My thanks to Andy Lohn who delivered this sermon on Sunday as I was in North Carolina with my father who had emergency surgery.
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
November 29, 2015
Today we begin our Advent journey: four weeks of preparation for Christmas. This year’s Advent them is “Remembering the Future. Advent is about waiting and during this season we recall the centuries the Israelites spent waiting for a Messiah. It is also a season in which we are reminded that we, too, wait the return of the Messiah at the end of history. We wait in hope of what is to be. During Advent, we remember the future as we celebrate Christ’s coming and his return.
We’re exploring a passage from Luke’s gospel today, from the 21st chapter. Let me give you some context. Jesus is finishing up his earthly ministry in Jerusalem. This passage falls between Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, and Good Friday, when he was crucified. Jesus and the disciples are on the grounds of the temple. The chapter opens with Jesus pointing out to the disciples the “widow giving her mite” to the temple treasury. Then he begins to speak about the temple’s forthcoming destruction. This would have been a shock for the structure was strong and had been built over the previous four decades, but approximately 30 years later when Rome puts down the Jewish Rebellion, the Empire destroys both Jerusalem and the temple. After telling about the upcoming destruction, Jesus speaks of his return.
Our passage is an example of apocalyptic literature. It’s futuristic and pessimistic. The themes of apocalyptic writing, which in Scripture is found mostly in the Book of Daniel and Revelation, focus on the evil of the world and how the world must be destroyed before God can reign in righteousness. Such writings often use descriptions of supernatural events to announce God’s final victory, and that’s what we have in this passage. Read Luke 21:25-36.
People are always thinking now is the time; the end is at hand. Today, the sign currently used as proof is ISIS or whatever name those fanatics who are bent on bringing about a global war between the West and Islam are called today. But they stand in a long line of failed apocalyptic doomsday bearers. A Cold War turning hot was one image of the end, Nazism and the fascist movements of the first half of the 20th Century, the Russian Revolution, the Great War, the American Civil War, the economic depression in the late 1830s, all the way back to the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Interestingly, it seems that when you are on the losing side, you are more prone to see events that run counter to what you’d like to be pointing to the end of the world. In addition to political events, natural events such as volcanoes blowing their tops and comets in the sky have foretold the end. And then there are the artificial events such as dates, which only have the meaning that we assign them, but that said certainly the turn of the last two millennia (the year 1000 and 2000) brought out the doomsayers.
A few years ago, the Mayan apocalypse was all big news. I remember there was a Chevrolet Truck advertisement that was featured in the Superbowl. The world as we know had crumbled and everything was destroyed. Then, from beneath the rumble, there were the starting of engines and out pops Chevy trucks. These guys who were friends all meet up and congratulate themselves for making it through. Then someone asked about a friend and they all hang their heads and someone mumbles, “Don’t you remember, he drove a Ford.” The apocalypse also sells…
Nothing lasts forever; even the earth and sky will pass away, Jesus tells us. Only his words will survive. Or to put it another way, only God is eternal.
But when will these things happen? When you think about it, there are signs all around us. Global warming, superstorms in the Pacific, heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought in others, and war that starts in the Middle East and spreads around the globe. Are the things Jesus spoke of in this chapter happening? Some will say yes, but as we’ve seen, that’s nothing new. And is Jesus, who in other places is adamant that we not worry about the tomorrow and that no one but the Father in Heaven knows when the world will end, trying to give us a clue here? I don’t think so.
Whenever things start to go bad, people begin predicting the world’s demise. But so far, the world muddles along. Barry McGuire sang about “The Eve of Destruction” in 1965 and with minor tweaks to the lyrics, the song would be just as relevant in 2015 as it was then:
The eastern world it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
Your old enough to kill but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war but what’s that gun you’re totin’?
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin.
But you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction.
Prophets come and go, but so far the world hasn’t ended. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, it will, but as for when, we have no idea.
No, I don’t think Jesus wants us to worry about whether or not today will be the day. After all, earlier in the chapter, Jesus warned the disciples not to run after those prophets who claim that the time is near. Instead, I think this passage is more pastoral. How are we to live our lives in the middle of chaos? Jesus begins with the cosmos (the heavens and the earth), then moves to the changing of the seasons, and concludes with words that speak to our hearts. We’re to live knowing that things are in God’s hands and are under control. So it doesn’t matter if the world ends today or a thousand years from today. What matters is that God, who has a lot more power and compassion than us, has things under control. We’re not left to fend for ourselves, but to take hope in the power of a loving God.
Let me tell you about a guy in my previous church. When I was in Hastings, I became a friend of Bob, the mayor of the town and was privileged to help to encourage him to come back to church. He’d been away since he went off to war in the mid-60s after high school. Once he came back, he sat in the same seat in the back of the church and was there every Sunday that he could make it. Bob was struggling with cancer; it eventually took his life back in 2012. But before then, I think Bob did more ministering to me than I was ever able to do for him. Now this might sound like a role-reversal, for it was Bob who was struggling with cancer and I was there to try to help him make sense of things and to remind him of God’s presence despite evidence to the contrary. But as Bob began to accept what was going to happen, he told me on several occasions that although he desperately wanted to live and there was more stuff he wanted to do in our community, it no longer mattered because whatever happened, he was going to be okay. “If I beat cancer, great!” he said. “But if I don’t beat it, that’s alright too for I’ll be in Jesus’ hands.” What an incredible testimony, yet Bob is not alone, I’ve heard others share similar feelings when death was near.
Bob had the kind of faith Jesus encourages in this passage. Do not worry about these things—and at some point in our lives all of us will have such signs—instead live in the hope that the signs mean your redemption is near. Only someone assured of his or her faith can have that kind of trust.
People have often tried to interpret when the end will be based on Jesus’ words, but that’s a misinterpretation of what our Savior taught. Jesus taught us to not to worry about tomorrow, not to fear the end, but to live for today.
Yet people misuse apocalyptic texts within scripture to incite fear. But that’s not the purpose of these texts; Jesus is not trying to make us afraid but to assure us when things look bad. I remember a professor from seminary speaking about hell-fire sermons and I think the same warning should be made about preaching on apocalyptic texts. He said that if we dangle the souls of our congregation over the fires of hell, we may cause more fear than salvation and may wind up hating evil more than we love good and the end result is not disciples who follow Jesus, but good haters who miss a lot of Jesus’ message.
Jesus tells us in this passage that when we see things happen which we can’t explain, we should raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near. He doesn’t say to be afraid. Of course, Jesus doesn’t exactly say when these things will happen, only that it will be getting closer! Time marches on.
By being alert, but not being overly concerned, our hearts won’t be weighed down. We accept today as a gift from God and rejoice in it, but we also realize that tomorrow will be a gift of God, whether the earth continues or dissolves and we’re called into account before the throne. But we’re not to worry about that, we’re to be concerned for today and that we’re doing what we can to bring God glory in the presence, doing what we can do to reflect the face of Jesus to the world.
Let me ask one final question. Take the question home with you and ponder it over the next week. If God does come back today or in the next week, how do you want God to find you? Do you want to be seen doing the work of a disciple, or living in fear of the future? I think you know the answer. Amen.
 Matthew 6:31-36
 Mark 13:32
 Luke 21:8