Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost Study

25ND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   11-14-2021

FIRST READING:   Daniel 12:1-3

Sometimes it seems like our own lives as well as the entire world are overwhelmed with suffering and sorrow, trials and tribulations, destruction and despair beyond our strength and patience. Sometimes we can hardly cope, we can barely understand, and we really don’t see any possible human way forward through the terror and the terrible that we must face. Sometimes, we are caught somewhere between desperation that has no answers and the faintest of hopes that something amazing and unbelievable will happen to make things better. The book of Daniel is an example of apocalyptic literature, full of strange visions and symbolism, that speaks of a sovereign God – mightier than the kingdoms of men and any other powers – breaking into history to set things right.

The context for the book is Daniel the Israelite and his three young Israelite friends dragged into captivity in Babylon buy King Nebuchadnezzar. Though he was a captive in a faraway land, a forced refugee, and a target of resentment by some of the Babylonians, Daniel remained faithful and trusting towards God and rose to the post of prime minister of Babylon. But great persecution of his people continued. Daniel might have tried to compromise his faith, to think only of his own personal climb toward success, and to blend in with Babylonian values and ways. But he didn’t try to forget about God and he didn’t forget his people.

Today’s reading is one of many visions that Daniel has about the future that God’s unexpected intervention will create. It speaks of deliverance in a great time of anguish… of the dead being resurrected, in this vision either for eternal reward or endless punishment. It is a call to put your trust in God no matter what is against us. It is a promise of God’s compassion and mercy.

Who will deliver Israel in the book of Daniel, who will be God’s agent of salvation?  “Micha – el” translated from the Hebrew means “Who is like God”, which is both a question and an answer. Do you known anyone or anything better that can deliver you, or that deserves your trust, than the God who created you… than the God who had blessed you along your life’s journey… than the God who gave the world the gift of Jesus?

This Chapter 12 is the concluding section of the book of Daniel. There are a few more verses after today’s reading. The very end, verse 13, says: “But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of days.” 

 

SECOND READING:   Hebrews 10:11-25

Hebrews seems to be a written sermon addressed to Jewish-Christians who have known and shared the faith together for some time in deeds of love and through times of hardship and great persecution [See 10:32-34]… but now they are tired, discouraged, perhaps challenged once more, and wondering whether it is worth holding on to Christ any longer. The author of Hebrews wants to encourage these struggling Christians – and US! – to keep on holding on, to persevere, to “trust the process” (borrowing a recent phrase attached to the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team).

In today’s reading the author continues to lift up images of worship and sacrifice as he speaks of the unique high-priestly work of Jesus – who offered himself as “a single sacrifice for all time” and then “sat down at the right hand of God” in victorious triumph. It’s a new priest and a new covenant! The Levitical priests of the old covenant “continue to stand day after day… offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins” (see verse 11). But the work of Jesus is perfect and complete – forever! The author urges these struggling Jewish-Christians to continue to look to Jesus Christ, to continue to trust in Jesus Christ, to continue to hold on to God’s promises, to continue to offer and to encourage love and good works among each other. In verse 25 he urges his readers to not “neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some” because he understands the power of the gathered Christian community to build faith and to generate support.

Even in these strange and challenging COVID times that have limited ‘in-person” gatherings for almost two years, have you received hope and power “gathering” with others online, by telephone, etc. for worship, for prayer, and for mutual support? 

 

GOSPEL READING:  Mark 13:1-8

The disciples of Jesus – most of them country boys and country girls – were looking up and around at the Temple in the city of Jerusalem. They were impressed. They were stunned. Let me tell you about the Temple. The entire Temple plaza complex, such a large and magnificent and beautiful collection of buildings and courtyards, covered about 35 acres (that’s about 16 typical Philadelphia blocks)… with magnificent marble colonnades and towering walls ranging from 100 to 300 feet high… with stones as heavy as 70 tons in the walls and foundation stones weighing 500 tons or even more. The Temple building itself – about 100 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 65 feet high… was glowing and glistening with silver and gold all over the building, on its walls and on its roof, even in its furnishings (from the distant countryside it looked like a glittering peak at the top of the holy mountain).

The Temple was God’s house, literally in some peoples’ minds. It stirred passion and called forth piety. It was shrouded in mystery and awe. And it represented the core of all that mattered in the Jewish faith – its wisdom, its law, its scriptures, its traditions, its special relationship with God. Roughly 18,000 priests and Levites were scheduled to work in the Temple complex over the course of a year… and scribes were ever present to teach, interpret, and help administer God’s commandments. Guards stationed at various entrances monitored the flow of traffic, determined who could enter. This was home to the seventy-member Sanhedrin, the final Jewish authority in religious, political, and civil matters. Here, every morning and every afternoon, day after day, an unblemished lamb was killed and sacrificed on behalf on the whole community… maybe 1200 animals per year. Here, devout Jews offered personal sacrifices… there were six different offerings by individuals that required a sacrifice of some kind, and tens of thousands of additional animals were slaughtered each year as part of that sacrificial system. From all over the Mediterranean world Jewish taxes flowed to support the Temple. Three times a year Jewish people from all over the ancient world made a pilgrimage and flocked to the Temple to worship God, swelling the ranks of the city from about 25,000 upward to about 180,000.

Here resided the High Priest, a man with an immaculate pedigree, a man with a direct lineage to the family of Aaron, a man bound by strict rules to marry only a twelve-year-old virgin of pure Jewish descent, a man considered the priest of all priests, the symbolic head of both the faith and the nation. And, only once a year… only after he had purified himself in seclusion for seven days… only after he had put on his splendid eight-part outfit… the High Priest would part the curtains and enter into that so-sacred area inside the Temple known as the Holy of Holies – in the very presence of God, Jews believed – to offer the sacrifice of a goat for his own sins and to send another goat into the desert wilderness for the sins of the people. It was known as the Day of Atonement. Now, as the story later unfolded, Jesus would – by his ministry, by his suffering and crucifixion – take the place of the High Priest and offer himself as the final and definitive sacrifice, the unblemished Lamb of God slain on a cross for the sins of the world – once and for all, the Book of Hebrews reminds us. He would take away the might and the power of the Temple, what it represented and what it required, all those sacrifices, all those required rules and regulations and traditions. He would offer forgiveness to sinners directly from God without trekking to the Temple or slitting sacrificial throats.

But that was later. On this day remembered in today’s Gospel… the day that Jesus and his disciples stood there, the Temple had already been about 50 years in the making… and still was not completed… and it would take another 30 years to finish. But already it was beautiful and breathtaking. The Holy Temple. “What large stones and what large buildings!” the disciples oohed and aahed.  And isn’t it true that, even today, disciples of Jesus are sometimes attracted to splendor and grandeur? We are drawn to the biggest and the best. The most influential. The most powerful. The most anything. The largest church buildings, the biggest church memberships, the most prestigious congregations, the best preacher, the most dynamic choir, the greatest number of activities, programs, and free handouts. Greatness. Security. Successful. Enduring. Glamour and glitter. “What large stones!”

But Jesus said, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Can you imagine what this did inside the disciples of Jesus?  This special and beautiful place, the very dwelling place of God, it’s not gonna stand forever… it will be destroyed… it’s going down! I think that Peter, James and John, and Andrew more than wondered about it… I think they were worried about it… I think they were anxious and afraid. In the Gospel of Mark the disciples take a while and seem to have difficulty trying to process this information. “Tell us Jesus, when…” they asked, and also “Tell us, Jesus, what will be the signs…” and perhaps even “Tell us, Jesus, how can we prepare?”

The Temple will be destroyed! Jesus speaks of warning signs and of the timing. And he broadens what he is saying beyond just concern about the Temple’s fate.  He tells them not to be led astray by premature announcements of the end times… not to become distressed by alarming messages and even by threatening events.

The real question is not, “WHEN WILL THIS HAPPEN?”  but “WILL I BE READY?” And, although we don’t know what the future holds, there is One who holds the future.

Jesus speaks of birth pangs. In a time when little makes sense, when things we thought were secure are crumbling away… when even that “old time religion” doesn’t answer all our questions and sustain us… still there is one foundation of hope we can stand upon.

So, HOW TO BE READY for “THE END”… for “my end”? By being faithful

HOW TO BE FAITHFUL? By trusting that God loves me…that (as our reading from Hebrews tells us) Jesus offered once for all time a single sacrifice for sins… that (as St. Paul writes in Romans) NOTHING (neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, no powers, no burdens, no sorrows, no suffering, no evil) will ever be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord…

and by…

Using the 86,400 seconds of life that I am granted each and every day to try to LOVE others, to show MERCY, to act with COMPASSION, to ENCOURAGE others.

Ultimately, it’s God and God alone, God’s love revealed and given to us and to the world through Jesus Christ, that is our SOLID ROCK. Ultimately, it’s the love that we share and pass on that counts – more than anything else.

Upcoming Events

Jun
23
Sun
2024
10:00 am Sunday Worship Service
Sunday Worship Service
Jun 23 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be gathering together for worship service on Zoom using the following information: MEETING ID: 5977365682 MEETING PASSWORD: 204934 You can also join us for...
Jun
30
Sun
2024
10:00 am Sunday Worship Service
Sunday Worship Service
Jun 30 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be gathering together for worship service on Zoom using the following information: MEETING ID: 5977365682 MEETING PASSWORD: 204934 You can also join us for...
Jul
3
Wed
2024
10:30 am Whole Foods Distribution
Whole Foods Distribution
Jul 3 @ 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
Whole Foods Distribution Use entrance on Briar Rd. to access the lower classroom area. Need more information? Check out this event’s ministry page.
Jul
5
Fri
2024
8:30 am Senior Food Box Distribution @ St. Peter's Rhoda Hall
Senior Food Box Distribution @ St. Peter's Rhoda Hall
Jul 5 @ 8:30 am – 10:00 am
Check out the Senior Food Program’s page for more information.
Jul
7
Sun
2024
10:00 am Sunday Worship Service
Sunday Worship Service
Jul 7 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be gathering together for worship service on Zoom using the following information: MEETING ID: 5977365682 MEETING PASSWORD: 204934 You can also join us for...