Gospel: Mark 13:1-8
1st Reading: Daniel 12:1-3
2nd Reading: Hebrews 10:11-25
It has probably been a long time since most of us read the driver’s manual, but I got to look through it again a couple of years ago and watch a safe driving video so that I could drive a van of kids to Camp Odyssey in 2011. It was a good reminder for me of how to be a defensive driver, especially the idea of scanning the road. Many of us are very aware of what’s going on right in front of the car, but if we also see what is going on further ahead, we can prepare and react and be a better driver. We should scan the road 10-15 seconds ahead so we can see what’s coming, as well as all our mirrors and closer to the car as well. Anticipating what might be coming up and adjusting to accommodate that can prevent accidents and save lives.
The same can be said of our lives. It is so easy to just focus on what is right in plain view, right in front of us. I know when I get into the office I look at my calendar for that day and prioritize my tasks based on what needs to be done first. Sometimes I forget to take that longer look at my schedule and do the longer-term planning that I need to do. And with home life, doesn’t it seems we spend a lot of time cleaning up the small things, loading and unloading the dishwasher, washing and folding the clothes, cooking dinner, feeding the pets, that the longer term chores sometimes get neglected. Sometimes we lose track of the bigger picture of the routine maintenance we need to keep up with and then the bigger chores and upkeep like painting the house or replacing the roof or having the chimney swept.
And the same can be true of our spiritual lives. We move through on automatic, going to church, going to meetings, doing devotions with our eyes on the road right in front of us. But are we also scanning ahead to the bigger picture, the long-term view of what is coming ahead? Are we ready to see what God has in mind, long-term, for our world, our souls, our church?
Today in the Gospel reading, Jesus is saying that something big is coming up the road. There are many churches that talk about “end times.” They are watching out down the road for signs that we’re coming to the end. This focus for Evangelicals causes them to get out and warn everyone of the impending doom. “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” they might ask. If you haven’t been born again according to their definition, they become afraid for you that you will spend eternity in torment, even if you are a Lutheran pastor or regular church-goer.
For most Lutherans the “End times” is not our favorite topic, precisely because of this negative association that so many others attach to it, but the “end times” are Biblical and something for us to be aware of. For us, it is different. The end doesn’t mean a reason to panic and be afraid. The end times mean God’s reign is coming near, that justice will be done and peace is not far away. To be near to God--isn’t that what we all want? For Lutherans to look down the road and see the signs of the end times, we have the assurance that Jesus has wiped out our sins and separation from God, so we’re looking forward to the end. This has been a long journey, and we’re ready to get out and stretch our legs and embrace our loved ones and enjoy a feast beyond imagination together. The end is a good thing for us. Because of Jesus’ love and life and promises, the end is not an end, but a beginning of eternal life and peace and love.
The reading from Daniel is something called “Apocalyptic Literature.” It is the Old Testament version of the book of Revelation in the New Testament. It is giving a prediction of what might come down the road. It talks about some anguish and some shame and everlasting contempt, so you get an idea of where some Christians are coming from when they freak out about the end times. However, this is meant as a comfort. First of all a protector is arising. God’s people will be protected. The people have a promise of deliverance. Those who are dead will be raised. The wise will shine like the stars for all eternity. All that sounds pretty good. And at the time Daniel was written, the Israelites were in exile. They were already in anguish and needed to know that this wasn’t how it would always be. They needed to know that it wouldn’t always be this rough road, but that their destination wasn’t far away and it would be better than they could have hoped. God has a plan to turn anguish into hope and joy. The Israelites wanted to know that those who had hurt them would be punished, so they took comfort knowing that their enemies wouldn’t rule over them forever. It might be strange to think of this reading from Daniel as a word of hope, but I assure you that is how it was meant and that is how the Israelites would have heard it.
This word of hope is more clear in the reading from Hebrews. After a pretty scathing attack on priests and pastors (Ok I get it!), we are assured that our salvation and joy and hope doesn’t rest on these blundering messed-up humans (because if it did, we’d be in big trouble). Instead it rests on Jesus and his love and sacrifice. That’s why I see my job as pointing to Christ. I am standing up here in my long robe, offering up prayers, and going on and on, blah, blah, blah, but what I really hope to do, is point to Christ. Can you see down the road, Christ, the big picture? I want to be a road sign pointing the way. Don’t focus on the sign too long or you’ll lose track of what’s on the roadway. Look up ahead and see Christ—not someone to fear, but someone with open arms who loves you and is waiting for you to come home.
That second reading assures us that it is all taken care of, forever. We can stop obsessing about our sins. We can stop gripping the steering wheel of life in fear that we will break a traffic law or crash into someone. We can live our life in hope. We can move forward toward our goals with confidence. We don’t have to be afraid, as we look up the road. Instead of obstacles, let us see opportunities to grow in faith, to become better drivers, to encourage others to drive defensively, too.
Driving is such a solitary activity, it is hard to relate it to faith life. I suppose a lot of people these days wouldn’t see the problem. They like the idea of practicing your faith or spirituality alone, believing that it is individual and private. The reading today acknowledges such people—those that neglect to meet together. I think they are missing out on something important. The support of community when you are hurting or in need is such a big part of a life of faith, in my view. We need each other for encouragement and also for checks and balances. Our faith community helps us evaluate our faith journey. There is a saying, “Friends don’t let friends _______.” I think it used to be “drive Fords” or “drive Chevys.” Now I think that’s been replaced with something more universal, “drive drunk.” A true friend will tell you when you’re on the wrong track.
Driving isn’t really a solitary activity at all, though is it? There are many other vehicles on the road to consider and take into account. I read an article this week that Toyota is working on cars that communicate with each other. They may be able to prevent accidents by knowing where other vehicles are or swerve if a person steps out in front of the car. These cars react to one another and to objects in their path, just like we all need to do in our spiritual life. A faith life is one lived in community, with communication, with encouragement, with chances to join our gifts with those of other people, with chances to know God’s love through the people in our faith community. Family has to love each other. Church is a chosen family where we learn to work together, as we learn to love each other, as we progress on our faith journey.
In the Gospel, the Disciples are learning to scan ahead a little bit, but when they lift their eyes, all they can see is this huge building. Ok, we want to look beyond what is right under our noses. Here is something that looks impressive and lasting. They are distracted by the Hummer limo in the lane in front of them and they are missing the big picture again.
Jesus situates himself opposite the temple, in both location and attitude. He is against the temple, against big buildings, against institutions that oppress people and perpetuate the cycle of people being left out. We might picture Jesus sitting on the hill over here under the tree we thought about cutting down. What would he see as he looked at our church? Would he be impressed that we kept our lawn mowed? Would he notice that it was recently painted and had a roof put on? Would he be impressed by all the nice cars in the parking lot? It seems he might have something to say to us about how temporary all this is and how he’s got a bigger picture in mind for us. He might remind us to put our energy into something that is bigger: love, encouragement, community, inclusiveness. He might tell us to get out of our temporary building and work with the people around us to build a better world.
Jesus has the bigger picture in mind. Even when we are distracted drivers on the roadway of life, even when we sink money into that which can’t last, even when we are impressed by all the wrong things, God is my copilot. Actually, it turns out that God is driving. God is in control. And that’s why the end isn’t so scary. As scary as it might look to face the end, God has been to the end and back. God has come through the end and made it a beginning of new life for all creation. The end is something to look forward to because God works through what seems final to bring resurrection to us all.