November 14, 2021 Second Sunday Before Advent Advent The text is Mark 13: 1-8 .
1 As [Jesus] walked away from the temple, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at that stonework! Those buildings!” 2 Jesus said, “You’re impressed by this grandiose architecture? There’s not a stone in the whole works that is not going to end up in a heap of rubble.” 3-4 Later, as he was sitting on Mount Olives in full view of the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew got him off by himself and asked, “Tell us, when is this going to happen? What sign will we get that things are coming to a head?” 5-8 Jesus began, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One.’ They will deceive a lot of people. When you hear of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history, and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. But these things are nothing compared to what’s coming.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Things are naturally a bit different today from what they were in Jesus’ time, and we’ve all seen church closings, some of which have resulted in the buildings being demolished. In acts of intolerance mosques have been vandalized, synagogues burned, and churches have been targeted with violence. But thankfully people are able to move on, to recover from these losses, for there is always another house of worship to be found to replace the loss. But, in first-century Israel, before the time of rabbinical Judaism and the neighborhood synagogue there was only the one temple, the dwelling place of God in the center of Jerusalem. The temple was at the core of Jewish life, everything centered in and around it. The faithful flocked to the temple for the celebration of the several religious festivals during the year.
The Ark of the Covenant was safely secured in the innermost recesses of the temple, and the required acts of sacrifice and atonement took place within its walls. And this was the edifice that the disciple was so impressed with that he pointed out its grandeur to Jesus. It was unthinkable that this most sacred symbol of Jewish faith would not always stand as a reminder that the city of Jerusalem was the center of religious practice for the Hebrew people. Yet, likely in Mark’s own time, in the year 70 AD, it was to be levelled to the ground. In confirmation of Jesus’ proclamation, it would indeed be reduced to a “heap of rubble”. The result of this destruction was to be the harbinger of the Diaspora, the great scattering of the Jewish people beyond Israel. The loss of the great temple had unimaginable consequences for the Israelites in Mark’s time, and Jesus’ prophesy that it would be destroyed was met with deep concern by his closest followers.
What followed the disciples’ question was Jesus’ rather dire explanation of the “end times”, when creation would reach its ultimate conclusion; this would herald the death, judgment, and the final destiny of humankind. There is a branch of biblical study that focuses on this analysis of the end of days, called eschatology. It is closely related with apocalyptic scripture and many have found themselves rather consumed by the resulting prophetic predictions. There have been more than a few folks on street corners with signs announcing “the end is near!” And, even though the state of the world has seemed to be in pretty rough shape on more than one occasion, it’s obvious by our very presence that the end times have not yet occurred. A bit of explanation of the word, “apocalyptic”; in its modern understanding it has come to refer to disaster, catastrophe, even Armageddon itself. Truth is, apocalypse in the original Greek simply means unveiled or revealed. In Mark’s verses this morning Jesus is revealing the future destruction of the temple, using this as a metaphor for the end of the world, God’s ultimate plan for creation, and all that is prophesied to happen before the end is reached.
Jesus’ statement that every horrific event that has ever taken place, or will occur, is nothing compared to what the ultimate end will be like, is quite terrifying. Yet, his admonition to keep a clear head and not to engage in panic; this seems to be the more important element in his proclamation.
The fact that Jesus doesn’t set timing for when the end will come and also cautions the disciples to be watchful for people and events that may be interpreted as signs of this final judgement, further expresses his admonition to be aware that there will be a final reckoning; but that his followers are best served by living the abundant lives God wishes for them, in the here and now. And also for us, it’s rather like, “we should acknowledge that as Christians we believe God will bring creation to a final closure, and we are to be watchful for that time and not be complacent in how we live; but our purpose remains, we are to live as followers of the Way of Christ”. In a way, this is pretty much how we tend to behave anyway. Especially those of us who are fortunate enough to live where we don’t really worry all that much about the end of things. Ours is a society that is obsessed with consumption; with obtaining all that we can while we are able. I cringe whenever I see the bumper sticker that reads. “The one who dies with the most toys wins”. The one who displays that bumper sticker has apparently lost sight of the fact that Jesus informed the disciples that everything will be reduced to a “heap of rubble”.
So, we’re faced with a bit of what may be described as a counter-intuitive reaction to the end-of-days proclamation. Jesus tells us that everything will eventually come to an end, so be alert but don’t dwell on the fact. So, we interpret that to mean that we ought to live for today, with an awareness that someday it will all over. Makes sense. But it doesn’t automatically follow that we should therefor abandon our efforts to live and act in accordance with God’s Law. Have you seen t-shirts or coffee mugs with Martin Luther’s rather cryptic motto, “Sin boldly”? Lutherans have been known to adopt a somewhat glib understanding of what we proclaim as our belief that we are saved by God’s grace and as we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ”. While this is true, many conveniently ignore the full context of Luther’s admonition regarding sin. It is from a letter written to a fellow reformer, Phillip Melanchthon to support his efforts in the Reformation. When read in full, the glib notion of bold sinning takes on a starkly more profound meaning; it speaks to the need to remember always that we are in Christ’s debt.
Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him… Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”
So, the street-corner prophet holding the sign announcing that, “the end is near” actually does have a point. The end is coming, but none of us has any idea of how “near” that end might be. But we do have choices to make; we can accumulate all the toys we can lay our hands on and “sin boldly” with no concern for the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. Or, we can share some of our toys, our excess with those who have less. We can temper our bold sinning with lives that express gratitude for the grace that has been secured for us. We can be on the lookout for those occurrences that Jesus tells us are coming; not fearing them, but acknowledging that the events in this world are not definitive signs that the next one is just around the corner.
Let’s not put our trust in the fancy buildings of our day, because all of these will at some point be “heaps of rubble”, but focus our hearts and minds on the grace, love, and mercy we have been granted by God. Rather than fearing the future, let’s strive to live into our calling as bold sinners, acknowledging what is to come while doing all we can to serve as Christ-followers today. It’s fine to “sin boldly”, but it’s more important that we live just as boldly as people of the Way. Unafraid of the future, and determined to make the best of the present. For ourselves, and for others.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and holy God, you have promised your people that they are forgiven and will be welcomed into eternal life with you when your kingdom is established at the end. Inspire us to live as your faithful servants in this world, while we await the day when all has come to pass. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who has secured forgiveness for us when we “sin boldly”. Amen.
God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!
Preached by Minister Tom Houston at Grace Ministries when he presided at services there on Sunday, November 14, 2021.