Posts Tagged ‘Apocalypse’

Luke 21: 5-19–End Times

Sorry I am late in posting this week.  What follows is the sermon from the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

“End Times”

Luke 21: 5-19

Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott

November 14th, 2010

So, truth be told, after last Sunday’s sermon I really wanted to avoid today’s text from Luke.  Sometimes the lectionary calendar doesn’t do us preachers any favors, and this was one of those weeks.  If you recall, last Sunday I preached on the prophet Haggai who encouraged the people to rebuild the Temple by offering them a beautiful vision of hope.  “Take courage!” Haggai said.  “God will shake the treasures loose!  God will restore this Temple!  The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former!  So get to work!  And rebuild God’s Holy Temple!”  It was quite the motivational speech Haggai gave us last Sunday.

But now we turn to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and what do we hear?  Referring to the Temple, referring to the beautiful Temple that the people had rebuilt and of which they were so proud, Jesus says, “As for these things, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”  Sigh.  Jesus can be such a downer.

But, of course, he was right.  Speaking historically, the Temple was rebuilt after Haggai motivated the people with vision and hope.  Then in the 1st Century around 20 BCE, King Herod took it upon himself to build again and he made the Temple fabulous.  King Herod was known as a cruel, oppressive, and overly paranoid ruler…but when it came to building Temples…he was really good.  So the Temple, rebuilt again under King Herod was beautiful.  At the beginning of today’s text the disciples are distracted because they are so taken with the beauty of Herod’s Temple; “the enormous stones of its walls; the wealthy worshipers coming to dedicate their gifts.  You can look up pictures of Herod’s Temple.  There are many renderings of it by artists.  When you see it, you will be impressed too.  Everyone was.”[1] But, less than a decade after this beautiful Temple was finished it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

So Jesus was right.  He was right in saying that the Temple would come to an end.  Can you imagine how disappointing this news was to those who loved the Temple?  And Jesus doesn’t just stop there.  As the passage progresses, we realize that he is not just predicting the end of the Temple, but the end of everything; the end of the world, the end of these times, the end of life as we know it.  Can you imagine what the disciples were thinking about all this?

I’ve been very pleased with the Presbyterian Women’s study on the Book of Revelation this year.  The authors of the study do a good job of conveying Revelation’s message of hope for the persecuted Christians.  But even with a good study like this, I’ve found that it is difficult to convince people that Revelation is ultimately about hope because it is packaged in a book or a vision full of confusing, scary, and yes, even violent images.  Revelation is difficult to understand, and when it fills our head with these crazy, symbolic images, it also tends to scare our pants off.

This is what Jesus does to us in today’s text.  He scares our pants off.  He tells us that the Temple will be destroyed.  He tells us that false prophets will arise and try to lead us astray.  He tells us there will be wars and insurrections, where nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And if this wasn’t bad enough, he then says that there will be earthquakes, famines, and plagues.  You will be persecuted and betrayed, he says.  Everyone will hate you and some of you will be put to death, he says.

Okay Jesus.  That’s just about all we can take now.  So where’s the good news?  Where’s this so-called message of hope?

It’s hard to hear any hope in the midst of Jesus’ words to us today, because by speaking of the end he taps into and tweaks our greatest of fears.  We are afraid of the end.  We are afraid of The End, or the End Times, and we are afraid of all the little ends that inevitably take place along the road of life.  We are afraid of the end of life.  We are afraid of the end of relationships.  We are afraid of the end of our youth.  We are afraid of the end of an era or a generation or a period of time in which we have been so happy.  We are afraid of things, of people, of good times, of great experiences that will, Jesus reminds us today, all eventually come to an end.

Do you ever sit back and take stock of your life, count your blessings, and wonder (or worry) when it might all come to an end?  My life is so good.  I grew up in a loving home with more privileges than I ever deserved.  I have an amazing husband and two beautiful, healthy children.  I have great friends and professional opportunities that bring meaning to my life.  I have it so good.  I have it so good…especially when I stop and think about the kind of pain others have had to endure that I have not; or when I stop to think about the kind of life I could be living if I had been born in the Third World instead of the First. I wonder sometimes, “When are things going to change?  When will I experience the painful endings of life?  When will, as Jesus says, all this come to an end?”  My goodness….all this fear and worry…it’s so disturbing…it’s a wonder I ever sleep at night!

Maybe you’re like me.  Maybe life is good right now and you are afraid of it coming to an end.  Maybe Jesus’ talk of endings keeps you up at night in worry and in fear.  Or maybe you’re more like Jesus’ target audience in this passage.  Jesus’ audience was made up of people for whom life was not good; people who were ready for things to end; people who were ready for this time to end because any time would be better than this time.

The people hearing Jesus’ words here through the Gospel of Luke were, at the time, living through false prophets, wars and insurrections, persecution and arrests, betrayal and hatred, and some were even being put to death.  They were ready for all this to come to an end.  They were ready because they were suffering.

To these people, these suffering people, Jesus’ talk of endings was Good News.  Jesus’ talk of endings was not something to fear, but something to look forward to.  Jesus’ talk of endings was a message of hope.

Do not be terrified, Jesus says to those who are suffering.  I will give you words and wisdom, Jesus says.  You can endure, Jesus says, and I will be with you.  Not a hair on your head will perish.

Jesus’ words are good news to all those who are suffering, to all those who must endure these times while looking forward to the end times.  Jesus’ words are good news because he promises to help us through all present realities….all present sufferings and all present fears….while also promising us a future beyond all the endings.

And so Jesus’ words are good news for all of us today, no matter where we are or what is happening in our lives.  Jesus’ words are good news because within his message that all things come to an end, lies the hope of new beginnings in God.   I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord our God, I am the Beginning and the End.  In Christ, there is no ending that does not have a new beginning.  When one part of our life dies, a new part begins.  When our old life has gone, a new life has begun.  When our bodies fail us, and our organs stop working, and we become one again with the ashes and the earth, we know that death does not have the final word, we know that there is life eternal, we know that there is hope for all of God’s people.  Jesus’ words to us today are words of hope.  They are not meant to keep us up at night for fear of what life brings.  Instead, they are meant to give us the peace and assurance of knowing that our endings are really just new beginnings in this life and in the next.

This past summer, I decided for fun to go back to some of the books I read and loved as a teenager and a young adult.  Some of these books included Emily of New Moon, A Wrinkle in Time, and Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel, Gone with the Wind. I read Gone with the Wind, even though I remembered hating its ending when I read it back in high school.  When I read Gone with the Wind the first time I remember getting completely engrossed in the story.  The picture Mitchell painted of the Old South, of the red earth of Georgia, and of the tension-filled times of the Civil War took my imagination there as if I were really living it.  But of course, it was the love story that kept me reading.  For 1,000 pages I waited for Scarlett O’Hara to realize that she loved that scoundrel Rhett Butler with all her heart.  For 1,000 pages I read and I waited for the moment when Scarlet and Rhett would finally be together and be happy….and perhaps ride off into the sunset as all good endings go.  For 1,000 pages I read and I waited for the perfect ending that I was sure would come if I only kept reading.  And when I finally got there, to the end, to the point when Scarlet finally realized that she truly loved Rhett…Rhett decides that it’s too late…that it’s not enough…and so he leaves her…Rhett leaves Scarlett in the end!  I remember reading this back in high school and getting so upset!  This was not the way it was supposed to end!  This was not a love story!  And then there were Scarlett’s last words…the last thing she had to say…do you remember what she said?  Rhett rides off into the sunset…alone…and Scarlett wipes the tears from her eyes….decides to go home to Tara, to her home where everything seems to make better sense….and the novel ends with her saying, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

I hated that ending back in high school.  But now, now that I have lived a little more and learned a little more, I know not to put all my hope in the perfect ending.  Instead I put my hope in the knowledge that there is a tomorrow, that there is a new beginning, that there is a new life waiting for all of us.  Today may be good or it may be bad.  But regardless of our present reality, we can live in hope because tomorrow is another day.

Now to the God who grants us such tomorrows, be all honor and glory, thanksgiving and power, now and forevermore.  Amen.

[1] Patrick J. Willson, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, pg. 309.

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