Sermon by Pastor Christopher Nelson

Well, that’s a happy little reading for us this morning…especially when we are welcoming three new children into our church family- and our Bishop is here to help us celebrate the consolidation of Bethlehem and Minnetonka Lutheran Churches into one new church… The END of all things is coming… “Not one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down…”

And there is the temptation to minimize what we just heard- I mean, Jesus was talking about the temple in Jerusalem, right- and we know it came down in 70AD when the Romans sacked the City of Jerusalem, more than tired after years of resistance and revolt, and crushed that revolt, razed the temple, and then drove the Jewish people out of the land into what we call “the diaspora,” … So, maybe, it’s like not about us; Jesus isn’t speaking to us, right?

But we know better, don’t we… The Jewish folks in Jerusalem should have known- the temple Jesus was looking at was not the first temple on that site. The first was destroyed by the Babylonians hundreds of years before. It was rebuilt seventy years or so later, and then had been enlarged and enhanced to become the magnificent space that Jesus new…

It’s just hard to imagine that something as spectacular as that temple couldn’t last forever… And yet… buildings- magnificent buildings throughout history that have been built to last have come down, often in horrific ways. After all, it was only fifteen years ago that the Twin Towers came crashing down…

Our reading is set in a conversation Jesus has with his disciples about the end times. The Jewish People of the first century were tired of being occupied by the Romans; they longed for the day when God’s promised King would rule in Jerusalem, and they were certain God would intervene decisively to make this happen…

The first followers of Jesus were convinced that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he would be returning soon- within their lifetimes! That’s one of the reasons we don’t see the Gospels written immediately! Why write something down when the end is coming???

And so it’s not until around 70AD- when the Temple has been destroyed, that Mark is written- because it’s clear that Jesus isn’t coming back on the early church’s timetable, and they better get some stuff written down before all the eyewitnesses- the people who knew Jesus, or the people who knew people who knew Jesus during his earthly ministry all died!

And one of the things Mark has to talk about is “the end…” The second coming of Jesus! Because those early followers wanted to know what had happened- or not happened…

But if you’re going to use what Mark has written to predict just when this is going to happen, you’re going to be in trouble- and that is Jesus’ point!

False prophets… Wars and rumors of wars…Famines and earthquakes… Persecution… Well, that describes every generation since Jesus, doesn’t it? And then the arrival of Jesus as the Son of Man, while spectacular, to be sure, is couched so vaguely as to be impossible to predict- the “sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven…”

Further, what Jesus is saying to his disciples- to the first readers of Mark’s Gospel, and to you and to me, particularly when it comes to temples- or institutions- is that nothing we human beings build will last forever- and there is some serious hubris- some serious pride when we think they will! What will last forever, Jesus says, are his words- so maybe we should pay attention to them…

Clearly, Jesus is not about buildings- about institutions. We remember him saying that foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head… We remember Jesus cleansing the temple and driving the money changers- the merchants out…

We remember Jesus arguing with the religious authorities, the keepers of the traditions- warning his listeners about them in last week’s Gospel about how entitled those authorities were and how they exploited the vulnerable…

We see again and again how Jesus spent his time and energy on the people the institutions excluded- the poor, the sick and the outcast…How he spent his time offering God’s love and acceptance, offering a relationship with God to anyone and everyone- even those- or especially those- the ruling power of his day- wanted nothing to do with!

We see how Jesus offered and offers a relationship with the living God that will far outlast any institution or building- indeed, that will last forever, as he died on the cross for you and for me- and for anyone who has ever lived or will live, identifying with us so closely that he embraced your death- my death…

And in his Resurrection from the dead, we know that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus! Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord!

So while we’re waiting for Jesus’ return- whether at the moment of our deaths, or at the end of all things, let’s turn to Jesus’ words at the end of our reading- and make the connection with what we’re doing here today at Bethlehem. Let’s ask the question, “To what end do we undertake this new calling?”

Jesus tells us no one knows when the end is coming. “Take heed, watch,” He says. And then he compares it to a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work… Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house will come…”

The work we have as followers of Jesus is to be his arms, his legs and voice- to do his healing work for justice and peace, and to share the wonderful relationship we have with him with the people around us… That’s your work, wherever God has placed you, even as you live out the calling God has given you; that’s the work of the church, Christ’s living Body on earth!

We live at a time when the institutional church is struggling; all of us, of all denominations. And if we’re struggling to save the institution, I believe- indeed, all of the leadership of this new congregation, and our leadership at the synod level, does, too- then we know that Jesus’ words about the destruction of the Temple apply to us. There is no saving the institution for the sake of the institution…

And if we’re undertaking this new adventure so we can pump ourselves up- show how great we are- to build an empire, if you will, then we are subject to the same judgement!

Perhaps you heard this week that today is the final Sunday of worship for North Heights Lutheran Church. At their peak, they had 7500 baptized members and 4000 in attendance. It’s an important lesson to us all about staying “on mission,” and “keeping the main thing the main thing- our crucified and Risen Savior!”

Because, as you have often heard me say, “It’s not about us! It’s not about you! Or me!” It’s about the Kingdom of God!

One work of the Synod is to help develop best practices, to embrace new ideas of reaching people for Jesus. This collaboration with Minnetonka was born in the Synod office and shared with Pastor Bob Rusert and with me! I am grateful for leaders like our bishop and her staff who are willing to explore off the map!

The work of our new Church is to share the Good News we have been given- with which we have been entrusted- with the people around us in the communities in which we live, work and play! And as I told you a year ago, we see it as the opportunity for a burst of energy in both places, that will help us use the things we have learned to reach the people for whom we exist: the people not yet there- or here…

This work is new for all of us, and it means some changes for us, too. Your pastors and staff are running back and forth between the Minnetonka campus and here. We’ll be doing this for a while, until we call another pastor, and we learn better how to handle this new task.

I want you to know that we all know where there is change there is loss, and where there is loss, there is grief. We’re not each here every week; that’s something new for all of us, and maybe difficult, too.

But I also have great confidence in this community’s commitment to serve in new and exciting ways, and that together, we shall see God do wonderful things with us- use us in ways that can be an example for the rest of the ELCA, as we reach out and serve our Lord Jesus…

We’ve been given important work to do for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Although the Bishop is installing pastors and staff today, she is also, in effect, commissioning each of you, as ministers of this new church, each with your own task- your own call to serve our Lord.

How long Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities survives is anyone’s guess. Golgotha Lutheran Church, the church we partnered with in the 1920’s is long gone. But it was their vision and foresight that brought us to 41st and Lyndale. That is to say, they live on in our witness…

And Minnetonka and Bethlehem will live on- serve on- as long as God has work for us to do. I’d believe that will be for quite a while, as together, we strive to do that work, we strive to be ready for our Lord’s coming, whenever that may be.

In the meantime, let’s get going! In Jesus Name, and for his sake…