• Robert John Andrews

Reflection: Birthpangs

Updated: Nov 14

25th Sunday after Pentecost


November 14, 2021

Lycoming Presbyterian Church

10:45 AM

Gospel Mark 13:1-8

Foundational Gospel – Peter’s gospel – Mark his secretary

1As he came out of the temple

Why there? Usual spot for teaching. Street teaching if you will. Watching and talking about what’s going on. Often criticizing. Busy place, especially the treasury. All the public donations and paying the temple tax, either 13 boxes or trumpet-shaped in the Courtyard of the Women. If you want to know someone’s religion, take a look at their check book. By the way, Jesus knew that learning that makes you uncomfortable, well, good.

one of his disciples said to him

Never named.

"Look Teacher

what large stones and what large buildings!"

The place was impressive. 1/3 of a mile on each side. From here to Third Street. An area of 40 acres.

Courtyard of the Gentles, Courtyard of the Women. Courtyard of the Men. Courtyard of the Priest. The centerpiece being the actual Temple – the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Picture the Vatican. 16’ walls, blocks of stone 30 feet long, weighing 15 tons. Picture all the gold, all the carvings, columns, huge gates, high walls – 150’ wall just to get to the walls of the temple. All the religious gadgets like the laver, the altar. Plus classrooms, apartments, offices, stables for the livestock, vendors too. After all, you couldn’t use Roman coins in the temple, you had to change your money into temple coins if you wanted to donate or buy your sacrificial animals. It was an industry. Also, no stranger to street corner evangelistic crazy folk yelling out crazy stuff, soldiers, police, folks talking in a variety of languages, also a place of protests and massacres.

It’s also Passover time for Jesus, so it’s like New York City at Christmastime.

Why do we worship stones? Oxford Presbyterian Church, Oxford Pa. Magnificent old building, great for the late 19th century. One night it burnt to the ground. And what did the congregation do? They built an exact copy on the same footprint. What a wasted opportunity!

2Then Jesus asked him "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

Well, it wouldn’t have been the first time. The Babylonians hacked about Solomon’s Temple – Psalm 74: 4-8 -- and then Herod got rid of the very Hebrew Temple Ezra and Nehemiah began so he could build a Temple patterned on Roman architecture. Started about when Jesus was born, it was still under construction when Jesus would visit it.

Shelly’s poem, “Ozymandias.”

And yes, in 70 AD the Romans put down the Hebrew insurrection. Arch of Titus in Rome celebrates this victory, including a frieze depicting the looting of the Temple. So much gold it flooded the Mediterranean gold market.

Finally, after another rebellion in 135 AD, Romans leveled what was left, leaving what they left before, a retaining wall, now called the Western Wall.

What did survive persecution, war, genocide, idolatry, arrogance? The humble synagogue, the Bible, The word of God, the people who believed.

3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple

Favorite spot in the country – lots of gardens – shady – rich folk like Nicodemus couldn’t have gardens in town due to congestion, so they bought plots outside the walls for growing olive trees, grape vines.




and Andrew asked him privately

His inner circle.

4"Tell us when will this be and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?"

Looking forward to wrapping it up, getting the cause finished. Which they think will be Jesus as the new Priest/King. Are we just going to sit around all day and talk?

5Then Jesus began to say to them "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray.

Who will save us? Who is our Lord? Who do we count on to make it all right for us? Assuming the problem is outside us, rather than inside us. Think of all the red herrings we end up chasing because our wannabe saviors want to distract us from the truth.

Will politicians save us?

Celebrities (whatever that means)?


Wall Street?


Penn State?

The Vatican?


The NFL and entertainment masquerading as sport?

Who should we trust? What should we trust? Which institution?

There’s an old story about the man who prayed for riches and wealth. God heard his prayer and cursed him by granting him his wish.

How about Christian preachers on TV wanting to be our saviors spouting pagan superstition as Christianity?

Whom should we trust?

7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars do not be alarmed (startled) ; this must take place

Shouldn’t be surprised, unnerved.

but the end is still to come. 8For nation (ethnos) will rise against nation

Tell me a time when this hasn’t taken place?

I take exception to bad biblical scholarship that holds seminars by folk who think they are doing good by frightening people: Quote from the flyer received in my mailbox: “Prophecies from the Bible are unfolding right in front of our eyes. Government chaos, Natural disasters. War and sickness across the planet.”

Jesus is coming!!!!

Hold it now: war, sickness, chaos – that’s the norm.

and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.

When will we know God’s plan will be accomplished? When? Well, when haven’t there been false messiahs, nation against nation, earthquakes, famines, war and rumors of war? Life is violent. Trauma. Social and natural chaos. When what you value is money, power, self-interest, what else do you get? Yet these all are temporary. Nations come and go, like a drop in the bucket.

Will it begin to end when we finally get sick and tired and fed up with it this way?

If the task is easy, it’s probably not worthwhile. The word easy comes from the word ‘ease, which means ‘comfortable.’ When things are comfortable, we don’t get better.

This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

When have your travails, your hardships, your pangs, become birth pangs?

We often trot out Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 that “We know everything God works for good…” But we cut it off there as if God is the cause of bad things in order to make something good out of them. No – traffic accidents, hurricanes, cancer – they’re not good.

But the rest of the scripture says: “…with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” God, I testify, doesn’t cause bad to force a good. Can’t. With love and with faith in God, that’s when even something terrible can result, with faith and love, in something godly. It is how we respond that makes the difference. It is who we follow that makes all the difference.

Hannah’s song, which is the inspiration for Mary’s Magnificat:

3Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

Birthpangs. My experience, thank you, was only indirect. Odinon – this word form only used twice in the Bible – Mark here and Matthew, though variants can be found in Revelation 12:2. Pregnancy leading to birth agony, travail. Then again Galatians 4:19, 27. Birth pangs, birth pains. Life purchased in pain, loss, death. And like birth, it happens all the time. I reject the notion that this is a singular event at the end of all things, but the ongoing story of creation and new life. Every ending is a new beginning. As Hannah sang, this is the victory of God, the intent of our God – birth, new life.

What a privilege, what a gift, what a blessing, to be alive today at this time and place!

The great servant Pastor Bonhoeffer wrote how Jesus truly showed the righteous power of God by exercising power over evil, never by exercising power over others. Never exploiting others and their personal tragedies to suit your purposes. That’s domination. Those are the adversaries of God. When we exercise power over others, bending their wills to serve ours, that’s when even a Jesus becomes the Satan. And Jesus knows that.

We are in it together, thus I share my vision that what we sense today are birth-pangs of a new age. Our Danse Macabre of violence and scapegoating and racial strife and contempt and greed and domination and pessimism will, must perish before the minuet of our world creating together, working together, healing together, feeding together, worshipping together. Global spiritual transformation, global awakening, born from the small and local.

My own variation on the Second Coming of Jesus depends not on us looking at Jesus parachuting down out of the sky to rescue us, but, remember: he hasn’t left us. He’s made us him, so when we, everyone, becomes the body of Christ and starts acting like the body of Christ, well then, we’ll all look around and realize: Look, Jesus is really here.

I believe that these last years especially we have been experiencing one of those Chrysalis moment, when the womb knows when. Whenever you see such violent reaction to change, you know we are going in a right direction. I see it in Christianity, in schools, talking about it the other day with the director of our struggling community center. Birthpangs. Got to go through this for new life.

For Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. No idealist am I. Call me a pragmatic optimist. And we, have more reason than ever to sweat and bleed, strive and strain to birth Jesus hope, faith, and love creating a new world -- I may not live to see it but those I love will see.

A newborn child’s wail is our inspiration and perspiration, our call and our cause, our hope and our judgment.

Amen and Amen

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