“People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” That sounds about right, doesn’t it? The Camp Fire was the most destructive wild fire in California history.
2018 is on track to be the fourth hottest year on record, outpaced by the previous three years. We can anticipate that the intensity and destructive impact of storms and hurricanes will continue to increase with these warmer temperatures. Children are starving to death in Yemen and so many places around the world. Soldiers are being killed in Afghanistan and conflict persist globally. Migrants are fleeing war or persecution in several countries. It sounds like the end times described by Jesus in our Gospel reading, by the books of Revelation and Daniel and other biblical passages. Is it the end times?
In every single congregation or interim pastorate I’ve served over the last thrity years, someone has commented to me that it feels like we’re living in the end times. Do you suppose that every generation has thought they were living in the end times? I bet it felt that way during the oil crisis of the 1970’s, and during World War I and II. Those who lived through the Civil War probably felt like it was the end times to them. And what about those who endured slavery, or the Inquisition of the 16th century–I bet they saw signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. And the Black Plague in the 1300’s when tens of millions of people died?—that probably seemed like the worst time of distress among the nations.
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that every generation believes they see the signs the Bible describes, and that they are living in the end times. But it turns out, none of them were right—it’s been over 2,000 years and Jesus has not come back yet. The passage we forget to remember is the one where Jesus says, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32-33). If Jesus didn’t know when he was walking on the earth, you and I aren’t going to know either.
For this reason, I used to think it was pointless to speculate about whether we were living in the end times, and quite frankly, I did not want to preach on another passage about the apocalypse since we had one two weeks ago. But then I began to wonder for the first time in nearly three decades of preaching, “what if Jesus wants every generation to think they’re living in the end times? What if that’s the whole point? What would that mean?
Certainly, every generation has its share of wars and rumors of wars, of bizarre weather events, earthquakes, fires, and nations in distress. It seems like the “fear and foreboding” of such a focus would paralyze us—if all we pay attention to are disasters and the cry of human suffering, we could not get out of bed in the morning. Why would Jesus want every generation looking around at the chaos and calamity of our time and think that the end is coming? Maybe it’s because he wants all of us “to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near!” Maybe it’s because every generation needs to be on the lookout for Jesus--not only Jesus coming in a cloud—but Jesus Christ who is present and active now in the very middle of our struggles and our troubles.
One of the pastors who spoke at my Mother-in-law, Joan’s memorial service shared the following:
A father was tucking his daughter into bed one night and started to say the traditional bed-time prayer:
‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I wake before I die—.’
The father stopped, and said, ‘oh, wait a second, I got that wrong.’ His daughter piped up and said, ‘no daddy, that’s right, we have to wake up.’
That’s what was remarkable about Joan’s life. Joan woke up. She woke up to the need that was around her; she woke up to discrimination and inequality. Joan also woke up to God’s work of justice and wholeness; she woke up to the truth that we can do something about these inequalities now. Joan woke up and joined in God’s work for good, for love and for hope in the world.
Wake up! Stand up and raise your heads! Look for your redemption! Jesus will return on a cloud one day, but we do not know the time or place—so look for the risen presence of Christ who promises to be with us until the end of the age! (If you have to think it’s the end times to wake up and take notice, then so be it!). God is alive and active today, right now, in the world, in our community, in our daily life, in our work, in the school down the street, in the neighborhood around us, and everywhere we go.
Jesus wants every generation to wake up and to look, not just at the calamity, but to see God’s activity in the midst of it, looking for God’s work of redemption here and now so we can participate in what God is doing! Where do you notice love in action, justice at work, hope engendered, possibilities embraced? What looks like Jesus in your daily life and in your community? And when you see God at work, how does Jesus call us, as a church, to participate? What better way is there to not let our “hearts be weighed down with dissipation and and drunkenness the worries of this life” (Luke 21:34) than to be alert to God’s presence and to join God’s work of love and justice?
We have a new powerful tool to help find ways to do more ministry—to see God’s presence and join in God’s activity. The Bishop mentioned it last week when he was here, and I wrote about it in the December newsletter that just came out. The Council voted unanimously to participate in this 3-year program with Luther Seminary called, Leadership for Faithful Innovation, and it is designed to help us listen to God, to each other, to our history, and to our community so that we might see God’s activity more clearly and join God’s work in our community more fully. It’s a process of training, learning, sharing, and experimenting as we discover new ways to be church in the 21st century in our global region.
If you have not had a chance to fill out the Spiritual Life Inventory on-line using the link from the Reporter or the Weekly Word, please stay for a few minutes after church to fill out a paper copy. It’s anonymous and it provides information about our spiritual practices as a congregation. We’ll take it again in three years to see how our spiritual activities have changed!
The most wonderful aspect about this new program is that it expands what St. Luke’s is already good at. We had a living example yesterday, of how this congregation wakes up, stands up and raises its head to see God at work and finds ways to help. I do not know when, in its history, St. Luke’s started supporting Mosaic ministry with developmentally disabled adults, but at some point, someone said, “look what Mosaic is doing--that looks like Jesus to me.…Mosaic’s group homes and empowerment programs look like God’s love to us, so let’s participate!”
Yesterday the gym was full of Mosaic clients enjoying, pizza, presents, and prizes at the December birthday party St. Luke’s has been putting on for...how many years? There were hundreds of dollars’ worth of gifts donated by all of you—along with music, dancing, games, fun, and love that brought joy and belonging to people society tends to cast aside.
Are we living in the end times? Some days, it sure feels like it. As we look at our world today, there’s no doubt that we need a Savior and that Jesus’s work of redemption is not yet finished. Jesus promises to come again and bring this whole creation into peace, harmony and wholeness. We believe that we either fiber of our being, but it is not ours to know the day or the hour. While we wait and yearn for that time to come, we do so, not with “fear and foreboding,” but we wait with hope, because every day, we wake up, stand up, and raise our heads to see Christ’s love and justice active and present in the world today, calling us to join him in God’s work.
And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.