FIRST BIBLE LESSON II Thessalonians 3
GOSPEL LESSON Luke 21:5-19
SERMON: “Standing Firm in a Shaky World”
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness.
It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of incredulity.
It was the season of light. It was the season of darkness.
It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair.”
Thus begins Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. Those famous words came into my mind as I pondered this passage from Luke in the context of this past week because
This has been a horrible week. This has been a wonderful week.
This has been a horrible week. Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with over 3,600 dead, nine million people affected and untold property loss. All of that seems far away.
Closer to home, a friend and colleague who serves on my presbytery committee underwent a second surgery in a few short weeks to remove melanoma cells from her face; she wrote to me that a semi-truck could not have done a better job of messing up her face. Another friend learned that the man who had repeatedly committed domestic assault against his daughter, nearly strangling her to death, was found “not guilty” by a jury who didn’t ask to see any of the evidence submitted and only bothered to deliberate for 5 minutes. Another friend went into the hospital Friday night for a life-threatening illness, and yet another friend learned that her child may have a serious illness. All of which makes the fact that my car wouldn’t start yesterday morning, a pretty minor problem. It was a horrible week.
It has been a good week.
Every time a gospel passage about end-times comes up, I tend to go looking to see what other passage I could preach on. Who wants to come to Sunday worship and deal with “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” ??
First, Jesus – by outlining in broad strokes what will happen – is telling his people to live with readiness and awareness. We might prefer not to think about such things, and reality is that it does little good to dwell on things we can do little about. Jesus is not calling his followers to sink into paranoia or paralyzing fear. Still, He does want us to realize that there are troubles everywhere as we live in a world marred by sin and tragedy.
Much of what we worry about, never comes to pass, especially when it comes to predictions of the end of the world. Do you remember last year at this time when some people were all worked up over the end of the Mayan calendar and feared that the world would end on 12/21/12? Didn’t happen. There were a few people caught with some last-minute Christmas shopping to do.
In December of 1999, there was near panic over the possibility of Y2K causing computers we depend on for all sorts of things to crash. Didn’t happen.
One July 2013 headline said, “The end of the world is (almost) nigh: Scientists predict that all life will be wiped off our planet in less than . . . a billion years.”1
Before you get worried about that one – the headline was in a British tabloid, and . . . well, a billion years gives us a while before we need to panic.
The oldest known prediction of the end of the world is recorded on Assyrian tablets: “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.” Sound familiar? Those tablets date back to the 28th century BCE.
The early Christians believed Jesus was coming back any day –– Hence we get the Second Thessalonians passage Dottie read earlier.
In the 7th Century Muslims believed in a last judgment when Jesus would come to earth, end all wars, and kill ad-Dajjal, the Muslim anti-Christ.
In 1719 Jacob Bernoulli believed a comet seen in 1680 would return and collide with the Earth. That particular comet hasn’t been seen since.
In the 19th century, William Miller, a Baptist preacher, predicted the world would come to an end in 1843, then 1844. . . eventually his followers, the ones that didn’t fall away, became what is known today as the Seventh Day Adventists.
In 1978 Jim Jones, believing the end was near, took some 900 of his cult members with him by forcing them to drink cyanide laced Kool-Aid.
We are called not to bury our heads in the sand, but we are cautioned not to panic. Jesus said, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
We hear of catastrophic events like hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis, events like 9/11, terrorist bombings and school shootings. In gospel times the much-dreaded catastrophes were the destruction of the Jewish temple and the persecution of Christians.
How do we live with the dire predictions and the earth-shattering and tragic life events? The answers can be found in Jesus’ own words. No sooner does he give a dire, but dead-on, description of life in our world than he issues a clear and simple approach for how his followers should live in such a world. Jesus -- reminds us that adversity often creates a platform, a platform upon which some will emerge and stand as a force for good.
The Apostle Paul expands on how Christians are to respond to their fears of heartbreak and disaster. 11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
At this time of year when the church invites you to help provide food and clothing, to fill shoe boxes with gifts for children, to give a day to delivering Santa Claus Girls gifts, it is easy to say, “Enough!” brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
When the church asks you to dig deep to send a few more dollars to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in the wake of another devastating storm, it is easy to say, “Been there, done that.” brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
When the church asks you to pray again for people who are battling illness of body, mind or spirit, to pray again for people in financial trouble, to pray again for people who are grieving, it is easy to say, “but I have prayed.” brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
Luke highlights catastrophes as opportunities. For individuals this is a chance to let faith shine and witness to the rest of the world.
Finally, Jesus urges us to live with a constant focus on how the story will end. Admittedly, all of this is easier said than done, which is what makes Jesus’ last piece of advice so critical. He calls us to live with our hearts and minds anchored in the fact that in the end, no matter what happens, we will be okay.
Yes, there are wars and rumors of wars around the globe. Yes, there are earthquakes, fires and floods. In the end, no matter what happens, we will be okay.
Yes, loved ones suffer illness and injury, and we grieve over those who have died. In the end, no matter what happens, we will be okay.
The world we live in can be scary and shaky, but when the last page turns, God’s people win the battle. Jesus spoils the ending -- well, not really -- by promising that, “not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:18-19).
Jesus invites us to consider how we should live every day in spite of the troubles around us, in light of the fact that he, by his life, his teachings, his ministry, his death and glorious resurrection has guaranteed our survival.