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Holding Fast

November 14, 2021 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 13:1–13:13

The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

November 14, 2021

Mark 13:1-13

 “Holding Fast”

This past week on November 11 (Veterans Day) marked the 100th anniversary of the interment of the first unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Following the “war to end all wars” and the terrible loss of life and destruction from it, people of that generation held fast to the hope of better days to come. Throughout the last year and a half during the COVID pandemic, we also have been holding fast to the hope that there will be better days to come. Certainly, things are looking better now than they did a year ago as the vaccination has become available to anyone who wants it, and now including children ages 5-11. There may be some bumps ahead as we go through the cold and flu season, but we’re holding fast to the hope that the coming new year will bring with it many blessings. Holding fast: this is what Jesus is calling his disciples to do in today’s Gospel lesson; holding fast to the truth of Jesus and his teaching in the midst of great uncertainty, even persecution. In these closing days of the church year, when our focus turns to the end of all things and the return of Christ in glory and power to judge the world in righteousness, we also are called to hold fast to Jesus. That becomes the theme for today’s message. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Mark 13 is sometimes called “the Olivet discourse,” because Jesus is teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives that sits opposite Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Having entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1-10), Jesus then encountered great resistance and rejection from the religious leaders (Mark 11:15-19, 27-33; 12:1-40). That is what comes before today’s Gospel lesson. Here in Mark 13 is the longest uninterrupted teaching of Jesus in all of Mark’s Gospel. We only get a portion of this in today’s Gospel lesson, and so I encourage you to read through the rest of Mark 13 on your own. This is really Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples, and it concerns prophecy about the future coupled together with exhortation about living in the present; how the disciples are to live after Jesus is no longer with them. In the midst of false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, nations and kingdoms rising against each other, earthquakes and famines, divisions within families, and believers standing before public officials because of their faith, Jesus teaches his disciples then and now that with suffering and oppression for Jesus’ sake also comes opportunity to proclaim Jesus’ Name. Here is a call for patient hope and steadfast endurance for those who belong to Jesus that we may hold fast to him.

While we are called to hold fast to Jesus, there can be at least two dangers that we face in holding fast. One is hyper-expectancy and the other is complacency. Hyper-expectancy is seeing signs and indications of Jesus’ return everywhere. We jump to conclusions, even predicting the day itself when Christ will return. We may even try to take matters into our own hands, thinking that somehow we can force the day of the Lord to happen. Hyper-expectancy is when we begin to disengage with the world around us, and just wait around for the day of Christ’s coming. The old phrase that one can be “so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good” holds true here. Besides hyper-expectancy, the other extreme might be called hypo-expectancy. Hyper means above, and hypo means below. Hypo-expectancy is complacency, which I think is much more prevalent among us today. We have grown very comfortable with Christ’s not coming. Most of us believe that life here and now is pretty good; maybe not perfect, but pretty good. We may even be skeptical about Jesus’ promised return, or even worse, we may have no expectation of his coming at all. The words of Paul the apostle at the close of his great resurrection chapter in 1 Corinthians 15 remind us: “If for this life only we have hoped, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

In today’s Old Testament lesson (Daniel 12:1-3), we hear from the prophet Daniel. Together with his fellow citizens from Judah and Jerusalem, Daniel was exiled to Babylon following the destruction of their city and temple. Daniel was chosen together with other young men to serve in a high position of the court of King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, and then when the Persians conquered Babylon, in the court of the Persian king, Darius. It would have been very easy for Daniel to compromise his faith in the one true God. When legislation was enacted forbidding anyone to pray to any god or man except the king, under penalty of death, it would have been very easy for Daniel to just go along to get along. But Daniel continued to hold fast to the Lord God. He continued to pray three times each day, and for this, he was thrown into the lions’ den. But God delivered Daniel and kept him safe (Daniel 6), allowing him to share the visions which God had shown to him, including that clear vision of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come that we hear in today’s Old Testament lesson.

In today’s Epistle lesson (Hebrews 10:11-26), we are encouraged in faith with these words: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25). A significant part of holding fast in faith includes coming together, as we are doing today, for strength and support from fellow believers. God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament – the Means of Grace – are the glue that binds us together in faith. When we absent ourselves from this meeting together, we run the very great risk that the light of faith in our life may not just burn dimly, but go out entirely. We’re in the season of gathering around firepits outside and enjoying the light and warmth from them on these fall evenings. Together, all the firewood or coals support and strengthen one another, making the fire burn bright. But if we remove one piece of firewood or coal from the fire, it doesn’t take long for that one individual to lose its warmth and fire. It will soon be extinguished and become cold. How can it be any different for us in our faith life? Friends in Christ, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” As we see that promised Day drawing hear, let us not “neglect to meet together.”

We hold fast in faith, not fear, because we know and believe in the One who holds us fast; the One who holds our past, our present, and our future in his nail-pierced hands. Yes, surely the end is near, but Jesus is also near. He is near to us even now as we offer our prayers and praises. He is near to us in his blessed Word that tells us: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:9-11). He is near to us in the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism and in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper that convey to us Christ’s very Body and Blood. The One who loves us and laid down his life for us promises that he himself will be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). In a world that seems bent on death and destruction, we hold fast in faith to Jesus who has triumphed over death and the grave. In whatever time remains until Jesus comes again, it is our joyful duty to point people to him whose hands and feet and side were pierced for each and every person. Through our words and actions, let us share with them all that God in Christ has done for us. Through people like you and me, Jesus words will be fulfilled: “And the Gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations” (Mark 13:10). God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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