Written by: Rachael Keefe

Birthpangs or False Labor: A Prophetic Sermon on Mark 13:1-8

If we watch the news, it’s easy to conclude that we are on the brink of a biblical apocalypse. There is war and always rumors of more. Then there are …

Birthpangs or False Labor: A Prophetic Sermon on Mark 13:1-8

If we watch the news, it’s easy to conclude that we are on the brink of a biblical apocalypse. There is war and always rumors of more. Then there are fires, floods, earthquakes, famine, and more. Add in pandemic and those who look to the Bible to predict the way of things will tell us that the world is on the brink of the end. However, there are healthier ways of looking at things. If we can change our perspective, then maybe will be more inclined to sing praises along with Hannah rather than prophesy the apocalypse.

When Mark wrote his gospel, it was easy enough to predict the destruction of the Temple. So, too, with wars, earthquakes, and famine. These were common enough experiences and the Roman Empire was less than impressed with the people they conquered, especially the people of Israel. Jesus also understood human beings. Neither Jesus nor the Gospel writer could see the future. They understood human beings and what happens when people don’t live according to God’s holy ways.

Mark is careful to say that these portents of disaster are “the beginnings of birthpangs.” I think this could be true. Or it’s false labor pains. How many disasters – floods, fires, famines, earthquakes, wars, and plagues must the human race live through before we understand that we are all connected? We are responsible for the care of our neighbors and of the planet. We have listened more closely to the desires of Empire than the call of God. Jesus didn’t have to be psychic to predict that this would happen.

There is something within us all that resists the power of Love, the power that links us one to another. Instead of listening to the call of Love, we respond to the call of Empire. Love tells us that we need one another and we need to be faithful stewards of the planet and all of our resources. Empire tells us that others are a threat, are to be feared or subdued. As a result we continue to destroy the planet so that those with power and wealth can maintain or increase their status. We also allow fear to build and sustain kyriarchy which keeps us divided and helps us abdicate responsibility for caring for the vulnerable among us.

God is not bringing about any sort of apocalypse, though human beings might be. The more we follow human ways which are epitomized in the ways of Empire, the more likely global destruction becomes. The more we choose holy ways, the more likely we are to care for the planet and all who call it home. The good news is that there is still time to change our ways. There is still time to sing praises to God. There is still time to create unity and justice where Empire has sown division and oppression.

In the midst of global pandemic and climate change, every one of us can make changes, even small ones, that matter. What changes to our thoughts and actions will turn these false labor pains into the birthpangs of a New Creation? God isn’t going to do it without us. God works through human beings. If we end up in a state of apocalyptic destruction, it’s on us because we haven’t responded to God’s Love calling us to wholeness. If we end up creating a united, healing world, we can thank God for patiently waiting for humanity to respond and we can thank our neighbors for listening. The choice is ours as always – life or death? What will you choose?

The Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe's home on the web. Welcome.
Image via pixabay by Игорь Левченко

RCL – Year B – 25th Sunday after Pentecost – November 14, 2022 – 1 Samuel 1:4-20 and 1 Samuel 2:1-10  • Daniel 12:1-3 and Psalm 16  • Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25  • Mark 13:1-8

For other posts on these texts: Better than it Looks from 2018, The Simple Complexity of Prayer from 2015, and There’s No Wrong Way to do the Right Thing from 2012.

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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