jesus, not in the things we create for ourselves. Make us stewards of your creation, reminding us to care for all you have made and one another. Hold us close when we worry and send us out to do your will. Amen.

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