|1 Samuel 1:4-20 or Daniel 12:1-3
1 Samuel 2:1-10 or Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25
Hey everybody, I’m writing to you from Leipzig, Germany today. It is our last day here. We have seen Leipzig, where Bach served and where Luther preached, Erfurt, where Luther went into the monastery, Wittenberg, where he posted the 95 theses, Buchenwald, Eisleben and more. This is the Luther decade, and 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and many others will be remembering this pivotal time in Western history. We laid groundwork for future trips, to engage our heritage and enrich our faith. Many Lutherans dream of visiting Luther sites to deepen their faith, and understanding of their heritage. Why not start thinking about your pilgrimage, and that of congregational members. In 2014 we’ll take a group of pastors over, who will hopefully then lead a group of lay leaders in 2017. Give some thought to this and start saving up.
This week we read about the end in Mark’s "Little Apocalypse." It begins with Jesus’ clear prediction of the destruction of the Temple. "Not one stone will be left upon another…" Pretty clear.
Josephus writes, in Wars of the Jews, Book 6:
"(404) But when they went in numbers into the lanes of the city, with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook, without mercy, and set fire to the houses wither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; (405) and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching anything. (406) But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood. (407) And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night…"
My Systematic Theology professor Walter Bouman believed that Jesus saw this coming, and wanted to save his nation from this "desolating sacrilege." In the last days of his life I, like many other parish pastors, made pilgrimage to Columbus to say goodbye and thank you to this mentor who had demanded we think through our faith. From his bedroom, with Bach playing softly, Walter could not help himself. Lucid and sharp, he commented on church issues from full inclusion of gay and lesbian people to the universality of salvation to ecumenical efforts. I couldn’t get in a word edgewise.
Then he turned to Jesus. "He died for Israel. He warned them to be people of peace, to turn the other cheek. He said, ‘Those who live by the sword, shall die by the sword.’" Bouman saw Jesus as giving his life to save his people, a ransom for many. "It is better for one man to die than for an entire nation to perish."
We talked about one of the most controversial passages: "His blood be upon us and upon her children." I said this passage was antisemitic and had caused too much bloodshed. Bouman, a frequent speaker at synagogues, who lived in a Jewish neighborhood, said, "Yes, but it has been completely misunderstood and misinterpreted. What does blood mean in the Jewish tradition? Atonement Michael. Atonement. This is not a statement of guilt. It is a soteriological statement. His is the blood of the sacrificial lamb that atones for sins. The statement means, ‘may his death be for us forgiveness.’"
Twenty years later he was still teaching and preaching to me, from his deathbed. With every last breath. He saw in Jesus the light in a dark world, and we, like the bumbling disciples of the gospels, miss the point over and over.
So what does this text do for us today? How does the prediction of the end of the Temple or the end of the world speak to us today? What point is Mark trying to make?
Hank Lanknecht, who was in seminary with me and later returned to teach homiletics, says, either way, he’d like to hear a sermon about the end of things, however the preacher wants to run with that. This text addresses end things, ultimate things.
"Are we talking about the cosmic end of all things when the sun burns up billions of years from now (and whether there will even be humans left to see it)? Or are we speaking of the end of earth’s ability to sustain human life, whether through Armageddon, natural cataclysm, or human mismanagement? Or are we talking about the end of a certain cultural "way of life" (free-market capitalism, mainline denominationalism, or Western-style democracy)? Or are we talking about judgment day?’)." See Hank Lanknecht’s full commentary.
Or are we talking about the end of Jesus’ life, the temple of his body? Can we also think about it as the end of our lives, we who have been baptized into his death?
As the church year ends, the fall ends, and we approach year’s end, we focus on end things. We remember all things come to an end. Seasons. Calls. Life. Being people of the resurrection allows us to face all this. "Don’t get alarmed…" Look at end things with hope and joy. Don’t deny the ends of things, but embrace them, knowing that God holds the future.