I joked around this week that passage – the wicked tenants – is Jesus the populist. It is Jesus reminding and urging “the people” to pick a new leadership class. The Chief Priests and the scribes have abused and killed the prophets, and they are going to take the son outside the vineyard and kill him too. And they are doing this because they think it will be theirs. That they will be able to substitute their blueprints – their laws – for the law and action of God. God is dead, so it is all ours. (Nietzsche well before his time.)
But as with all such plans, including our modern day supermen, they run into a problem. The Owner will come and kill them. The Owner has planted a new Rock a Cornerstone in Zion. And that rock will not be removed. And that Rock is Christ crucified. There is always a vineyard. Are you in it? It is given by grace, received in faith and abundantly fruitful. And the leadership of it does not hoard the fruit. It does not seek to substitute its own blueprints for the vineyard with God’s. Don’t trip over the stone, build on it.
I hope this sermon was not a snore. It is one of those that I think is operating at a very simple level, but also I hope operating at a much deeper level. The very simple level is: a problem, a solution, and a wait. This world wears away. Good news, it will end. Until then we watch, never becoming too attached. The deeper level is the juxtaposition the title. Today, this world is an impermanent dwelling that holds within it the permanent. The core of many of the temptations of the devil, the world and our own flesh is that we trade that eternal element for some promise of immortality. I will give you all the kingdoms of the world if you worship me. The glory and fame of all the world can be yours, if you give up eternity, seeing the true God. The sermon attempts to think about this in our vampire stories – the literary example of immortal characters who are caused pain by the eternal or things that contain hints of the eternal. I think there is a great and fruitful contemplation in that juxtaposition of eternity and immortality. We watch because we are looking for eternity while spurning the flimsy offers of immortality.
This week we read the rest of Mark 13. The sermon is really divided into a macro and a micro part. The consolations are the macro. If you read Mark 13 as a whole there is a great rhythm to the sermons. The horrors seem to increase, but each increase ends with a promise. The point is not to stoke worry or even less rage as so much of the world’s narratives are designed to do. The point is to restore sanity. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He really does sit at the right hand of God. It’s going to be okay.
The micro part is when you start focusing on the words and tracing out what they mean in scripture and history. One part of that is listening carefully to Jesus’ time markers. When we listen carefully we can make the distinction between those times by which Jesus means the time around AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple and that day and that hour by which he means the last day. Those times have a specific sequence and will end within this generation. And they did. That day and that hour are unknown. That is necessary to set some ground rules, but the word that this sermon hones in on is abomination or more specifically the abomination of desolation. It is actually a well defined term or concept in the Old Testament and history. We can’t use it to make a timetable; that is foolishness, but we can think about endings of old orders. This sermon lays out that groundwork and does what a watchman does, it cries watch.
Musical Note: This morning was our matins week which I always realize when formatting is so defined by its music and continuous in one way it is difficult to cut pieces. But cut I did. I left in two musically bits. Our Choir sang “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” which is a great Last Sunday of the Church Year or Advent piece. And I left in the final hymn, Rise My Soul to Watch and Pray Lutheran Service Book 663, which is fast becoming one of my favorites and captures the key thought of Jesus’ sermon – watch. It is a great tune that you find yourself humming all day. The text is a typical Catherine Winkworth translation by which I mean crisply poetic and poignant if sometimes pietistic. (I’ve been told that her translations are often quite free. Nothing wrong with that because they work.)
It struck me yesterday, if he would have been open to hearing, how applicable Peter’s final words would have be to Rep. Wiener. Peter, more than any other apostle, uses the life of Christ as our example. And he ends his instructions for Christian living with three imperatives (verbs in the command tense, i.e. go, do): be humble, be sober-minded, resist Satan.
Be humble – yes you are a congressman and powerful, but do you really think people want pictures of your privates? Be humble…
Be sober-minded, be watchful – You wouldn’t think that such a thing would be necessary, but NY has had two congressmen flame out in the last couple of years for essentially the same thing. You have a beautiful wife – go home and get off the system.
Resist Satan – Is there any world where x-rated pictures are really appropriate? Only one where you think more of yourself than you do and you aren’t paying attention. Right where that roaring lion can devour you.
The core message of the apostles is relevant day in and day out. Not the least of which is the hope it rests on. The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore.