The end of the world is nigh!

Mark 13.1-8

It was Harold Wilson who first uttered the words, “A week is a long time in politics.” Well, the last few days have seemed like an awfully long time – and people on both sides of the Brexit debate are expressing concerns about the future.

If the last few days have left you worried about what thefuture for our country may be then – at least according to Ronald Weinland –there really is no point in worrying at all. For the end of the world is nigh.At least it is according to Ronald Weinland, founder of a religious organisationthat is expecting the Second Coming imminently and which is known as, in full,the Church of God, Preparing for theKingdom of God. (Source: Wikipedia entry)

He apparently predictedthe end of the world as coming in 2011 – and you may have noticed that thatdidn’t happen. Then he predicted it again as coming in 2012 – yes, didn’thappen then either. Then he tried 2013 – and yet again, nothing! It seems hethen spent some time rethinking, and then he amended his predicted date for theend of the world to the 9th of June next year. So, according toWeinland a couple of months after Brexit the world is coming to an end anyway,so not a lot of point in worrying about it.

Mind you – I wouldn’t let it worry you, given that his track record on predicting the end of the world isn’t very reliable. And apparently he has expressed some doubts himself regarding his own prediction.

In our gospel reading today we hear about events that will precede the end times. And it starts by telling us how one of the disciples says to Jesus about the Temple, “Look, what large stones and what large buildings!” Somehow, that is a bit of an understatement. We’re not told which disciple it was, but given he appears not to have seen the Temple before and to be amazed at its scale, we can probably take a guess that it was one of the disciples from outside Jerusalem – perhaps one of the fisherman from Galilee. At any rate, he’s clearly seen nothing like the Temple before in his life.

And he responds much like a tourist today might when confronted by a great building like Saint Peter’s in Rome: Wow! It’s so big! And you can almost imagine him, if they’d been invented then, whipping out his mobile phone, taking some photos, and posting them on Facebook! He’s impressed!

And he had every reason to be! The temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was still under construction. It was begun by Herod the Great who died in 6 BC. During a Passover visit by Jesus some Jews say to him that it has been under construction for 46 years. It was actually one of the biggest construction projects in the whole of the ancient world – in area it covered the equivalent of 20 football pitches. The mount on which the Temple stood was 10 stories high. Yes – large stones and large buildings indeed.

And a few years after it was finally finished the Romans, putting down a revolt of the Jewish people, tore down the Temple in AD 67. People thought that the destruction of this iconic building, God’s dwelling place among his people, marked the end of the world.

Today’s gospel reading was written after that event. And in response to the disciple’s comments about the large stones and buildings that make up the Temple Mark has Jesus replying, “Do you see these great buildings?Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

For Jews the loss of the Temple marked the end of an era. It was the centre of their religious life and a symbol of God’s presence amongst them. To lose it felt like the end of the world as they knew it. The heart of their religion had been torn out – everything changed. And even today the Temple’s loss is still keenly felt.

In these few weeks between All Saints Day on 1st November and Advent Sunday in two weeks’ time, the Church turns its attention to what is popularly called The Second Coming, though the New Testament never actually uses that term to refer to the return of Jesus. And our readings encourage us to reflect on the future – God’s future – and on that point in time where Jesus wraps this world up and ushers in the new age of the kingdom of God. The point at which this world comes to and end and the new heaven and the new earth of God’s eternal kingdom come into being. And our readings in this pre=Advent season highlight this aspect of our Christian faith – the belief that one day Jesus will return and we will live with him for ever.

Christians have always believed this. And yet we do not know for certain when Jesus’ return will happen. Following the resurrection, the first Christians were expecting Jesus to return fairly soon after his ascension. They all expected it to happen more or less immediately. So by the time Mark is writing his gospel Christians are getting concerned. Here we are 30-40 years after Jesus had ascended and he still hasn’t returned. And they are starting to ask: When’s he coming, then?Have we got it all wrong? They are waiting for the end of the world as we know it, and for Jesus to usher in God’s new kingdom. They had predicted that it would happen within the lifetimes of those who had witnessed the resurrection and yet – nothing! In this passage Mark is saying to the church community for which he wrote his gospel: Don’t worry about the future – stop being alarmed – the end is not coming yet.

And to do so he tells this story of how, after a visit to the Temple with Jesus and the prediction by Jesus that the Temple will be destroyed the disciples are desperate to know: When will this happen? When will the Temple be destroyed? And in reply Jesus himself talks of false prophets and of terrifying wars, earthquakes and famines and then he says, so that the disciples don’t get too worried about all this: Don’t be alarmed, the end is still to come. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Don’t be alarmed! he is saying. It will all happen in God’s own time.

Being a Christian is, of course, no guarantee of an easy and trouble-free life. Far from it. Jesus actually promised quite the opposite. But in every aspect of life Christians can be confident that Jesus is with them to inspire and guide them. Jesus calls upon us to direct our attention to the present rather than spend our time being over-anxious about the future. For the future is in God’s hands. By all means plan appropriately for the future, but there really is no point in worrying ourselves silly about future events. This is his message to the disciples in our reading, and what Mark is communicating to the church community for which he wrote his gospel. We are called to concentrate on the present, the here and now.

And this is the message Jesus give us this morning. Don’t be alarmed, do not be led astray – just make sure that you keep following me, he says. Live out the kingdom and its values in your daily life and in the end all will be well.