A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

These Are Days Sermon on Mark13 November 27, 2020

This sermon was preached on Nov. 29, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Isaiah 64: 1-9
Mark 13: 24-37

I’m a date person, and by that, I mean that I am typically fairly conscious of special dates, either as anniversaries or in anticipation of a significant date. This has its pros and cons. In the “pro” column, I’m a planner and I’m rarely caught by surprise of something happening that I wasn’t in some way ready for. In the “con” column is that I can become so hyper focused on what’s coming that I’m not fully present in day to day life. I suppose I could be accused of “wishing days away,” from time to time and waiting “for the day to come.” Such as I couldn’t wait for the day to come when four years of graduate school would end (who can blame me?) Or couldn’t wait for the day to come when pregnancy would end and I would hold my babies (again, who can blame me?). Or today, waiting for the day to come that ends the COVID19 mess and we’ll be able to get back to living our lives the way we want. It doesn’t seem all bad to look forward for the day to come does it? There are sometimes that waiting for the day to come is exciting and expectant such as holidays, graduations, weddings, or births, but for most of our lives that “waiting for the day to come” is much more nebulous and anxious, such as the waiting for the day to come when children are grown and moved out, or when age or disease might take a loved one, or we ourselves will die. In many ways, the harsh and frightening days to come are the ones that preoccupy us the most, as we try to predict when that day might come, how to avoid it or make it less devastating. We can be so preoccupied with the days coming that we forget to notice the days that are already here. Worrying about the days to come can cloud our vision of the right now and paralyze us from living today. We miss the joy and wonder that is present. We miss the people who are right in front of us. We turn the days we’re in into nothing more than obstacles to be overcome. Yet, when I look back to graduate school, or pregnancies, yes, the day mattered, but the days leading up to it are also precious in my memory. All those days made the culmination more meaningful. To quote singer/song writer Natalie Merchant “these are days you’ll remember.” (10,000 Maniacs, “These Are Days” 1992)

We’re in a liturgical and a cultural season where we can easily become focused on the day to come, that is December 25. From Thanksgiving Day forward the whole trajectory of the next four or so weeks points to that day. We light candles each week as a way to mark the time, we might have a chocolate Advent calendar to count down, we check to do items off our Christmas lists, all in view of a day to come. And yet, often that day comes, we wonder where December went, or why we’re so tired, or behind in other tasks. I can get to Dec. 25 unable to really remember much from the previous frantic month. I wonder what it would be to mark this season without being preoccupied with the end date to come.

As humans, worrying about the day to come, the end, is well documented. In our Isaiah passage, the Israelites are preoccupied for the day when God’s presence will be known in their midst. They are concerned about the day when God will show up and make everything the way that they want it to be. They wanted God’s hand to cause the mountains to tremble and quake, the earth to boil, and for God to perform wonderous and mighty deeds such as in the Exodus story with plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. They wanted that day to come when other nations will be at the Israelites mercy, and they were vindicated. They wanted no more days in exile and only looked for that end day to come.

The gospel writer of Mark’s fledgling community of Jesus followers were also looking for an end day to come. They were living through an extremely violent and volatile time when the Israelites had won some independence from Rome for a bit only to have Rome come in and completely devastate Jerusalem, including destroying the Temple. Mark’s community was in grave peril, low on life’s necessities, safety and hope. Mark bolstered his community with the words and stories of Jesus. Many in the community were simply passively praying for Jesus to return, for God to take care of all this, for at this time many people believed that Jesus’ return was imminent.  And some were growing discouraged of waiting and completely gave up on following Jesus at all. These two responses to the day to come when Jesus would return, Mark knew that wasn’t the point of Jesus life, death or resurrection. So he recounts in chapter 13 a corrective to what Jesus says we do while we are waiting for the day to come.

Jesus is clear that God’s kingdom is indeed coming but in focusing on the end, like the Israelites, we actually might miss what God is doing in these days. Preoccupation with Jesus’ return date, or for a date of a vaccine or a date of change of leadership, will seduce us to thinking that today, these days, don’t matter. But these days do matter, Jesus says, as these are days when we can see God’s work continuing around us. These are days we work with God to ensure that no one is denied adequate healthcare, housing, or food. These are days when we do God’s work to amplify marginalized voices whom some in power want silenced. These are days where we work with God to reveal where God’s kingdom is already here: in the Holladay interfaith worship service, in Crossroads Urban Center distributing over 3000 turkeys, in OSLC supporting ELCA Good Gifts, in writing cards for immigrant children with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, in Zoom calls with loved ones, less focus on materials things, and more focus on people. Jesus says be awake, aware to these days and notice with our eyes, our ears, and our hearts God’s work in our midst and join in. Don’t wait for the end days to experience and share God’s love, hope and mercy, that’s already here in these days. God is here in these days for us all.

 

Off the Beaten Path, Mark 13: 1-8 Pentecost 25B, November 15th, 2015 November 17, 2015

*This sermon was preached on Nov. 15th at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

Each summer since 2010, my husband, Mike, and our son, Andrew, take a father/son road trip. They have been to the Black Hills, Roswell, Moab, Yellowstone and everywhere in between. While they have specific destinations in mind, it’s really the journey itself that they focus on. Early on in their yearly trips, they discovered a website called Roadside America. This site offers a plethora of “off the beaten path” sites that you won’t find on AAA, or necessarily on a billboard alongside the highway. I’m talking about alligator farms where you can hold a real alligator. Or a man who has a 150 sculptures made of mufflers in his front yard. Or statues of headless chickens. Or alien watch towers.  Often, they have to travel many miles out of their way to encounter these wonders of the modern world and they are not always easy to find. These places would be easily missed by most people if you don’t know what to look for or aren’t willing to veer from your original path. Some of the sites are not as exciting as Mike and Andrew had hoped, but even when it’s a dud, they still have a great story of a quirky experience. If they had stuck to the obvious signs along the highway they wouldn’t have seen what many other people have missed. I’m always amazed that they have the openness to notice and experience these fun places that are not the usual tourist options.

It’s interesting what we notice and what we don’t notice in our lives isn’t it? What we chose to focus on in our lives often becomes our filter for everything we notice. Our media feeds us a constant stream of what they think is important or what we need to be content and happy: Lose weight, buy a car, get that new phone, get a security system, make more money, get a bigger house, and the list goes on and on. And I don’t know about you, but it’s so easy to get sucked into that focus-the focus that is all about us, how we can be better, smarter, thinner, younger, better looking, or richer. We sell ourselves the idea that if we only focus on ourselves, fix, right here right now, what we don’t like about our lives that we can control not only today but tomorrow. We get sold the falsehood that we are the ones in control of our wholeness and can fix ourselves.

The basis of all of this, if we’re honest is fear. We’re afraid of what we can’t control, namely the future. We want some sort of certainty about what tomorrow will bring and some sort of sign of what is to come so that we can prepare. So we focus on what is obvious or what the world puts in front of us: our institutions, economic systems, family systems, even our churches. So when we experience major shake ups in these supposedly unshakable monoliths, it can seem like the end of the world as we know it and then our fear and need for control takes over and can focus us on the wrong thing.

The disciples were no different than we are today. In our gospel story, Jesus and the disciples are leaving the temple, where they had just witnessed the widow putting in all that she had into the treasury and what did the disciples immediately notice? The great, glorious and permanent the stones of the temple! “Jesus, isn’t this temple amazing?? I’m sure it will be here forever!” I can almost see Jesus either rolling his eyes or shaking his head. After all of the revelations of God’s kingdom the disciples had seen and witnessed by being with Jesus, this temple was what they chose to notice and focus on.

When the author of Mark wrote this gospel, it’s likely that this very temple that the disciples were staring at in wonderment had been very recently destroyed. The temple was the center of all religious life for the Jewish people: it’s where they believed that the actual connection and intersection of God and God’s people through the priests in the Holy of Holies took place. It’s where sacrifices for the atonement of sins were offered. The temple had become the main focus of the religion in many ways. Jesus is reminding the disciples past, present and future that no matter what system breaks down, even the central religious system such as the temple, God is still present, God is the center of their lives and God is still at work in the world.

Jesus cautions us to stay focused on God as when we are focused on God, our worries, our concerns, our fears of the future will be kept in perspective. Jesus came to proclaim through flesh that God is with us always and to not look at what’s wrong or needs to be fixed but what new thing God is doing in our midst. Jesus’ presence invites us to get off the highway of fear and status quo. There are many events that can make us focus on our fear that the end of the world is indeed happening and we worry about what we should do. There are wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, terrorist attacks in Paris and on Kenyan universities, airplanes destroyed while in flight, bankruptcy, diseases, loss of jobs, and all of the other daily challenges that seem to demand our full attention. But Jesus tells us, “Do not be alarmed.” Don’t focus on these things. Don’t forget that God is with you. Don’t forget that it is God that is bringing salvation to you and to all of creation. No matter what the world wants you to believe, it is God who brings you into life with God and with one another for transformation and wholeness-which is true salvation.

God is doing a new thing, bringing in peace and love for all people in all times and in all places, even when all we can focus on is disaster, destruction and death. Jesus proclaims to the disciples and to us, the new life that God is birthing, right here, right now! Can we see it? Can we notice the selfless acts of generosity and love in our midst? Feeding the hungry through Metro CarRing, loving our neighbor in need through the Angel Tree, celebrating the miracle of the new life of a baby with the Rulla family, the promises of God poured out on Michael Donovan in the waters of baptism, the giving of God’s love story found in the Bible to our second graders this morning.  Jesus walks with us and dares us to boldly live differently than the world: “Look for newness, not destruction! Look for life, not death! Look for abundance, not scarcity!” Jesus reminds us of this so that not only can we see it but we can live our lives to witness to what God is doing so that God’s promise of life, hope, forgiveness and mercy is revealed to the whole world. Living this way is not the usual road traveled but each and every day God invites us and embraces us in the new life and transforming work God is already doing.

God promises to not leave us alone in our fear, in our worry and in our uncertainty and will always speak words life and hope where we only see death and despair. God’s presence with us in our daily lives is certain and unshakable. God’s love offers us a way to get off the road of fear, loneliness, scarcity and death. God’s road offers us hope, life and community through ordinary signs of water, bread, and wine, to refocus us time and time again on what is the true center of our lives, the forever and unconditional love of God that is bringing wholeness to all of creation. Thanks be to God.