End Times

20161113_154523Luke 21:5-19

Click here to view a video of this sermon.

On October 30th, 1938, a news bulletin was announced in the United States on the radio (the most popular media medium of the day). Americans were engrossed with the incoming headlines; entire families stopped what they were doing to listen to up to date notices. Some people remained calm in their homes; others were driven to hysteria. According to the news reports that day, it seemed that explosions on Mars were reported, and aliens had been spotted in the countryside of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. There was an alien invasion! The very fate of the earth was at stake! The world was coming to an end! Orson Welles, perhaps most notably remembered for his role in one of America’s most celebrated movies, ‘Citizen Kane’, caused a nationwide panic with his broadcast of “War of the Worlds”—a realistic radio dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth.

‘War of the Worlds’ was not the only radio drama of its time that attempted to present a fictional story in ‘real time’, but what made this production so memorable was the reaction to the broadcast. Producer John Houseman wrote about the reaction to the program from the media and the public:

The following hours were a nightmare. The building was suddenly full of people and dark-blue uniforms. Hustled out of the studio, we were locked into a small back office on another floor. Here we sat incommunicado while network employees were busily collecting, destroying, or locking up all scripts and records of the broadcast. Finally, the Press was let loose upon us, ravening for horror. How many deaths had we heard of? (Implying they knew of thousands.) What did we know of the fatal stampede in a Jersey hall? (Implying it was one of many.) What traffic deaths? (The ditches must be choked with corpses.) The suicides? (Haven’t you heard about the one on Riverside Drive?) It is all quite vague in my memory and quite terrible.[2]:404

 

Today’s world of 24 hour news channels, the internet where anyone can create a website, and social media allows for reactions to become the centerpiece of the world’s events, much like the “War of the Worlds” event in 1938. It has been said that today we are often in competition to be more outraged than the other by what happens in this world, rather than inspired for civil conversation and discourse. Those who do not come across as outraged or angry enough are simply not considered credible sources. The reality is that many of those non-anxious individuals and voices are simply lost in the overabundance of loud voices, facebook posts, tweets, cable programming, and yes…radio. “If we are not angry enough at what is going on in the world, then we are not listening, we have no heart, or we are part of the problem!” It seems that the only topic worth conversing about, to steal the words of ‘Chicken Little’, is how the sky is, indeed, falling. Aliens might as well be taking over the world; the end is here!

So how do we make sense of the world around us today? What does it mean to follow Jesus, and to live in the world that we do where every day we wake up to what seems like yet a more anxious news story, an angrier headline, a more conflicted nation and world? Oddly, or appropriately, enough, the lectionary text for this Sunday talks about some of these issues in the times of early Christianity. So let’s go to the text to see what we can find…


The Gospel of Luke is one of my favorites because of the radical social nature of the gospel message within the life and ministry of Jesus. Early on in Luke, Jesus is recorded as entering a Jewish synagogue and reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, whom we also read from earlier; this time with these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

So, as a pastor, I’m going to give us a little permission here this morning to vent. As one who loves the comforting and peaceful words of Isaiah as well as the inclusive message of Luke, I don’t think I’m alone in having one of the first responses to today’s gospel text: What in the world is Jesus talking about here?! Talk of destruction, false prophets, wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues; is this the peace-loving Jesus we were reading about? And that’s not even the personal part of this text: arrests, persecution, trials, family betrayal…and oh yeah, death.  This sounds more like Twitter reaction than the peaceful, shepherding, kid-loving teachings of Jesus.

The reality, as it is with so much in this world, is that things are not always as black and white as they may seem. The world is complex. People are complex. And following Jesus is complex. The author of the gospel of Luke and Acts wrote this following the death of Jesus. In fact, most scholars agree that what was described here attributed to Jesus as the end times were actual events in the history of First Century Israel. The temple, as we read about, was destroyed before the writing of this gospel. Many individuals and communities who identified as followers of Jesus were, in fact, imprisoned, put on trial, and even murdered. In a way, the author is writing about the future, but also writing about the past.

Besides the gloom and doom of the apocalyptic imagery here in chapter 21, there are also words of hope and a future that helps set the stage for other events in the life of the church. And while we could continue to focus on the doom and gloom, we can do that by turning on the cable news any day. As Christians, we look for words of hope and of God’s involvement in the world; and we find that beginning in verse 15. As we discussed, there are several verses and warnings of future arrests and trials. And then Jesus continues:

14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 

 Gloom, gloom, gloom …and then in verse 18, “…not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

These words will once again fit well into the events of the time as many followers of the risen Christ will be put on trial for what they believe to be true. Many will be punished, beaten, and even killed, and yet the book of Acts speaks of the birth of the Christian Church on Pentecost when the very Spirit of God moved within people of all nations to share words of Good News with the world. At the end…the end times…love wins. Light defeats the darkness. Life conquers death.  In the words of Isaiah, there is release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and proclamation of the Lord’s favor.

 

So what do we do now? In a world that seems hell-bent on proclaiming that the sky is falling, how do we, as followers of Christ, continue on? Do we try to out outrage the other? Do we turn a blind eye to all that is going on in the world and stick our heads in the sand? Or is there something else; is there another option; a third, perhaps complex, way?

In a world that is truly complex, with complex issues, complex realities, and complex people, there is hope. Today’s hope is found in today’s Good News from our text this morning: God will give us the words and wisdom to endure this world, and in so doing, we will be able to share the life-saving love and grace found in Christ Jesus.

As we take on the much larger lens of God in this world we realize that there have been some troubling days and events in the past, and God was there. These days are, indeed, troubling today with news of violence, disaster and division, and God is here. And there will be days ahead when we will struggle as individuals and as a people, and God will be there as well. Through all of life’s moments, we take comfort in the fact that God will provide such words and wisdom.

As Christians we have the joy and privilege, and the responsibility, to share such news with the world, even when the end times may feel so near. Perhaps this is when we are most called to share such good news. The hard part is putting on a brave face to confront the evil, injustice, and oppression in the world. And let’s be honest with each other, there really is not an easy part.

I’ve developed a little mantra over the past few weeks when life has been most challenging; maybe this will help you as well. Time and time again, I found myself ruminating on the perils of this world; mostly with issues that are simply so much larger and beyond my control than any response I could manage. So in an effort to put to voice my faith in God’s involvement in the world, I have started saying to God two words: ‘Take it!’ This is a form of prayer really, when life simply seems like too much to handle at the moment. Perhaps this can be helpful to you this morning, as we encounter a world with issues that at times seem too big to take on ourselves. Take it, Lord!

 

Friends, the end times as Jesus described, are very well at hand in the world today. There is violence, oppression, disaster, and injustice all around—we hear about it just about every minute of every day. To be honest, this is a reality of humanity as we know it. Despite our best efforts as children of God, we can’t seem to ever get it right; we are a broken people. But rest assured, Jesus also preached about the end times in a different way; as God’s Kingdom being realized here today.

And God’s Kingdom is here today.

It’s here in the works of justice for the least of these throughout our nation and around the world.

It’s here in the unity of our communities to work for the common good.

It’s here within each and every one of us, as God continues to move, continues to speak, and continues to love through our very lives as we serve as the hands and feet of Christ.

Let us go from this place assured of God’s words on our tongues sharing this good news with the world: the life-saving love and grace of Christ Jesus is here today.

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