the twenty-fifth sunday after pentecost

Mark 13. 1-8
Faith is rooted not in dreams, but in memories!

It’s funny where inspiration, at times, comes from. I’d like to think it’s from doing holy things, sacred things. Bible reading. Prayerful consideration, as they say. But often, it’s sparked by the ordinary and the unexceptional. For me, this week, it was an empty candy wrapper left on a kitchen counter. Dove. Deeper dark chocolate. A leftover from our trip to NewMexico, week before last. As I walked by, I picked it up. And I was about to crumple it up, when I realized there was something printed on the inside. Like a fortune cookie without the cookie.

“Inhale the future, exhale the past,” it said. “In hale the future, exhale the past.” A piece of advice from Layne R., Ohio. Instead of tossing it away, I smoothed it out and dropped it on the dining room table with the rest of my stuff.

A few days later, I started on this sermon. Mark 13. 1-8. Wars. Rumors of wars. Nation rising against nation. Kingdom against kingdom. Earthquakes. Famines. Before I’d gotten much farther, that candy wrapper came to mind. “Inhale the future, exhale the past.” It was perfect! Here we are focused on the so-called secondComing of Jesus, the lastDays, the endTimes! And the advice couldn’t be better! “In hale the future, exhale the past.” One. Small. Problem. That’s not how it works! That’s not how any of this works!

You see, it isn’t the future – our tomorrows – that inspires us. That unites us.
It’s our yesterdays! Our what-has-been!

Sure, we can threaten people with what’s up ahead! We can manipulate them! Terrify them! What’s around the next turn! Over the next hill! We can put it on billboards! We can print it on bumperStickers! We can write books about it! Make movies! “Repent! The end is at hand!” “Jesus is coming, again!” And it’s all so popular! Always inhaling the future! Always exhaling the past! That’s the way it is, here in the church … popularly speaking! But that’s, also, the way it’s been in the culture around us. We glom onto what’s ahead and abandon everything that’s behind.

“Your past,” the author (Chuck Palahniuk) writes. “Your past is just a story. And once you realize this, it has no power over you …”

“Forget everything you’ve done,” writes another (Marty Rubin). “Start over.”

That’s the advice of our magi, our wise men. We believe the past is an anchor! Holding us back! Holding us down! Confining and containing. Halting and hindering. Restraining and restricting. The future, our tomorrow, is what offers promise and hope. So, we inhale! And we exhale! We claim what’s up ahead; we let go of what’s behind us. Truth is, though … there’s nothing to inhale! Not yet! Not until after it happens! Up to that moment, it’s nothing more than a figment of our imagination! No matter how deeply we inhale! There’s, simply, nothing to trust! Nothing to believe in! Nothing to stake our life on! No sure and certain anything! The only thing that offers any kind of predictability, that provides anything to depend on, is what lies behind us! What has ALREADY taken place!

We don’t believe in a so-called secondComing. You won’t hear much – if anything – about it, here in the Lutheran neighborhoods of the church. Not because we don’t know the day or the hour. Not because we’d rather be found busy. We don’t believe in a so-called secondComing because there’s nothing to believe in! It’s not “real!” It’s a thought! An idea! We believe only in the first! The one, the only!

We don’t believe in a Rapture; we believe in the Resurrection! We don’t believe in Armageddon; we believe in Golgotha! We don’t believe in the antichrist; we believe in JesusChrist! And all that, for us, is rooted in the past! It’s all anchored in yesterday! Something we can see and hear and touch! Something we can be touched by! It’s like we say in the Supper … Re-member! Re-present! Re-today! The past is something we can go back to! Something that can come to us! Something that never left – that never leaves – us!

Again, contrary to popular opinion, it’s only the future that doesn’t exist. Right here. Right now. This is the present. That we all agree on. But this is, also, the past. Around us! Between us! The past is never over and done with! We can never put it behind! It’s the past that inspires us! It’s the past that moves us! It’s the past that stirs us and wakens us! It’s the past we believe in! And if there’s a future, it, too, is an expression of our yesterdays! Nothing more – or less – than an echo, a reflection, of what was and continues to be! “The past lives through us,” writes Mary Rubin. “We are it’s legacy.” And once our today becomes their yesterday, their present becomes our legacy, as well!

We believe in Christ! We believe in Christ crucified! And that happened long, long ago! But truth is, it happened! It’s not a wish! It’s not a want! Over! Done! It is finished! When we’re baptized, we’re joined to that dying and that rising! When we’re forgiven, we’re reminded that Christ was given, to die for us, and for his sake God forgives! When the bread is placed in the palm of our hands, we’re told, “Given!” When the cup is perched on our fingertips, we’re told, “Shed!” It’s all past tense! Past, not future! That’s how faith, believing, works! God doesn’t draw us or drag us into the kingdom. God lifts us, carries us, into that future! Always from behind!

We can’t inhale the future; but we can inhale the past! We don’t breathe in what-will-be; but we do breathe in what-has-been! And when we do, we breathe deeply! My friends, don’t worry about tomorrow. The future will take care of itself. Or rather, god will take care of it. Instead, turn around and look the other way! Look behind you! At the yesterdays! There is your sure and the certain! Trust it! Believe in it! Stake your lives on it! Because it’s the past that makes you you! It’s the past that makes us who we are! That makes us what we become! It’s Christ! It’s the cross! Those are the things that have already changed the world!