25th Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 13.1–8 (NLT)
1 As Jesus was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.”
2 Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
3 Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to him privately and asked him, 4 “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?”
5 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
Yesterday was an amazing day. It was our annual “Hands on Christmas” event and all I’ve heard since I started at Smyrna 1st is “Wait until you see ‘Hands on Christmas!’” Of course, I had heard the same thing about God’s Light Homecoming, Mary Poppins, the Preschool Kindermart, the Youth Pumpkin Patch, and I was blown away by how successful and important those events are. So yesterday chalks right up there with “amazing.”
There were hundreds of people walking about, doing crafts, meeting new people, having fun, and my family and I were part of them. But at one point, I turned around and couldn’t find my family anywhere. Now y’all know my family by now, that it should be pretty easy to spot or at least HEAR Laney and Maggie shouting or yelling, with Ashley in tow running after them. But for the life of me I couldn’t find them.
I must have circled the fellowship hall about 5 times, leaving to check the Gift Mart sale and my office at least twice. But I was standing in front of one of the Fingerprint Christmas Tree stations when I heard, “Whit, are you ok?!” Marla and Greg Arnold’s daughter, Jesse, had seen me spinning in circles and was laughing at me. I admitted that I had lost my family and that I was lost without them. My natural response was to wander around until I found them or they found me. I eventually found them, about 2 craft completions later. Yes, I was sheepish when Ashley said, “There you are.” But all was good.
Wandering around in this sense is rarely pleasant, especially when it’s something of much greater importance. A father wouldn’t want to wander around the hospital because of bad directions, missing the birth of his child; a woman heading to an interview for a new job doesn’t want to wander around downtown only to miss the opportunity because she wrote down the wrong address. We want to know where we are going and we definitely want to know how to get there. There is something so unnerving about the aimless feeling we get when our compass is down or our sense of direction goes numb.
If there is anything to learn from the Old Testament scriptures, its that wandering away from God is a terrible thing. The Hebrew people had been freed from Egypt in order to journey back to God for a deeper relationship with Him—a relationship that would give life and direction. But when they strayed from God, life was very unpleasant and especially dangerous.
Sometimes we wander and it’s our fault. Sometimes we wander and its other people’s fault. But whether we bring it on ourselves or are lost because of someone else, God is here to straighten out the crooked roads and clean up the overgrown paths.
In our scripture this morning, v.5 is particularly important. While talking about times of both persecution and the end of days, Jesus warns His followers not to be misled. The word misled or led astray in this passage is “planaō” in Greek. It means “to wander or to cause to wander.” To be misled or led astray has enteral consequences, for both the misled and the misleaders. If we are led astray from what we know to be true of Jesus, we follow a false image of Jesus. We run the risk of connecting ourselves to a version of the Lord that has no power to save, to heal, or to guide our life. The warning is against putting our hope, our trust, our obedience, and our faith in a salvation that doesn’t deliver.
Through all of this, the challenge is before us to come back to the Jesus of the Scriptures; back to the Jesus who is the Son of God; the Jesus who heals because He is the Great Physician; the Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and opens to door to eternal life; the Jesus who because He is with us always has committed to free us from the burdens of daily sin and live in us so that we can live holy lives before God. THIS is the Jesus who calls out to you today. This is the Jesus whom the Church must worship and follow. This is the Jesus who tells us who we are, rather than we, a sinful people, attempt to tell Him who we are. The Church and the world BOTH must bow down before Jesus Christ and seek His forgiveness, for leading itself and many others astray at times.
And God IS faithful to forgive. The blood and water that poured forth from the heart of Christ when the soldier pierced His side still flows today, covering our sin-stained lives and washing us clean. I’m reminded of a favorite hymn, “What can wash away my sin? / Nothin’ but the blood of Jesus / What can make me whole again? / Nothin’ but the blood of Jesus / O, precious is the flow / that makes me white as snow / no other fount I know / nothin’ but the blood of Jesus.
And so we have a duty as the Church to be sure we are connected to Christ, that we are in union with the True Body of Christ. We have a responsibility to keep people from wandering, from being misled. And because this is our responsibility, we each have to answer the question today, “Where are you with God?” Are you connected? Are you in relationship with God? Are you following Jesus Christ, or some trumped up version that you’ve created for comfort? Are you following the Jesus of convenience? The Jesus of approval? The Jesus of excuses? Or are you being led by the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, the presence of the only begotten Son of God?
We need to restart today and get back on the right path. We can’t expect you to lead this community to Heaven if you yourself are on the road to Hell.
Have I said enough? Don’t be misled. Don’t misled others. Let’s get right today. Come to the altar. Come for the first time; come for the second time; come down because its time; but come today. Let’s sing…