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The Bible can be a frightening place

November 18, 2012

Just as I started to prepare my sermon for Sunday I had an enquiry about a baptism. Baptisms are always full of hope and promise, well most of the time. But it is that hope and promise that comes with new birth that struck in my mind.

Those thoughts took me back to when my daughter was born. All the trauma. All the worry for me – all the indignity and pain for Viv. I remember that Viv was in labour for over 24 hours, it was not easy. But the result totally transformed our lives, in ways expected and unexpected.

So I turned to the set Bible readings with a smile on my face. But the smile soon vanished. These are not happy readings. These are frightening and challenging readings. These are the readings that I prefer to avoid. My happy thoughts soon went.

You see, I often struggle with the Bible passages about the end of times. They talk of destruction and pain when I want hope and healing and building up. But, just because I struggle with these parts of the Bible does not mean that I am free to ignore them. No, whenever I don’t want to listen, that is the time when I need to listen most. But it is so tempting to turn away, or in this case, turn the page, and find something more to my liking.

Maybe, you are the same. Maybe these passages frighten you, maybe you don’t understand them. That would be perfectly understandable, these passages tend to use frightening language, and language that is difficult for anyone to make sense of, even the greatest theologians. So there, you are not alone.

It is just a couple of verses from Mark 13 that have really struck me: 7 “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

This was said, and written down about 2,000 years ago, but it could have been written today. War and rumours of wars. Well, there’s plenty of that. Afganistan, Syria, Sudan, Somalia.. and so many others that just don’t even reach the news. Then there’s all the unrest. Demonstrations and violence in Spain, and Greece, and even an English Defence League march and counter march in Norwich.

But we don’t even need to look to these big events to see that things are wrong. There are children going to our schools, without a breakfast, without lunch, but supplied with drugs by the friendly village or town pusher, often as they walk to school. It happens most days.

We have people in our villages and towns that need a handout just to feed themselves and their children for a few days. Then there is the pain and the suffering of illness, accident and disease. It’s all so gloomy, so you can see why I try and avoid these passages.

But if I do, if I avoid these passages, my faith quickly becomes irrelevant, and wishful thinking. You see, the world does have pain and war and illness and exploitation. So my faith and your faith needs to deal with these things.

These bad things are real. But so is are the good things and the hopeful things. That is where my thoughts about baptism, and birth and new life come in. Birth is wonderful and a celebration of hope. But it comes at a cost. Human birth only comes with pain and indignity for the mother, and with some risk of harm, even now.

That is why Jesus called all these terrible things, the wars, and pain, the ‘birth pangs’. They are bad but they are not the end of the story. There is war, but there is also peace. There is pain, but there is also comfort, sadness and joy, hate but also love.

That is why I need to remember these difficult passages. I need these passages to frighten and disturb me. I need the horrible news items to do the same. I need them to drive me to God. Because, when I draw close to God, I’m filled with his Spirit. When I draw close to God, he calms my fears and opens my eyes to a reality that most people seem unable to see. I see a reality where Peace is greater than war, where Comfort is greater than pain, where Joy is greater than sadness, and most of all where Love is greater than hate.

I need these passages, to make me cry before God for all that is wrong with our world. I need to have my tears turned into a smile, my despair into hope. I need to turn and face reality or reality will just run right over me.

I need to remember that all these things are merely birth pangs. They are real, but they are only part of the story, the start of the story, a story with love, and hope and peace and joy at its end, and liberally spread through the middle too.

So I encourage you to bring all of life to God, the good and the bad. Let him transform it all and bring hope. Hope for you, hope for you to share in this world.

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