Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 17, 2024

Posted on March 18, 2024, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

March 17, 2024

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Mark 13:1-8, 24-37
Psalm 102:12-17

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

For the last couple of Sundays, our readings have been about conversations and events that took place in the last week of Jesus’ life. The conversation in today’s reading happened two days before Jesus’ arrest.

We’re used to hearing this reading in November at the end of the church year, right before Advent when we’re getting ready to prepare for Jesus’ birth and his return. But hearing it now, as we prepare for Holy Week and the end of Jesus’ life, it feels different.

Its context in terms of where we are in our year, and where Jesus is in his life, helps us remember to not just take the words on the page at face value because, as we’ve been hearing, there’s more to the message.

All along, Jesus has been telling his disciples about who he is, what it means to follow him, about what the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven means – how to embody it, and on and on. And they weren’t getting it.

So, now, two days before his arrest, there’s an increased sense of urgency in these things that Jesus has been talking about. He knew what was coming, and it was vital that the disciples pay attention – that they know in what and in whom to put their trust.

Things were going to get very chaotic very quickly. And if the disciples’ trust wasn’t in God, they were at risk of panicking and scattering away from each other, and being lured by a false prophet or promise. So, Jesus needed them to remember that their relationship with God would keep them grounded.

At the time Mark’s gospel was written, the early Christians were enduring intense persecution. And in the part leading up to today’s reading, Jesus had been engaged in some heated conversations with the religious leaders as they questioned his authority. The conflict experienced by both communities, even though they were 30-ish years apart, was palpable.

Jesus had critiqued the temple system, and he also wasn’t impressed with the Temple itself. To give some perspective – the Temple was under construction when Jesus was alive. It wasn’t completed until 30 years or so after he died. And it is said that the “large stones” were 35’ long by 18’ wide by 12’ high.

For those of who have traveled to that part of the world, the Temple platform was twice as large as the Roman Forum and four times as large as the Athenian Acropolis. And it’s reported that so much gold was used to cover the outside walls that anyone who looked at them in bright sunlight risked being blinded.

Without question, it was an architectural masterpiece. And for the disciple that marveled at it, it was also the best image of God’s presence that he could imagine. For him, the temple represented certainty and permanence.

But he didn’t see the same thing that Jesus did. In a sense, the disciple was blinded by what he saw. Because when Jesus looked at the temple, he saw ruins and destruction and loss. And he also saw change and possibility and new life.

[1]What Jesus talks about here is often described as “apocalyptic.” And that’s a word that tends to scare people; but an apocalypse is an unveiling, a revelation or disclosure of something that is hidden. And to experience an apocalypse is to experience a new way of looking at things and to understand reality in a new way.

In this sense, Jesus does offer his disciples an apocalyptic vision – a new way of seeing and understanding things. And for the people who first heard this gospel, the ones who were being persecuted for their faith and who likely witnessed the destruction of the temple, that newness gave them hope in a time when they desperately needed it.

It gave them courage to look beyond what was in front of them and to remember that God isn’t bound by mortar and stone, and that the temple isn’t the center of God’s work. Jesus’ new way of seeing and understanding things called their community to continue to love and encourage one another no matter what was going on around them. Trusting God, living faithfully, was to be their focus – not the status of the temple or anything else.

Jesus’ call to trust God hasn’t changed. And in a time like ours when so much is happening so fast, it’s more important than ever that we pay attention to that.

We live in a world with war – and rumors of war, and famine, and poverty, and all the ways that oppress and cause violence to people. Here in the US, we’re in a contentious election year and no matter who wins, its results will have significant long-term implications.

And we’re faced with the temptation to ignore all of that. To not care about it. To pretend it doesn’t matter, or that it doesn’t affect us. In a manner of speaking, we’re tempted to go to sleep and not wake up until everything is as God wants it to be.

But that isn’t what Jesus calls us to do. Paying attention, staying awake, means recognizing that all the stuff going on in our country and in our world does matter and it does affect us. And that our faith in God compels us to work towards something better – toward equity and lasting peace for everyone.

It’s hard to live faithfully, and to trust God, when it feels like chaos is reigning and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. But when we get caught up in the chaos, we lose our spiritual footing and fear takes over.

But when we engage with one another as a faith community, when we encourage one another to stay awake, to pay attention, to remember who Jesus is, we come to understand that our faith, our trust in God, is the best and only preparation we need for the way we’re called to live.

Because God is the one who holds us fast when it feels like the world seems to be spinning out of control. God outshines and outlasts any building or system that humans create. It is in God that we find our life, our hope, and our truth.

When Mark wrote this gospel, the early Christians’ faith was being tested in such a way that their lives literally depended on it. They had personally witnessed that buildings and people don’t last forever – no matter how powerful or mighty they seem to be.

[2]And they also knew that God’s Messiah had assured his followers that death and destruction aren’t the final chapter in the story of God’s people. Because in the same way stones can be thrown down from a building to reveal an ending, they can also be rolled away from a tomb to reveal a new beginning.

As people of faith, remembering in what and in whom we put our trust is foundational to who we are as God’s people. When we put it in God, we live knowing that God will never fail us.

In times of chaos, this trust – this relationship, keeps us grounded. It keeps us from panicking and being lured away by any false prophet or promise. Because no matter what happens, God can never be destroyed or taken away from us. Thanks be to God! Amen.


[2] Rev. Dr. Audrey West