Sunday 14th November 2021

Act of Worship at Home

Reading Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 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.


I was present and witnessed the birth of both my daughters and it was a truly amazing, emotional experience. I have also been present and witnessed the last moments in this life of friends and loved ones. Often these moments are very peaceful but sometimes I have been struck by how like the struggle of birth that dying can be. It can be such a struggle to enter this world and it can be a similar struggle to leave it, even though medication may ease the passage. And perhaps that’s not surprising because when we leave this world we’re born again, literally, into a new world after death.

Perhaps the passing of the old often involves the birth-pangs of the new.

This is what Jesus seemed to be saying in our reading. He talked about the end of the old way of things, and possibly the end of the world as we know it today. There would be wars and rumours of wars, Jesus said, for nation would rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there would be earthquakes in various places; there would be famines. But all this, he added, would be but the beginning of the birth pangs.

In the last couple of years we’ve been experiencing all those things, plus so much more. The climate really does seem to have changed dramatically, the pandemic has threatened the lives of almost everyone on earth, so are we witnessing the death-throes of humanity? It can certainly feel like it.

Jesus linked the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem to the beginning of the end and the birth pangs of the new. The temple was actually destroyed in AD 70, less than 40 years after Jesus himself died. But perhaps the destruction of the temple was symbolic of the death of the traditional, established religion of the day, and the beginning of the new, exciting religion of Christianity.

I wonder whether we are seeing the death-throes of our own traditional practice of Christianity? Our churches attract far fewer people than once they did, which might be cause for alarm, but it might also be the birth pangs of a new, spiritual era, and as such, be cause for optimism and hope as well as for alarm.

I don’t believe that the end is in sight for our churches. But I do believe we should be very seriously addressing people’s spiritual needs and finding new ways of addressing them. It’s always been the case that Christianity must be interpreted anew for each new generation. Each generation receives new insights, and questions some of the insights of previous generations.

No cherished beliefs are given up without a struggle, sometimes a painful struggle. But that struggle, which feels like the end of everything held dear, so often turns out to be the birth of something new and something actually closer to God.

Right back in the beginning of Christianity, the struggle to retain the old religion exactly as it had always been, was marked by a death, a death on a cross. The High Priest even remarked that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. To the High Priest and to others like him, the struggle seemed like the death-throes of Judaism as they had known it, and they were deeply fearful for the future of their race and their religion.

But for God it was the birth pangs of Christianity, a new way of relating to God, a way that encompassed not just one race, but all human beings everywhere. Christianity breathed new energy into religion; new enthusiasm, new insights, new excitement.

I wonder what new insights and new excitement God has waiting for us, and I wonder whether we’ll see those new insights as death-throes or birth pangs? I pray we have the vision to be able to identify those new insights when they come.

Time of Prayer

In the middle of pain and sorrow, in the middle of recollection and remembrance, we praise you, O God.
You have been a rock for all who name you as their God; you are our rock.
You have been a protective father, mother, parent, enfolding your people in your care.
You have been, in Jesus, the one walking with us, the one carrying us across the battlefields of life,

living and death.
Your Holy Spirit has moved among us, giving us hope and light, guidance and inspiration.
To you, God of ages, we offer praise and thanksgiving.
We pray for leaders everywhere: for the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations… for the leaders of the poorest nations… for the leaders of our own nation… for the leaders of our churches…
May they be blessed with wisdom, humility and compassion.
We pray for those entrusted with great responsibilities: in hospitals…in schools…in care homes…
May they be blessed with wisdom, humility and compassion.
We pray for those who influence and inspire others: pop stars…actors…sports men and women… writers… artists… storytellers…
May they be blessed with wisdom, humility and compassion.
And we pray for one another and for ourselves, that as we live out our lives,
we too may be blessed with wisdom, humility and compassion.

Hymn – All my hope on God is founded

All my hope on God is founded;

he doth still my trust renew.

Me through change and chance he guideth,

only good and only true.

God unknown, he alone

calls my heart to be his own.

Pride of man and earthly glory,

sword and crown betray his trust;

what with care and toil he buildeth,

tower and temple, fall to dust.

But God’s power, hour by hour

is my temple and my tower.

God’s great goodness aye endureth,

deep his wisdom, passing thought;

splendour, light and life attend him,

beauty springeth out of naught.

Evermore, from his store

new-born worlds rise and adore.

Still from earth to God eternal

sacrifice of praise be done,

high above all praises praising

for the gift of Christ his Son.

Christ doth call one and all;

ye who follow shall not fall.


Lord God, source of all love,

from whom every soul has come, and to whom every soul will return,

help us to hold close the stories of those who have gone before us,

and to take comfort from their wisdom.

Let their stories tint our daily life with colour,

and give us hope and light to our path.


About the Author