5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
The anxiety of interruption.
I want to tell you about a very real struggle that I have gone through in the last few years, in relation to my chosen career and calling, and it centres around this simple little device called a pager.
As an auxiliary firefighter we are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (apart from the times that we choose to turn it off, such as when I am at worship). So this means that this guy, my little friend, as a mate of mine calls it, goes with me pretty-much everywhere.
Now I have always thought that I am a pretty happy-go-lucky person, pretty relaxed. I have always thought that I have pretty good coping skills, nothing phases me too much.
Than a trip to the dentist about 15 years ago told me that my front teeth were disappearing, as apparently I grind them in my sleep as a reaction to stress, and so I have to wear a mouthguard when I sleep. Okay, I can deal with that.
Then I have found that in the last few years I have not been able to take ibuprofen for pain, as my stomach can’t handle it. It burns me pretty badly. Kind of like I am half-way to an ulcer. Another stress indicator.
Those are no big dramas though, you learn to deal with those things and move on.
And then I got this little guy. (My pager) And he taught me a lot about myself.
The first time this thing went off on my hip, almost 6 years ago, on a stormy night in Goombungee, Anne tells me that I got airborne, and my feet only touched the floor about 2 metres away from where I took off out of my recliner, and my eyes were the size of saucers.
And then there was a period of time, possibly for about three years, only ending about 6 months ago, where I would be caused amazing anxiety by the interruptions that this little guy would cause in my life.
The pager would go off, and I could feel my chest tighten up, and my heart rate would take off. My adrenaline and anxiety levels would really spike to the extent that I almost felt sick.
It vibrates before it makes an audible sound. And if you are asleep and it is on your bedside table, that vibration is sudden and loud. If I am having an afternoon nap on my day off and I hear a mower start up, the vibration used to have me jumping off up the bed, until I worked out what it was. This is even worse at 2am, when in a deep sleep.
And I believe all this anxiety was caused by two things: a fear of the unknown, and the suddenness of the interruption. See, that’s the thing when this thing starts buzzing. It could be absolutely nothing, a false alarm, a cat up a tree, or it could be a massive explosion in the middle of town, or a truck through a busload of tourists, with widespread death and destruction. Until we know what is going on, the suddenness of the interruption into our daily routine, and the fear of the unknown is a rude shock.
I believe that it is the same as we look at the gospel lesson today, and try to understand the anxiety that the disciples were feeling at Jesus’ words that it would all be thrown down.
They had the same two concerns:
What is going to happen (Fear of the unknown) and when is it going to happen? Can we alleviate the suddenness of the interruption in some way? Soften the blow?
As the pager interrupts the normality of the life that I know, the concept of such a shocking thing as the destruction of the temple would be an overturning of life as they knew it.
What about you?
What are your anxieties?
What about now as we come to the end of the church year and we contemplate the end times? Does the concept of the end of the world scare you?
If so, What is it about it that scares you? Is it the unknown? Is it the suddenness?
I am happy to say that the anxiety is no longer there for me over my pager. I do not have the same physical reaction to the suddenness, and fear of the unknown. And I believe I know why: In the last 6 months I have really learned a lot. I have trained hard and I have confidence in myself, my training, and my brigade, that we will be prepared to handle whatever is thrown at us. Even if it is truly awful.
And I truly believe that the antidote, the cure for anxiety over the end times, over the thought of losing everything we own, everything we know, even our own lives, is in working on where it is that our confidence lies.
It is about trusting in Jesus, and knowing that when we think we see these things coming, don’t be afraid, but trust in the foundation that we have, trust in God, trust in the words of Jesus and know that we have nothing to fear from the unknown, because he who we know is greater.
In fact, Jesus went further than this and told us in Luke 21:28, that when we see these things, we should lift up our heads, because our salvation is drawing near. Lifting up your head is a pose of confidence, of anticipation.
If you are afraid of what might come, don’t try to work out when it will be. You cannot soften the blow of the suddenness of the interruption. Jesus told us that no-one knows the day or the hour, so as soon as you have worked out when it will be, you are by very definition, wrong!
Look to Jesus. Spend some time working on your walk of faith, pray for a closer walk with him. He is where our faith lies, not our intelligence or ability to anticipate, not our resources or financial nest-egg.
One day the trumpet will sound and we will go home.
If it is at 2am for us, when we are in the middle of a deep sleep, well, at least I will have had some practice at getting used to that.
Jesus is coming: again.
Thanks be to God!