Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 28B (11/15/2009)
Living in End Times
Lessons: Daniel 12:1-3 Psalm 16 (9) Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25 St. Mark 13:1-8 Semicontinuous Series 1 Samuel 1:4-20 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (1) Prayer of the Day Almighty God, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
13:1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors 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.
St. Mark 13:1-8 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
St. Mark probably composed his Gospel account somewhere around the tumultuous year of ad 70. The Roman occupying forces in Jerusalem had become increasingly antagonistic towards Jew and Christian alike. In 70, Romans soldiers surged into Jerusalem and utterly destroyed the Temple. It was a devastating experience for those who had seen the Temple as a sign that God's promises were being fulfilled among them.
In those days, Jewish people who had become Christians were wrestling with some hard questions. Questions like: "If Jesus was the Messiah, then why hasn't the Messianic Reign done away with evil and brokenness in our world, as our ancestors expected it would?" Or, "Jesus promised that he would return soon to complete his work among us (and seemed to say that it would happen while some of us were still alive). Why hasn't he come yet?" But after ad 70, they had newer (even harder) questions: "What does it mean that the Temple has been destroyed?" "Was God visiting punishment on those of us who refused to believe in Jesus?" (Or: "Was God punishing those of us who did believe in him?")
For generation after generation, these Hebrew people had built their identity around the Temple in Jerusalem, and the acts of worship that took place there. The many prayers and sacrifices, the many stories and memories, the images of King David literally dancing for joy within its walls. The Temple in Jerusalem was part of their identity. What would it mean to live without the Temple? How would they remember who they were, with much of Jerusalem lying in ruins? How could they continue as God's people?
For those who might be tempted to give up, St. Mark remembers these words of Jesus. These stones will all be thrown down. Some would come, falsely claiming to be the Messiah. But these are not reasons to despair -- at least not for those who believe. God has promised that no matter how hard it becomes, no matter how much destruction invades our lives, no matter how tempted we are to give up and give in, God continues to lead us forth with the promises of faith. The promise of a bright new day. The promise of God's powerful love. The promise of salvation.
As Joseph Scriven put it:
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged: take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness: take it to the Lord in prayer.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus, by Joseph Scriven (1820-1886), Lutheran Book of Worship (C) 1978 by Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis), Hymn #439.
Should trials and temptations upset us, should destruction invade our lives, even should the end of the world itself arrive, Christians need not despair. We are invited to cast our burdens on the strong and loving shoulders of Christ. In the presence of our Lord we find comfort and hope. May that be as strong for us today as it was for the people of St. Mark's day.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week's Gospel:
- How was the Temple a symbol of God's presence among the faithful -- a sign that all would be well for them?
- What caused the early church to despair about their future?
- What did St. Mark want them to remember about Jesus' words?
Connecting with This Week's Gospel:
- What, in my life, has been difficult for me?
- How has God helped me to remain faithful, even in my most difficult times?
- What friends or acquaintances of mine are suffering today? How can I be God's instrument of health and strength for them?