Category Archives: ending

The END Came and Went

Yesterday I wrote on the END OF THE WORLD as expressed in Mark 13. In the chapter Jesus taught his disciples regarding the signs of a new world being birthed. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:30).

Like most apocalyptic literature, Mark 13 is written in highly descriptive language that evokes strong emotions, but is often difficult to interpret precisely. The chapter is more like a beautiful mosaic of pictures than a precise timeline of events. Parts of the chapter seem to refer to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Roman legions in 70 AD (v 2, 4-11, 14-23). Other sections may refer to the persecutions the church faced in its early years. Readers can be challenged to see how it applies to our current life.

Praying at Gethsemane by Artist He Qi

Yet the reader is given a key verse in v. 35. “Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.”

The four hours of the watch (evening, midnight, cockcrow and dawn) are significant because they become the outline of Mark’s next two chapters: the story of Jesus’ betrayal, prayer,  arrest and trial.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me” (Mark 14:17).

Jesus said to Peter, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times” (Mark 14:30).

At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept (Mark 14:72).

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate (Mark 15:1).

The disciples were unable to stay awake in the garden when Jesus prayed (Mark 14:41). They all scattered. Still Jesus remained faithful.  His words from Mark 13 came true. Jesus’ passion became the birth pangs of a new creation. The world as we knew it ended with Jesus’ crucifixion and a new world dawned with his resurrection.

Paul captures this new age in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” The end of the world is not simple some future event for which we wait. The “end” started with Jesus’ death and the “new” has begun with his resurrection. We live in a new age with Jesus!

Lord Jesus, let my life end and begin again with you.

End of the World?

The end of the world evokes strong emotions. Current books and movies play on the theme that the culture/world/civilization that we know is ending and a new one is replacing it, usually more horrific than our current culture/world/civilization. The roots of the transformation are in our current society and will bear fruit in the coming years. The fear of global nuclear war spurred such writings from 1950s through the 1990s. The book and movie Hunger Games is a contemporary expression of such apocalypses and their aftermath.

Mark 13 is also an expression of apocalyptic literature. Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Jesus would be arrested and executed by the Roman officials in a few days. Jesus warned the disciples of coming tribulation and devastation. The magnificent temple that was central to Jewish worship would be destroyed in less than forty years by the Roman Empire. The early Christians would face frequent persecution for their faith. These trials might cause the new church to despair, yet Jesus said, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mark 13:8).

Birth pangs, though painful in the moment, result in the beginning of a new life. Jesus was teaching his disciples to persevere, to stay hopeful, in spite of the troubles they face. He then goes on to say that to speculate on the exact day or time of this new birth is wasteful use of time. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son of Man, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Instead he says to be engaged in our daily tasks with a watchful heart, that God is near. “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on watch” (Mark 13:34). God has given us each tasks to do in this world, to love our neighbor in word and deed. We do not abandon those tasks to run and hide on some mountain because we fear the “world” is ending. Rather we continue to serve God and God’s world, knowing that someday the master will return and put things right for all people.

Tomorrow I will explore how the “world” has already ended for Christians (Mark 13:35-36).

Lord Jesus, help me not to slip into despair, but to be faithful in my service.

See, the Day is Coming

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament in the Christian Bible yet it points beyond itself.  It is not the final chapter in God’s dealing with Israel, but rather points to something yet to come.

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:1-2)

Malachi assumes two things.  First, the future day of God’s judgment has not come yet.  God is not finished with God’s creation.  The second assumption is that you and I, the readers of this text, will receive mercy and healing, not burning judgment.  There is hope for you in this world.

As Charles Welsey wrote in  the third stanza of the Christmas carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, quoting Malachi 4:2.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and Life to all he brings,
ris’n with healing in his wings.

God’s day will come with Jesus Christ.  He is the true climax to the story of the Old Testament as well as our human story. Are you ready to leap?

Lord Jesus, come quickly so I can leap with joy and justice.

Prison Prayer

I have always admired Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who worked for the resistance against Adolph Hitler and was executed in April 1945 for his participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler.  He reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they stood up to the religious tyranny of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3.   Written in prison, Bonhoeffer’s prayer could have been their prayer.  It certainly can be ours.

 O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone

In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me.

O heavenly Father
I praise and thank you
For the peace of the night;
I praise and thank you for this new day;
I praise and thank you for all the goodness
and faithfulness throughout my life.

You have granted me many blessings;
Now let me also accept what is hard
from your hand.
You will lay on me no more
than I can bear.
You make all things work together for good
for your children.

Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
and in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
when all men fail me;
It is your will that I should know you
and turn to you.
Lord, I hear your call and follow;
Help me.

I remember in your presence all my loved ones,
my fellow-prisoners, and all who in this house
preform their hard service;
Lord have mercy.

Restore me to liberty,
and enable me so to live now
that I may answer before you and before men.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised. AMEN.

(Letter and Papers from Prison, 1971, p. 139)

Recognizing Our Foolishness

As Resurrection Lutheran nears the end of the Old Testament portion of the Narrative Lectionary, I look forward to Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Though I have enjoyed our survey of the Old Testament, I now long for the familiar story of promise held in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The stage is being set for Jesus entrance into God’s drama. Two more Sundays of Advent remain.

This Sunday we will embrace one of the last written books of Old Testament: Daniel. The stories and visions of Daniel are from the time of the Exile when the leaders and skilled labor of Jerusalem were taken to Babylon as captives. The Babylonians wanted to re-indoctrinate the Jews to forget their Jewish heritage and God so as to become productive participants in the empire. Daniel and others resisted such practices.

Daniel chapter three is familiar to many from their childhood. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are to be thrown into the fiery furnace but God delivers them. But our childhood version often misses the humor or farcical nature of the story. As you read the text, consider how the repetition and exaggeration  demonstrate how crazy King Nebuchadnezzar is.

King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” (Daniel 3:1-6)

Is it not comical to read that a human being could “set up” a god? Yet that is how ridiculous King Nebuchadnezzar has become with his power. But are we not as ridiculous when we “set up” something as having ultimate importance? Whether it be our sports teams (think how “over-the-top” the Super Bowl has become), or our careers, or our expectations for Christmas celebrations or our greed. Such humor can disarm our defensiveness and open us to God’s healing. We need to laugh at ourselves when we try to “set up” our mini-gods and see our foolishness.

Lord Jesus, come quickly and deliver me from my foolishness.

Youngdahl, Pastor Of Largest ELCA Church In Nation, Dies « CBS Minnesota

Youngdahl, Pastor Of Largest ELCA Church In Nation, Dies « CBS Minnesota.   I remember meeting Pastor Youngdahl as a student at Luther Seminary.   Mt Olivet offered a retreat to all senior seminarians during which he and the staff would offer pastoral insights and tips that they had learned over the years.  Though several of my classmates were suspicious of his church’s “success,” I found him to be a gracious pastor who truly cared about each of us as future pastors.   I pray for his family as they grieve his sudden death and for Mt. Olivet as they seek to transition to new leadership.

The Door of Death

In reflecting on the deadly tornadoes this week, one spiritual question arises about which I am hesitant to write. The question has an answer that has caused harm to grieving people. “Is death always a tragedy?”

A Door into Deeper Joy

In C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, the last book of his Chronicles of Narnia, all the children* who once visited Narnia are reunited in a new, wonderful land that resembles Narnia. They wonder how this is possible since the great lion Aslan had told them that they would not return to Narnia. Yet this new land is more spectacular and more real than the old Narnia they had known. Slowly the children come to realize that their last memory of our world had been a terrible train wreck. Unlike previous stories, Aslan had not transported them from our world to the world of Narnia. Instead they have walked through the door of death and entered the outskirts of heaven itself.

Lewis does something incredible in this story. Certainly he could have written about their deaths from the tragic perspective of the survivors still on earth: friends and relative who grieved the children’s sudden absence from life on earth. But instead Lewis gives an imaginative description of their homecoming in heaven, where the joy and delight of heaven grows deeper and more profound each moment.

As Christians we believe in the promise of God that whether we live or die we belong to Christ. In Philippians 1:21, Paul writes, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” The gain in dying is to gain more of Christ and his joy. Death is not something to be feared, but rather embrace as the door to God’s good presence.

So what is the harm in telling a grieving person, “Your loved one is in a better place?” The harm comes from the fact that a grieving person does not want the person “in a better place” like heaven. The grieving person wants the loved one in this life, sharing in the joys and sorrows of their mutual love. In time the grieving person may embrace the truth of “a better place,” yet in the aftermath of death, such words can be biting and harmful. Compassionate silence is better than quick answers.

What perspective do you have on death?

Lord Jesus, help me to see death as the door way into the resurrected life and to be gracious towards those who grieve.

*Susan is not included, but that is a different posting.