Hi everybody! Welcome to the Apocalypse!! This gospel which is known as “The Little Apocalypse” comes to us in our lectionary today, when it seems that about half of our country is feeling slightly apocalyptic.
So let’s review: Jesus tells his followers that the Temple is going to be destroyed, which is terrifying news. They ask him if there will be warnings before this takes place. Yep, there will be false prophets who insist that they, and only they, are the real deal. And he says; “Stay away from those folks!” But it gets bleaker: there will be wars and insurrections, nations will rise against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms. There will be earthquakes and famines and signs from heaven. If that isn’t bad enough, you’ll be arrested and persecuted. Jesus says: “You will have to testify about me to kings and governors, but don’t worry, I’ll put the words right in your mouth. Oh, one more thing, your family will betray you and some of you will be killed. Everyone will hate you. But it’s all good: just hang in there and you will be saved.”
Why was Jesus preaching these terrifying words to his followers? Well, remember their situation: they were living in a land occupied by Roman invaders who lined the roads with people hanging from crosses. They were following Jesus, a religious leader vilified by the local authorities. They were in a very scary situation. It doesn’t seem too comforting for Jesus to tell them that after the destruction of the temple, after the earthquakes and famines, after they are arrested and persecuted, their families will betray them and some of them will be killed! Surely that sounded pretty apocalyptic to these men and women.
David Lose writes; “Apocalyptic passages were offered to help believers struggling from oppression and persecution put their struggles into the larger context of the universal struggle between God and the forces of evil. In this way, such passages provided comfort that no matter how difficult things became, God would not abandon them and that God would ultimately prevail, thereby encouraging believers to persevere in the meantime and, indeed, to witness to their faith in times of persecution.”
According to Wikipedia, ‘apocalypse’, translated literally from Greek, is 'through the concealed', meaning a lifting of the veil or revelation. In religious contexts it is usually a disclosure of something hidden, “a vision of heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities”. So, these writings are meant to help us make sense of hidden truths about God.
Both Jesus and John the Baptist were considered apocalyptic prophets and there were many like them. The Pharisees might have had apocalyptic beliefs, as did the Essenes. We know quite a bit about the Essenes because they were the community of monks who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and followed John’s gospel. They moved as far away from everyone as possible, living in caves by the Dead Sea. They asked, as we do, “How do we live today when we don’t know what will happen tomorrow?”
Our country is in the midst of huge social upheaval right now and many of us are pretty anxious about what the future holds and what changes might be afoot. How do we live with that? We all want to know how to live when we don’t know the future.
Well, we can hear these frightening words, see these scary natural disasters and just start preparing to die. Or we can toss all of that and hear these words as an invitation to live here and now by faith and hope. We can recognize that trials we endure strengthen us and help us to find God through our darkness.
We don’t know what will happen to our country in the coming years. We don’t know what kind of changes will be happening in our government. But here’s what we do know. We know that God is with us all. We know that God’s grace falls on each and every one of us. We know that we are called to help the neediest in our midst, now more than ever.
The Rev. Andrew K. Barnett asks: “How do we live today when we don’t know tomorrow? We draw strength from God, who invites our participation and endures long after the cities and buildings and stones have crumbled. We adopt a posture that asks not what God can do for us, but calls us to bring the Kingdom of God just a bit closer. We love neighbor as self and we strive for just societies and a stable planet--new heavens and a new earth. We pray without ceasing, and we trust in a mighty God from whom all blessings flow.”
Jesus taught us the values of compassion, kindness, civility and equality. We must turn to those again and again. Love wins, love must win.
Today we started church by singing a joyous song with these lyrics: “Sing your joy, proclaim God’s glory. God is alive! Hallelujah!” And we will also sing one of my favorite hymns where God tells us: “I will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of my hands.”
This is what we must remember. God holds us in the palm of his hands. God is at work amongst us. Jesus does promise that God is with us to the end of the age. God is still in charge and we can trust in God when we can no longer trust anything else. We must meet the world, not with fear and apprehension but with joy, wonder and gratitude.