We are coming up to the end of the church year. This Sunday is the next to last Sunday before we start at the beginning again in Advent. So the readings are about endings—the end of the world, the end times, the end of empire. So I thought I’d give you some quotes about endings to start us off.
The first I thought of was “All good things must come to an end,” a proverb by Chaucer from 1374. The word “good” was actually added much later.
“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” ―
“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn't matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” ― Brazilian novelist and lyricist his 2005 novel,
“Ends are not bad things, they just mean that something else is about to begin. And there are many things that don't really end, anyway, they just begin again in a new way. Ends are not bad and many ends aren't really an ending.” ―
“There’s a trick to the 'graceful exit.' It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over — and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry.” ― winning American and syndicated speaker and commentator.
Endings, transitions, a time to look back on what has happened up until now, an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned, a chance to decide what to take forward and what to leave behind. Everyday we experience endings. When we go to bed at night we experience the end of the day. Sometimes it is a relief to finally climb in bed and close our eyes and sometimes we lay awake going over our thoughts that just won’t end. I drop Sterling off at school and that is an end to our morning. I pick him up and it is the end of his school day. I sit down at the end of the day and breathe. Sometimes I want to think about what happened that day, sometimes I can’t stop thinking about it, and sometimes I just want to veg out and let my worries get swept away as I ponder the worries of my favorite movie or TV characters. And sometimes I sit at my sewing machine and reflect. Every seam has its end and at that point you backstitch over the last 4-5 stitches you’ve just completed to secure the seam, to anchor it. At the end of the day, how do we make a healthy transition, and backstitch over what we’ve just done to secure it in place? And then we start a new seam until the garment is sewn. How do we anchor our memories, our learnings, the gifts of this moment so that we can honor them and move forward in hope?
Sometimes an ending is a bad thing. When we’ve had it good, it is so hard to let it go. The end of a family Birthday party when I haven’t had the chance to visit with each person, I often feel a little bit sad. Times when we’ve moved, I have felt sad. These past few months with the deaths of 2 Betsy’s and Margaret and Phyllis I’ve definitely felt sad. It isn’t that they had bad endings, but that its so hard to say goodbye to people who mean so much.
These wildfires and floods are bad endings, whole towns wiped out by disasters. These mass shootings are devastating to whole communities. Whenever a church burns down or a Synagogue is defaced with slurs, so much pain is uncovered. And we shouldn’t deny our pain. We hurt for people. We believe in the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people, of all creatures. The endings hurt and we can honor that hurt by allowing ourselves to feel it. We may feel helpless or angry or sad or weary. There are things we can do that help us put our feelings into actions, because feelings are messages, telling us what’s important, and if something important is happening, it makes sense that we take action, that our actions match our values, our feelings.
What can we do when we are at a difficult ending? For one thing, we can pray. We can center ourselves, take a breath or two or three. We can stop and reflect on what is most important and enduring, what we want to take away from the experience. As it says in the book of Hebrews, “hold fast to the confession of our hope”—to cling to what is hopeful, that Jesus is our King of Kings, our ruler and maker who loves us. When we pray, we remember who we are, who made us and for what, who gives us purpose, who guides us, who comforts us. When we pray, we remember the story we are part of, people struggling and oppressed, freed by God’s grace to become a people who trust God and live in community and love.
What else can we do? As it says in Hebrews, “Provoke one another to love and good deeds.” We can let God work through us to build the Kingdom. We can do unto others as we would have them do to us. We can use our time in service to others. We can build something of use. We can create something of use. We can share our time, our money, our skills. We can teach someone something we know and they are interested in. We can invest our time in someone who could use a friend. We can take our energy and emotion and allow it to motivate us to do something that matters, that creates community, that is loving, that brings hope to us and others.
Endings can also be good. When oppressive forces come to an end, that’s good. In our reading for today from the Hebrew Bible, the end of the world has something good to offer, there will be a sorting that will clear things up. Those who have led a righteous and good life will finally get the recognition and reward they deserve. The rulers of this world won’t control the future. The end of their oppressive rule is good for everyone, even those rulers, though they may not recognize it at the time.
The New Testament reading for today mentions an end to the futile sacrifices made my priests, the end of sin, the end of lawless deeds, the end of God’s enemies, the end of broken covenants. These are all things to celebrate and give thanks for.
And the Gospel reading mentions the end of the Temple rule, the end of these large buildings. It seems sad that this beautiful architecture should come to an end, but this temple was built to establish the place of religious power, so that humans could claim it and say where God is and where God isn’t. This temple was a place of oppression for so many, where they heard the bad news that they didn’t matter because they couldn’t afford the sacrifice, or because they didn’t fit the “clean’ category. Since the temple was already knocked down by the time Mark wrote his Gospel, he might as well say something good about the fact that it was no more. There was a new temple in its place, not made of stones that could be knocked down, but in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the people of God as his body, a loving, moving temple, available, going to the places it is needed most.
The end can be scary. It can make people anxious as they try to anticipate when and be prepared to survive. There are all kinds of terrible things that can happen that are out of our control. What use is it to be afraid and anxious? We should pay attention when people try to make us afraid, because people do try to take advantage of people when they are scared and sell them cure-alls or give them assurances. But Jesus is saying to keep the faith. We can be led astray in fear to put faith in our buildings, our religious practices, our sacrifices, our possessions, or leaders who seem to have all the answers. But Jesus is saying, “Keep the faith in God. Stay calm. Be the people of God who worship God alone and who value the smallest and weakest and who support each other in community. Stay focus on what matters and live your life with the love of God for one another.”
God has the bigger picture in mind. Our end is not God’s end. God has an ending planned in which everyone will be valued, fed, and loved. God has an ending in which all will be one. God has an ending in mind in which all will be drawn together, no one will weep or mourn, no one will be hungry or afraid. The ending will be a new beginning of new life, abundant life.
So as we come to this end and all the others we face, we must honor where we’ve come from and been through and take forward whatever we’ve learned. We can have hope in what is to come. Betsy Belles has died, but from her possessions come these amazing banners, and we remember her and share our thoughts about what she’s meant to us. This year comes to an end. We have known happiness and loss, growing pains, and been challenged. Our building is tired, our furnaces are getting old, but we don’t put our faith in what doesn’t last. This whole place could fall apart all around us and God would still be Lord of Heaven and Earth, we would still have the forgiveness and love of God, we would still be God’s people who God is working through to bring good news to those nearby and far away.
It is the end of one thing, and the beginning of another. To be continued…