The beginning of the end…
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, November 18, 2012.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
I’ve been your pastor for four months. And, I think it’s time to be frank with one another. These past few months have not been easy. We’ve undergone a hard pastoral transition (one of several in the past decade) and the resignation of a dearly beloved staff member. We’ve made subtle changes in the way we live our life together by reworking many of our communication tools like the bulletin and newsletter. Worship has been tweaked. And, there have been conversations about the ways in which we can, should, shouldn’t will and won’t change. There have been misunderstandings and miscommunications which have led to hurt feelings and bruised egos. I have been the victim of these misunderstandings and miscommunications, but I have also, at times, unwittingly instigated them. I’ve not remembered all your names. I haven’t visited in all of your homes. And, I still have trouble identifying Sunday morning church folk as members, constituents or visitors (so, no offense, if I say, “I don’t know that we’ve met before.”). For all that I’ve done and not done: I’m sorry. For my sins of omission and my sins of commission against you and this community of faith: I seek forgiveness trusting in your grace.
This transition has been difficult. Chandra and I are adjusting to living as a single-income family with a new child—born, for those of you who did not know, two days before we moved permanently to Culver. We literally left the hospital and moved here permanently. We’re adjusting to life lived further and further from family, friends, and a familiar support system. This transition has been difficult for us. And, I know, that for some of you, this transition has been difficult too.
There has been conflict. There has been struggle. The last few months have not always been comfortable as we’ve learned to journey with each other. And, at times, if we’re honest, I think we can agree that the journey has been downright difficult. These last four months have not been easy. And, I think, in many ways we have, together, reached the beginning of the end. And, I’m excited about that. Let me explain.
Jesus was leaving the temple with his disciples when one of them stopped to admire the architecture. The temple and surrounding structures were beautiful.
The Roman historian Tacitus described the temple complex as a mountain of white marble adorned with gold, a “temple of immense wealth” (History V.8). Its enormous stones mystified many…the surrounding complex included sprawling courtyards, colonnaded courts, grand porches and balconies, covered walkways, and monumental stairs. Herod the great builder built it to impress the wealthiest and most powerful rulers of the day, and he succeeded.
The temple was magnificent: an architectural marvel. I can only imagine the confusion and, perhaps, pain when Jesus responded to the admiration of the disciple by saying that this beautiful place—the place where many believed one drew near to God—would be laid to waste: “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished” (Mark 13:2, Common English Bible). The world as you know it, says Jesus, will come to an end. So watch out! Stay alert!
Many people will come in my name, saying “I’m the one!” They will deceive many people. When you hear of wars and reports of wars, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be earthquakes and famines in all sorts of places. These things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end.
Conflict and struggle mark the beginning of the end: the coming of a new age. So stay alert! proclaims Jesus (c.f. Mark 13:33-37). Don’t be shaken by conflict and struggle. Stand firm in your belief in God’s promises. Live out your faith! Don’t shy away from the conflict and struggle, work through it so that you might begin to see what God is doing as God redeems the world and establishes God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. It does not matter how bad the conflict and struggle get, God is always faithful to see us through even when the struggle and conflict seem to overwhelm us. God is present in the midst of the struggle and conflict. And, if we allow God to work through us in the face of the struggle, what seems like a stalemate, roadblock, or end can become a glorious new beginning.
Wesley United Methodist Church has entered the beginning of the end. There has been conflict. There has been struggle. You’ve heard of “wars and reports of wars” within the life of this church. Factions within our community of faith have fought against each other for meeting space, storage space, acceptance, and respect. The earth under our feet has been shaken by struggle and conflict. And, many, within and outside of, our community are spiritually and physically hungry. “These things,” Jesus says, “are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end (Mark 13:8d, Common English Bible). But, hear the Good News! The end is just the beginning.
We believe in a God who offers “us grace, that in pain we may find comfort, in sorrow hope, in death resurrection.” We believe in a God who, if we allow God, takes our endings and makes them into a beautiful new beginning. We believe in a God who in the face of death offers eternal and abundant life now.
Therefore, we cannot give up. We must stay alert! We must work through the conflict and the struggle. We must open our eyes to see the way in which Christ is walking with us into a new beginning. We must never forget that through God’s grace what often seems like the end is only just the beginning.
I truly believe that God has called me to be your lead pastor as we enter the beginning of the end. In fact, I’d say that it’s a great time to be your lead pastor. Because it’s through the struggle and through the conflict that we will find Christ leading us boldly into the future as we offer and live out God’s love in the world.
Part of the work we’re going to have to do together as we move through the conflict and struggle is discern what it means for us to offer and live out God’s love in and through Wesley United Methodist Church. This congregation has a rich history of reaching out by relocating from a dilapidated downtown building to a property in between the Culver schools, by starting a preschool, thrift store, kids club, and a missional lakeside worship service. This congregation has a rich history of reaching out and witnessing to God’s love. It is our task, as we live into the future, to build upon that history in order that we might move as boldly as our predecessors into the future, proclaiming that God’s love has been made real in our lives and we can’t help but share that with others.
I’m excited to be your pastor. We’ve reached the beginning of the end. And, I can’t wait to see what God will do through us as we work through the struggle and conflict to discern what God is leading us to do, for Christ’s sake, as we (remembering our history) walk boldly into the future. Therefore,
Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. [God] always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do [especially as the weather gets colder] but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day [of Christ’s return] approaching.
 “Mark 13:1-8: Exegetical Perspective” by Robert A Bryant in Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word, vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 311.
 Mark 13:6-8 (emphasis added), Common English Bible.
 From “A Service of Death and Resurrection” in The United Methodist Book of Worship: Pastor’s Pocket Edition (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992), 46.
 Adapted from Hebrews 10:23-25, The Message.