The Rock That Births You

A sermon from St. Paul's UMC, Houston


Today (Sunday, November 14) I preached at St. Paul’s UMC in Houston, Texas. The sermon - The Rock That Births You - was on 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 rumors 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 birthpangs.”

This isn’t an easy story — it is especially hard to avoid the pitfalls of any Christian preaching about the destruction of the Temple (I pray I didn’t contribute to those anti-Semitic interpretations!). But I think it is one of the most important stories in Mark, a short section of verses that help make sense of the entire gospel.

In the midst of the sermon, I blurted out an interpretation of Mark’s gospel that I’ve never heard before — tackling the issue of why Mark (unlike Luke and Matthew) doesn’t have a birth narrative. And how this genuinely gloomy gospel may actually be the most hopeful of the four gospels in these terribly difficult days.

Listen in to thirty good minutes about the suffering shared by Jews and Christians at the hands of the Roman Empire — and our heritage of rocks and birth, and our common dream for the Age to Come.

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With Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the winter holidays coming up, there will be special doings here at the Cottage!

To the entire Cottage community (both free and paid subscribers): I’ll be sending out an Advent calendar — a short daily devotional every day from Dec 1-24. Please invite your friends to sign up to join in!

For the paid community: The next ZOOM to the Cottage will be an open conversation, talking about how we’re doing at this stage of the pandemic and whatever comes up in the news, with an extended time of “AMA” (ask me anything) on WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 17 at 3PM eastern/NOON Pacific. The link will be sent out via email about three hours BEFORE the Zoom meeting. Remember to check for it on Wednesday!

As always, I will record the session and send out the recording to everyone on the paid list.

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Also, we’ll have some sort of Christmas party together via ZOOM — hoping to invite along a special guest musician to celebrate the holiday at the Cottage.


Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
— W.H. Auden, from September 1, 1939

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled to scorn—
Yet here did the Savior make His home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

— Madeleine L’Engle, The Risk of Birth

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