“Give us a Clue, Jesus”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
November 15, 2015
Many of you this week saw on the news what some are calling the “War on Christmas!” Did you see this? Starbucks came out with their new holiday cup and it was stark red, no snow flakes, no cute little ornaments, no Rudolph. Just a red cup with their green Starbucks logo.
Some of you are asking, what is the big deal? That was my response in fact. Apparently there are some who interpreted this change from a “Christmas” look to a plain red cup is Starbucks attempt to wage war on Christmas. Some believe it is an affront to tradition and yet another example of what they believe is the taking of religion out of Christmas. Just another example of secularizing of the holiday; driving us to greet one another with a mere “Happy Holidays” instead of an enthusiastic “Merry Christmas!”
One former pastor, Josh Feuerstein said that “Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new holiday cups, that’s why they are plain red.” He posted a video on his Facebook page that went viral, 12 million views of him, complaining about this affront to his religion. He encouraged those listening to tell the barista next time they stopped in at Starbucks that their name is “Merry Christmas,” so that they would be forced to say it when they called the name on the drink. 12 million views on this video. One Presidential candidate got into the fray saying that when he became president that he would promote the use of “Merry Christmas!” I think they have missed the point, don’t you? Christmas isn’t about a red cup.
But this is what people are paying attention to this week. That is until the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night. The distractions in our lives range from frivolous, red cups, to intensely serious; 120 dead in a violent attack on a sister city. We’ll get back to that in a minute. You and I are surrounded by things that take our attention away from what is important. We are bombarded with messages of what we “should” be doing, thinking or feeling. Billboards, magazines, social media, newspapers, texts, emails, tweets, radio and the list goes on. We are buried in messages, telling us how to feel. Convincing us what is really important.
Our scripture this morning cautions us against following those things that lead us astray. Those things that might seem important when in reality they are mere distractions. Our lesson this morning begins with Jesus and his disciples coming out of the temple and one of them, we don’t know if it was Peter, James, John or Andrew; one of them pointed out the large stones that made up the temple. (My, what big stones you have, temple!) This was the temple where the Holy of Holies dwelled. This was The Jewish temple, the focus of Jewish worship and sacrifice. This was the very dwelling place of God. Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant and it was believed that the very essence of God was in this place.
Here we have Jesus, saying that this house of God will be destroyed. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Was he predicting the destruction of the temple that came 40 years later? Or was he talking about something else altogether? Was it a prediction of his own death and resurrection? The disciples looked at Jesus, and I imagine them saying, “Give us a clue, Jesus. We don’t get it.” So they went over to the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple and pressed Jesus for answers. Privately questioning him, they said, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”
Without explanation, these disciples might have thought that what Jesus was suggesting in the destruction of the temple, could be seen as an act of terrorism in his day. The disciples continued to hope that the Messiah they believed Jesus to be, would in fact rise up against the Romans, they couldn’t imagine that he would suggest the destruction of their own temple; the temple where God resided. That is blasphemy at minimum; a terrorist act at maximum.
Instead of explaining directly, Jesus tells them not to be led astray. He warned them that others will come “in his name and say, ‘I am he!’” He tells them that there will be war, rumors of war, famine, nation rising up against nation, there will be terrorism; he says there will be natural disasters: earthquakes and tsunamis. All of this will be “but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
All of these things will attempt to distract us from being faithful followers of Jesus Christ. These things and others will lead us astray, if we let them. Sometimes it feels like we can hardly avoid it. Too many things pressing in on us every day and it’s easy to take our focus off of the Christ and get hung up in the details of what color the coffee cup is that we are holding.
Over the centuries people have been distracted with talk of eschatological visions, predictions of the end of the world. In my research this week I found over 169 end times predictions dating as early as 66-70 CE, when the Essene sect of Jewish ascetics thought that the revolt against the Romans was a sure sign of the end-times. Over the centuries since Christ’s resurrection, several Popes as well as Martin Luther, Christopher Columbus, Cotton Mather, John Wesley, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell all have made predictions about the end times. Most recently at the turn of the century there were numerous predictions that the world would end. Some fears were triggered by the Y2K bug and some felt it would cause global chaos and an economic crisis that would allow the “Antichrist” to rise to power. What none of these people remembered is that Jesus specifically said that no one knows when the day or time will be, when He is to return. In Mark 13:32, Jesus says,
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
I think it’s awfully presumptuous of people to think they have somehow been privileged to fine the “secret” to predicting the end time. If the angels don’t know and Christ himself doesn’t know, what makes Jim Jones think he would be let in on that secret? Even our own founder John Wesley, got caught up in making predictions.
Instead of getting hung up on trying to figure out when Christ will return, we must focus on our call to be his disciples. We must be cautious that our churches haven’t become a mere social club, a place to see and be seen. We must guarantee that our lives are of more value than that. We must ensure that we are stepping outside of ourselves and doing everything we can, every day to bring peace to our world. We must help usher in the Holy Spirit among us, so that all would be infected with God’s love, rather than the hate and evil that seems rampant around us.
I think it’s easy to fall into the trap where we feel we can’t do anything to make a difference, where we sit on the sidelines, bereft of hope and praying it will all just go away. What on earth can we do against global terrorism? I am just one person, we are but one small church in rural Nevada. I suspect we feel frozen in terror and at the same time thankful it wasn’t our community torn apart. But we must stand in solidarity with our French brothers and sisters and not shrink back in fear. We must hang on to the hope of the resurrected Christ that there will be peace on earth one day.
I wish I could say I had the answers, in fact, if I did I’d be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize today and revered by many. There is no easy answer, there are no simple solutions. As Christians we must cling to the hope given to us by Jesus Christ and to continue to pray and work for peace. We must avoid the temptation to hide in our own homes, thankful that we are safe; but that can’t be our response. Christ calls us to be catalysts of peace in all we do.
In light of the terrorist attacks this week in Paris we have to ask ourselves again what is our response? Will this distract us from our mission or inspire us to work harder to bring peace to the world? Bishop Bob Hoshibata set a letter and I would like to share a portion of it with you all this morning. He says,
“As I watch news reports of the violence a half a world away, I believe evil is incarnate in the killing of more than 120 civilians, many of whom are young people. It is incomprehensible that innocent lives would be sacrificed in the name of religious or political ideologies. Those who perpetrate such evil acts seek to create fear and terrorize others by their complete disregard for the value of life. These are actions that for us, “scorn the Christ” who is the Prince of Peace. Without a strong foundation of faith in a God of love made known in Jesus Christ, we would cower in anger and distress. Without belief in the power of God to transform the ways of those who are evil, we would condemn the perpetrators without asking for their transformation. Apart from our faith in Jesus Christ, we would shrink from fear because of these acts of terrorism!
“Therefore, even in this time of shock, dismay, grief, and anger, I ask you to lean upon your faith and fervently pray: “From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith and praise. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days.” We are not called live in fear, but rather to live courageously and faithfully. Let this be our prayer! If we truly deplore evil as we say we do, let us order our lives so that we may courageously demonstrate our commitment to that which is good and just. Moreover, let us pray that we would never let fear grip us so tightly that we are unable to live in peace with one another. Let us pray that we will be connected to the work of reconciliation and peaceful solutions to our disagreements and conflicts. As we declare in our Social Principles, “As disciples of Christ, we are called to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict. . . We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world. . . “Let that be our commitment even in the shadow of the violence of Paris and in other parts of our world.
“And let us also remember that there are United Methodist Churches, laity and pastors in France who are affected by these terrorist attacks. Keep these sisters and brothers in Christ in prayer. Pray for the people of France who are suffering and grieving even as we share this letter this morning. And let us not cease to include in our prayers that God would soften the hearts of those who would commit acts of violence against others. Bishop closes by saying, “May God grant us wisdom and courage so that we would live as God calls us: as agents of peace, reconciliation, hope, faith and love in our own neighborhoods and communities, or wherever Christ leads us.”
Sisters and brothers, what is our response? How will we fight for peace in this world? Let us pray:
Gracious God of the universe, hear our humble prayers this morning. We grieve with the nation of France for the lives lost and those disrupted that will never be the same. Let us be people who work diligently for peace, through the selection of our leaders, our support of causes promoting peace and through the practices of our daily lives. Remind us that we are people of strength and courage and we will never stop fighting for a just society where we can all live in peace. Finally we pray for those whose hearts are filled with evil. We pray that they would meet you and be filled to overflowing with your love and grace. We pray this all in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Mark 13:2
 Mark 13:4
 Mark 13:6
 Mark 13:8