Let us hold fast

Saturday

Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25

Ryssby Church 223Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

There are too many bodies in the streets of Paris. Too many bodies in the towns and cities of Syria. Too many bodies in the streets of Iraq.

There are too many hungry children, too many infected with curable diseases, too many without clean water.

There are too many who live in fear, too many who face violence, too many imprisoned by hate.

There are too many.

We should be better than this. That’s part of it. We should be better than this. Our most fundamental humanity is the ability to love, to share, to laugh, to sing, to dance, to break bread together. To form bonds of friendship and fidelity. To show compassion. To help, to heal, to teach. To pray. To touch and be touched by what is holy and beautiful and good.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” writes the author of Hebrews, “for he who has promised is faithful.”

Let us hold fast. When bodies lie on the ground, let us hold fast. When fear runs rampant, let us hold fast. When anger stirs towards vengeance, let us hold fast. When outrage turns towards hate, let us hold fast.

For he who has promised is faithful. God is faithful. God has promised. God has born witness to the world he creates – a world of life not death, of mercy not revenge, of truth not falsehood, of love not hate. God is faithful to that promise. Let us hold fast.

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Let us consider how to call one another into this world God creates. Let us consider how to prod one another to do the right thing, to be the right thing. Let us consider how to encourage one another to generosity, to compassion, to kindness, to care and to truth. Let us consider. Let us provoke.

And let us not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some.” For it is in meeting together, in seeing faces, in shaking hands, in sharing prayers, in singing praise, in breaking bread, in hearing the Word, that we are held fast in him who is the world’s true life.

I have also written a reflection on Paris, Jesus, violence, and the human heart entitled “With twelve baskets left over” at Jacob LimpingAnd I am part of those who meet together at Los Altos Lutheran Church. You are welcome to join us in body or spirit.

 

Photocredit:dkbonde
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What large stones

File:Reconstruction model of Ancient Jerusalem in Museum of David Castle.jpg

Thursday

Mark 13:1-8

1As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

We like to build monuments. From our first wooden blocks, it seems, we have the impulse to build – and to build higher. “Look Mom,” we crow. How deep can you dig a hole at the beach? How high can you build your castle of sand? Humanity’s first construction project was the tower from which to storm the gates of heaven. A tower that will make a name for ourselves.”

And so we have Trump Tower with Trump’s name not only on the building but every sweatshirt for sale in the lobby is artfully folded so that it shouts “Trump” and every book is turned so Trump’s face shines.

We are builders. Big or small we are builders. We want to build a home, a family, a legacy. We build churches. Glorious churches.

I would not give up any of them. I am inspired by their soaring heights, their ancient foundations, their simple beauty. But God didn’t send us into the world to build temples and monuments. God sent us to build communities of justice and mercy.

One of the most profound transformations that happens in Christ is the notion that the community is the temple. 1 Peter writes:

2:4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

The temples we build are temporary things. The temple God builds is a people. And that temple endures into eternity.

19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

 

Image: Водник at ru.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Michael shall arise

Wednesday

Daniel 12:1-3

File:Giovanni di Paolo - St Michael the Archangel - WGA09465.jpg1“At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise.

We have a pretty good idea of the exact moment in which the Book of Daniel in its final form was distributed. Suddenly the exquisite detail of Daniel’s visions of the kings that rise and fall and the woes that come upon God’s people gets rather generic. The reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV about which Daniel’s visions speak so precisely suddenly becomes vague. Our author knows what has brought the nation to its present moment in 164 BCE. He doesn’t know what lies ahead. But the purpose of his book remains. God knows. History is in God’s hands. The kings of the earth may take their stand against the Lord and his anointed, but God has them in derision. God knows his plans and purpose for the world. Michael shall arise.

God will not let his people fall. God will not let the earth fall. God will triumph over evil.

These are words of great courage spoken in a time of great tribulation. We confess them to be inspired. Inspired doesn’t mean that Daniel was an historical figure of the Persian era to whom God granted visions that would have no meaning for hundreds of years. Inspired means that God speaks through these words of hope (presented in the mouth of the cultural figure of Daniel) to summon us to faithfulness, to remind us that God is yet God, to proclaim to wavering hearts that the God who cast down pharaoh will establish his justice on earth. Somehow.

ISIS will not reign. Not ultimately. No injustice shall endure. Not ultimately. Mary sings of this at the visitation: God has cast the mighty down from their thrones and lifted up those of low degree. The psalmist declares that all nations shall come and bow down before God. The prophets proclaim that all the boots of the tramping warriors will be burned as fuel for the fire,” that “God’s word will go forth from Zion” to bring peace to the world.

God will not let his people fall. God will not let the earth fall. God will triumph over evil.

It is a hope hard to hold onto sometimes, when we see the bodies of children lying in the surf, when children are murdered by police, when nations war upon nations, when earthquakes shake the foundations of the earth.

It is a hope hard to hold onto sometimes when we see evil close to home, when death and tragedy strikes, when misfortune prevails.

But then comes the promise of Daniel: “At that time Michael… shall arise.” At that time. At the right time. The world will not be surrendered to evil. We will not be surrendered.

The author of Daniel confesses this even though he knows that many faithful have been slaughtered at the hand of imperial troops. He sees beyond our narrow horizons into the great mystery: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake.” Even death shall not prevent God’s deliverance.

The prophetic writer is not giving us a doctrine; he is giving us a promise – God’s promise. What we see is but a city surrounded by armies, but there is much more beyond our sight.

God will not let his people fall. God will not let the earth fall. God will triumph over evil. Michael shall arise.

 

Image: Archangel Michael, Giovanni di Paolo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But there is hope here

File:Roberts Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem.jpg

David Roberts, The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70

Watching for the Morning of November 15, 2015

The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 28 / Lectionary 33

Year B

The disciples of Jesus are awed by the temple. Rightly awed. It was a magnificent structure that Herod the Great had created, transforming the small temple whose dimensions were confined by those in the Biblical text into a great plaza of concentric courtyards surrounded by porticoes of towering columns. To accomplish this, Herod had to extend the hilltop, building out the huge retaining wall that still stands to support the temple mount. The exposed foundation stones in the southwest corner form the Western Wall where Jews gather today to mourn the loss of the temple and pray.

Herod created one of the wonders of the ancient world. But in 70 CE, four years after the outbreak of the Judean revolt, Rome destroyed it.

The war was devastating for the region and a catastrophe for Judea. Jewish residents of Roman cities who did not flee were murdered. Crucifixions abounded as the Roman army surrounded Jerusalem with concrete examples of the fate that awaited the rebels. No heavenly armies arrived to support the rebel leaders acclaimed as messiahs. The signs in the heavens and the purported miracles on earth did not lead to the liberation of Judea or the dawning of God’s kingdom. All that came was hunger, destruction and death.

Jesus talks about this pending disaster with no glee. There is no joy at Jerusalem’s fall. No delight in God’s judgment on the wicked. Just the sad acknowledgment that this grand attempt to honor God with worldwide renown was not the honor God desired. God desired justice and mercy.

This is the setting for worship on Sunday. It should make us a little weak in the knees. We are drawing near to the end of the church year. In the northern hemisphere it is the end of the harvest season when the grain is winnowed. Winter looms, darkness grows, and themes of judgment and the end of all things echo in our texts.

But there is hope here.

The Book of Daniel faces the devastation of 164 BCE with the promise of God’s ultimate triumph. The Archangel Michael shall arise to deliver God’s people, the grave shall give up its dead, every injustice shall be righted, and the faithful will shine with the radiance of heaven.

The psalmist sings in gratitude of God’s blessing and, when he speaks of God’s healing work, hints at a more profound mystery:

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life.

Jesus acknowledges the coming judgment upon Jerusalem but warns his followers not to be led astray. This is not the end, he says, and compares it with the onset of labor pains – pains that end in joy. God’s reign will come, just not yet. The days are scary but not final. There is work yet for believers to do. Works of justice and mercy. Works of witness and service. Works of joy and life.

The Prayer of the Day for November 15, 2015

Almighty and eternal God,
set our hearts and hands to work,
not in the building of temples that perish,
but in those eternal works of mercy and truth
that serve your reign of grace and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The texts for November 15, 2015

First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3
“At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise.”
– The visions granted to Daniel of the persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes IV come to their conclusion with Israel’s ultimate deliverance.

Psalmody: Psalm 16
“Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” – The poet expresses his trust in God.

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” – Having set forth his argument for the superiority of Christ as our true high priest, the author comes to the exhortation that prompts his letter: that we should “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” and encourage one another to remain faithful.

Gospel: Mark 13:1-8
“Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” – When the disciples call Jesus’ attention to the majesty and beauty of the temple, he predicts its destruction. For the disciples, such and event must mean the end of the world, but Jesus tells his followers that “the end is not yet,” and warns them not to be led astray. The conflicts of the nations and the convulsions of nature are but “the beginning of the birth pangs.”

 

David Roberts, The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons