Jesus gets a bit dark today and no wonder, he knows that very soon he will be facing his own death. He tells of a coming apocalypse and probably scares the heck out of his followers.
My Dad told me about a conversation he had with his mom in the 1940’s. He was just graduating from high school and he knew he was likely to be called up to go fight, and possibly die, in the war. He felt like it was the end of the world. My grandma, Julia, told him that she had also felt like that during the ‘war to end all wars’, World War 1, and then she felt like that again during the Great Depression when she had five children and a husband who couldn’t get work. She assured him that people always feel as if they are living in the worst of times but that this time was no worse than any other.
I’ve thought a lot about that conversation over the years. I’m currently reading a book about the Civil War and believe me, the divisions in our country today are nothing compared to that time.
In our reading today 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.”
So, to recap:
Everything in this world will pass away.
There will be false leaders, don't be led astray by them.
There will be calamities, don't be afraid.
Following me will put you at odds with the folks that run this world, and even your own family. Don't be surprised by conflict.
There'll come a time when you'll have to account for why you are my disciple, don't worry about it ahead of time, I'll be with you and give you all the wisdom you'll need at the time.
Believe me, you won't perish. By enduring, you will save your true self.
Why do we have these scary, apocalyptic predictions in the bible? They are meant to remind us that no matter how bad things seem, well, it could always be worse. The important thing here is that from our personal struggles to the end of the world, God is with us. God stands by us through every trial. God will not abandon us. What can we do? We can persevere. We must endure.
Lately, through some of the trials I’ve had with my health, I’ve thought a lot about endurance. One may think of the endurance it takes to run a marathon, but some days, I think about the endurance it takes to get out of bed. Or the endurance it takes to try to age with grace. There are all kinds of endurance, right? It does help me to remember that Christ stands with me, by my side through everything.
An interesting aspect of doing sermon research is that we see the same gospel lessons discussed throughout the ages. I can promise you that over and over, I read sermons from years ago that bemoan the current state of the world and the perception that the apocalypse is near. Life is always full of suffering. This is why I love Buddhism: it’s all about acknowledging the truth that life is suffering, then figuring out how to live well in the face of that. Americans feel we should all be happy all the time, and of course, that leads to disappointment and disillusionment in the face of reality. Our gospel today helps teach us how to deal with suffering.
Our country is in the midst of 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?
Well, we can hear these frightening words in our gospel today and like the folks Paul addresses in our second reading, just quit working and give up. 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 in our world in the coming years. But here’s what we do know. We know that God is with us all. We know that God’s grace falls on each 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 will always win.
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.
Apocalyptic writings often point to a final judgement. I’m fine with that because all I can do is live my life as well as possible and let God judge me at the end.
Here’s a story about judgement:
Howard dies and waits in line for judgment. He notices that some souls go right up into heaven, while Satan throws others down into a burning pit. But every so often, instead of hurling a poor soul into the fire, the devil tosses it to one side. Curious, Howard asks Satan, “Excuse me, but why are you tossing them to the side instead of flinging them into hell with the others?” “They’re from Seattle,” Satan replies. “They’re too wet to burn.”