Daniel 12: 1-3; Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18; Mark 13: 24-32
In some of his letters written from prison, German Lutheran theologian, spiritual writer, mystic Dietrich Bonhoeffer, urged his fellow co-conspirators to think and act of future generations. Despite the fear and anxiety that will be thrust upon you of that age, and our age, the mindset must be forward and for future generations. He himself had the opportunity to stay here in the States but felt for the sake of his own integrity and the integrity of the message that he must return to Germany during Nazi control and found himself imprisoned and eventual lead to not only his death but the death of several family members. He knew how the message would be received by those in power, not as a message of hope, as anticipated, but rather feeding into their own fear of the threat of losing power. When we become trapped in this moment and cannot see beyond or even trust the unknown, fear and anxiety rule the day. His message was not only timely in the early 1940s as Germany and all of Europe reeled with a World War, but even to our own day.
His message, like that of Mark’s to his own community today, are meant to be messages of hope to people who find themselves waning on their commitment to the common good, future generations, and doing what is right. There is an onslaught of pressure at this point of the story from not only political but religious authorities of their day who see not only Jesus but his very followers as a threat to the status quo, to what they are most comfortable with, to their way of life that they have deemed to be most fitting. Fear and anxiety becomes the name of the game, but the message intended by Mark and Daniel, and even Bonhoeffer, was to persevere in the suffering and the darkness that you are experiencing at the moment. For the sake of future generations, fear cannot move us to give up and become depleted in the mission that is given us by God.
As Mark and Daniel tell us today, it will certainly feel as if the world is falling a part and feel like all we know is crumbling around us, but it has to. It has to. Many things need to die in order for the next generation, which may even have conflicting values, but for the betterment of society. Instead, like in the time of Jesus, we have political and religious leaders looking more like bumbling fools at times, stumbling through, trying to avoid the pain, often all in order to cling to what was and what was is dying and has to die. What was can no longer be. The name of the game with God is surrender, trust, letting go, even learning to die, pushing through the pain, in order to learn to trust the unknown and the unfolding of mystery in our world today. It’s a message of hope in the face of the many trials and tribulations that we have faced as generations of people. Yet, every generation, as Jesus tells us today, clings, and all these things will come to pass before they learn to let go. Do we really want to leave a mess for future generations in the church and country?
Whether we like it or not, things are going to change and many things will die, and need to. People from other countries are going to come here, as they have for generations. We need not fear as Bonhoeffer had written. We need not fear people that are different and that we even perceive as a threat to our way of life. Our way of life, for that matter, is also dying. If you know anything about future generations, they live very differently. They don’t necessarily value what older generations value, even in terms of economics. At some point the trials and tribulations are only enhanced by our own need to control and to hold on to what was. We become nostalgic of the past, as if everything was great. Yet, all generations that have passed have lived through the same trials and tribulations and the same uncertainties that we face in our present day and age. The more we learn to embrace the reality of life and death, that the two are so intertwined, the more we learn not to cling, but to let go, surrender, even the face of persecution and in the midst of the fear and anxiety that is thrust upon us by political and religious leaders, along with a great deal of our media that continues to feed into the narrative of the end times.
Well, guess what? The end times are upon us. They’re always upon us. We’re always on the threshold being left with a choice to cling to what was, leading us further into despair, or we learn to trust the unknown, trust what is unfolding within and beyond us, the mystery of life and death. All of creation, as the readings tell us today, knows that process better than any of us. Despite the horrific loss of life and property in the wild fires of California, it’s all the forest knows. Fires, despite the loss of life, are the only way forests recreate themselves and foster new growth. As naturally as creation does it and allows it to be done unto it, here we are, the advanced ones of creation, clinging rather than embracing the freedom of the unknow, opening ourselves to future generations.
Bonhoeffer’s words continue to ring true to this day. We too have a great deal of fear and anxiety thrust upon us from many different directions. There is nothing easy about any of it. His message, though, that in order to think and act in that way, we must learn to walk through the darkness, the pain, the suffering, that comes with letting go and surrendering ourselves over to the will of God. If we find it as an ominous message rather than the message of hope that was intended, we probably find ourselves clinging in life, as if something is being taken away from us. The message of hope delivered by these prophetic voices, Daniel, Jesus, Mark, Bonhoeffer, was one of trust in the face of adversity. It may be painful in the immediate moment, but that more than ever is the time not to fall prey to fear and anxiety. When we trust, despite the trials and tribulation, life is promised in death. Sure, it’s hard and we’d rather hold on, but the message of hope is one of life, despite our fears. Lean in and trust the unknown for the fullness of life awaits.