Impermanance, Anxiety and the Hairs of Your Balding Head

Biblical Text: Luke 21:5-28

What do me mean when we talk about last things?  There of course is the very literal, but other than 10,000 mile stuff, Jesus really doesn’t answer that.  Because that is not what we are talking about.  What we are talking about is impermanence and our anxiety caused by that impermanence.  And that is was Jesus goes after.  Even these “noble stones” of the temple will come down.  This thing that centers our identity will fail.  All earthly props will give way.  And Jesus goes on to name them.  And then he gives us a promise.  “Not a single hair of your head will perish.” 

You have both the knowledge and the promise.  The knowledge that yes, the world is impermanent.  Don’t place your faith in it, in any part of it.  The promise that there is a permanent thing, and that you are already a part of it.  The Kingdom of God is coming with power and great glory.  So straighten up an raise your heads.  Because this is your redemption.  This is your hour.

The Terms of Unity


Biblical Text: John 17:20-26
Full Sermon Draft

…But Jesus prayer for unity continues and we might say gets tougher in verses 22 and 23. The basis of the unity in these verses is the glory. The glory that you have given me, I have given to them…that they may be one.

Now we’d love to see glory, because we think we know what it looks like. And our thoughts are glory are not completely false, just out of order. I say that because I’m assuming that most of our definitions of glory would probably be gleaming surfaces, gold streets, never ending crops, basically what John sees in the reading from revelation. But bringing that definition in at this point is out of order. That is the glory of the world to come.

The glory of this world is the cross.

If you want to see how you get from that to Mother’s Day (or at least an attempt) read/listen to the whole…

Mark 13 – a Deeper Look – Part 1

The last two weeks of the church year are traditionally given to the apocalyptic. This year it was Mark 13:1-37. There is no part of the scriptures that might be more given to extremes of interpretation. Flights of fancy about the end times, which for some reason are always about our time, are built on the smallest of connections. At the other extreme are folks wishing to avoid that ditch by just saying that these parts of the scripture are a dead letter to us. What I want to do here is outline what I think is the road between those two ditches. I didn’t, and wouldn’t, take this into the pulpit because bluntly that time is too precious for what is in the end speculation however well grounded. But this is prime stuff for bible study. And that is where this comes from. In prepping two sermons a whole bunch of reflections were churned up. We spent a couple of Sunday morning bible studies laying groundwork and attempting to look a little deeper. How is Mark 13 not just a dead letter, but also well grounded?

The first thing I would recommend any time you are reading “end times” scripture is getting your toughest and most literal translation. Why? It will slow you down and make you look at each word and phrase, and the more readable translations often have an interpretation embedded already. What that means practically is getting out the old family King James or the ESV. I’m going to give you an example here comparing Mark 13:32 in the ESV and the NLT.

ESV: But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows (Mar 13:32 ESV)
NLT: However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen (Mar 13:32 NLT)

The NLT just reads along easily. Both translations give you the central idea that “no one knows”. But what the NLT steamrolls over is what “these thing” are. It elides the transition that is present in the original language. In Mark 13 Jesus is talking about two things:1) the fall of the temple in AD70 and 2) the end of the world. The NLT’s these things keeps the distinction squishy. The literal ESV, reflecting the clumsy Greek, reflects the positional emphasis of the words. “Concerning that day or that hour”, the verse signals a transition of subject. Jesus has been speaking about AD70 up until this time. But now, concerning that day or that hour, the Last Day, the End of the World, no one knows. The tougher translation slows you down to get that temporal transition.

So, that is the first big interpretation decision. Mark 13:1-31 talks about AD70 and Mark 13:32-37 talks about the Last Day. The main thing you can take away from the Last Day answer is no one knows so be prepared. Repeat that like a mantra anytime you are tempted by the “Left Behind” ditch. There are no signs. There is no way to figure out a timeline and where we are on it. No one knows.

But what about Mark 13:1-31? If it is all talking about AD70, is it a dead letter to us? If it is a dead letter why does Mark write verse 14? “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Mark 13:14 ESV).” Let the reader understand? Who is the reader? Even if you answer something like – “Mark wrote in the 50’s and the reader was Jewish Christians living in Judea”, you still need to deal with the idea of the Holy Spirit as the author. This is my second big interpretation decision. While Mark 13:1-31 in its full context is talking about AD70, the parenthetical remark “let the reader understand”, says that this is not a dead letter. We must avoid the Last Day ditch. We can learn nothing about that day from here, but it does mean something to us. What does AD70 mean to a Christian living today or at any time post AD70?

It is here that I like to introduce a distinction. There is the capital letter Day of The Lord, and then there are days of the Lord. We all have a personal day of the Lord at the time of our death. And a fair history admits of times that seem unthinkable, times when we say surely the Lord was at work either in judgment or in deliverance. (We don’t know that and can’t say for sure, but we don’t have to be idiots. These are the times when you fall into the divine passive – “we were delivered on that day”. The passive hides the true subject with a sense of mystery, but only one without ears wouldn’t get the point.) What I am going to suggest is that AD70 becomes for us a type of those small letter days of the Lord. And I am going to flesh out how that typology works in this case. Given the scriptural context of Mark 13:14, it is a well-grounded and narrow typology, but one that I think has amazing resonance. I’ll continue this tomorrow.

End of An Age?

Biblical Text: Mark 13:24-37
Full Draft of Sermon

Three problems with the what the Bible actually has to say about the end times. 1) It’s real message is incredibly boring. One word. Watch. About that day and hour, nobody knows. No elaborate timelines. No warnings or signs. 2) So much of it is given to us in a language that we just don’t understand anymore. It is not that we can’t understand it. It is just that it takes either a bunch of time cross referencing Old and New Testaments and looking up apocryphal literature of the time and when you do that you get a sense of time wasted because it is boring. (I did all that and I don’t have a date or at least a Mayan calendar?!? 3) Much of it happens to refer to a historical which requires us to know history. 3a) Ok, one more. There is a deep hermeneutic question that is just really unanswerable and really is something that just can’t be brought into the pulpit.

If you want to discuss the hermeneutic question, come to bible study next week. (We started it this week and will continue next week). That question to me is to what extent can AD70 and the parts of Mark 13 that talk about it be treated in a typological way. Not typological to THE LAST DAY as that is ruled out by the text, we don’t know, but typological to churches or an End of An Age. My question in study started with what would a modern abomination that causes desolation look like. I think there are some modern parallels that don’t point to an easy future if read typologically. But, that is not pulpit type stuff because it is ultimately just refined speculation.

It does lead back though to what I did take into the pulpit – watch, be on your guard, wake up, lest when He comes suddenly, He finds you asleep. Now is the time of grace. Fill your lamps.

Last Things meet First Things

Biblical Text: Mark 13:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

Eschatology or Last Things circles back around to first things, the alpha meets the omega. And right at the base if first things is identity – who or what do you see yourself as? Do you emerge from a random universe, a brief flowering of dust that will go back to dust having done nothing other than move some dust around? Are you unknowing about such things, better to eat, drink and be merry. Or are you the special creation of a personal God who knew you before you were formed? Who you think you are will have a big influence on where you think you are going.

But being sinful creatures, even if we mentally have our first things in line with truth, we are often drawn to temporal replacements for that identity – the temples of this world. They are big and impressive and often cohesive and can be good, but not even the temples are a first thing. If they obscure our identity as a Child of God, its got to go. We so easily latch on to created things to build our identity. Jesus’ warnings, and the roiling turmoil of the birth pains, are reminders to watch. To remember whose we are. And to remember whose promises we can trust.

The struggles of the last things are a sharing in the sufferings of Christ – The First Thing. God did not choose works or any other means to save us, but he chose faith. A faith that the cross is actually the victory. That a death is actually the life. That God can be found in the depths just as surely as the heights. That God has shared everything that is common to man. Last Things are not so much a peering into the future, but an appeal to faith that the glory of God is concealed, is held, in the present tribulations. That God has not abandoned us, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. For we hold this eternal treasure in jars of clay.

Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus

Text: Matthew 25:14-30 (Really Matthew 25:1-30)
Full Sermon Text

The title of the post is a hymn we sang (tune, lyrics). I meant to get that up as the “Hymns We Sing” selection, but it just didn’t work that way. That is the central theme of the sermon and I believe the sermon text. The parable of that talents (and the preceding parable of the 10 virgins) has a bunch of beguiling allegories. I look at some of those in the sermon. But at their core, there are parables of what the successful Christian life – the life that leads to eternal life – look like. And what they look like are lives committed to walking with Jesus. They are lives full of prayer and praise and the word lived in front of those who would scoff.

That sanctification walk is hard to fake – if anyone would even desire to do so. The only reason that anyone would really try is because they were convinced that this guy Jesus was the real thing. That walking with Jesus, regardless of the circumstances, actually meant everything. It is easy to imagine Pascal’s Wager, but that isn’t enough. That bet gets you to the position of the man with one talent. You are a little afraid of that god, so you take his talent and bury in case he returns. But you don’t really change your life. You don’t live you life walking with Jesus. And as in the parable, that isn’t enough. The Christian life is one that must be lived. And you only do that if you think that man on the cross bidding you to pick up yours is actually the Lord of everything.

The turn to fall, the fig and the command to Watch!

A quick note – I’ve been a slacker about writing most of this summer. It has been a summer full – full of joys and of sorrows. I intend to get back to a 3 – 4 day a week cycle God willing.

Text: Mark 13:28-37

Maybe it is a psychological thing, my good daughter Anna has returned to school and candy corn is appearing in the store aisles, but today felt like autumn. The sun felt that much less intense on the forearm. The air felt crisper than the summer fullness. We pick up those signs. The longer we live on this earth, if we are perceptive, the more we just know what is coming.

Jesus is telling the disciples something that they will know and something that they won’t in the gospel reading for today. The first part most scholars think is talking about 70AD, the distruction of Jerusalem. Jesus is telling them to be observant, learn from the fig, you can tell when the seasons are changing, so when you see these things the end of the temple is near. While that will seem like the end of the world, it won’t be. That time, when Heaven and Earth will really pass away, you won’t know. You know what? The command is still watch. We watch and we can discern when an older order of things is passing away, when the temples of the world are being judged and torn down – a small letter day of the Lord. That watching is preparation for the capital letter Day of the Lord so that we might be found awake and faithful on that great and glorious day.