Weekly Devotion

from Redeemer Pastor Mark H. Larson

On New Year’s Eve, I walked into the backyard and greeted my neighbors. I said something that I think many people were hoping, “May 2021 be better than 2020”. I’d have to say, as we come to the end of the first month of 2021, those hopes have not yet come to fruition.

We made it through a tumultuous election year, and though the TV ads and robocalls have stopped, deep divisions and mistrust continue in our nation. Though we ended the year with the promises of vaccines to come, it now seems as if it will take months for enough of the world’s citizens to be immunized to have a significant effect on the spread of COVID-19; and so many continue to die. We celebrated last Christmas by hearing angels promise “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all,” and yet violence threatens the very halls of Congress, not to mention our city streets.

Yes, the year has started in some disappointing ways, but that makes this week’s gospel especially appropriate. This Sunday, we hear about the launch of Jesus’ ministry in Mark, when he casts out an evil spirit and is received as one who teaches with authority. This moment marks the first public action Jesus takes.

November begins with All Saints Day and ends in Advent when we prepare for the Nativity of the Lord and look to his return. But before we get to all the angels and shepherds and the little baby in the manger, we have to get through some tough love, first. As we end the church year, we turn our attention to THE END of everything and ask ourselves how all this is going to turn out. And a lot of what we read seems pretty terrifying.
For example, this Sunday we have the book of Daniel promising: “At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence.” Even Jesus, who we often turn to for a compassionate word, instead sounds a warning bell: “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.”
Scholars label these kinds of readings as Apocalyptic Literature; “apocalyptic” meaning “an unveiling.” The speakers of these words try to unveil the truth about how things are and how things will be. Ironically, they mean their works to be hopeful. Hopeful, that is if you are hoping in the right things.
In Sunday’s gospel, Jesus comes out of the temple, and his disciples say to him, ” “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asks, “Do you see
these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be
thrown down.” Jesus looks at his disciples and knowing how impressed they are with the permanence of the temple he takes a stick pin to the bubble they are living in and he pops it. He’s just kind of like that sometimes, isn’t he?
So this week I started to wonder what my own bubble might be…what large stones am I
so reliant upon still standing in my own life? What do I treat as eternal that is not?
Maybe the health and safety of my family, or the size of my church, or the growth of my retirement account.
As his disciples gaze upon the temporary thing in which they place their hope, Jesus
doesn’t say that having a temple is wrong, he certainly liked to spend time there. He just said that the temple still standing is not the ultimate sign that God is faithful.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting my family to be healthy or for this congregation to thrive. But these things are not eternal. These things cannot love me the way God can love me. The death and resurrection of Jesus is nothing less than the everlasting and irrevocable “yes” of God. And so as we come to the end of the church year, we are challenged once again to put our hope in the right place. As the writer of Hebrews said, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for the one who has promised is faithful.”
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