As usual, please pardon the bizarre formatting. I can't be bothered to fix it.
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“Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
[lift sign: “THE END IS NIGH”]
did you hear that?
Earthquakes, famines, plagues, signs, portents?!
How is this apocalypse not now?
[begin pacing]
Haiti wasn’t that long ago, you know
And Chile, and HIV in Africa, and the Gulf Coast
And suicide rates for teens are going up
And our food is more chemicals and murky ethics than food…
And I’ve read the political blogs
Our kids are going to grow up to be
debt-saddled, sex-crazed, sheltered,
free-thinking, bigoted hoodlums
because of big government.
Or small government.
I can’t remember which.
“do not be terrified” he says—must be easy if you’re the Son of God
this apocalypse is clearly now, clearly now is the end, or soon!...
Dear God in heaven [stop pacing]
I don’t want to worry y’all but I am Freaking. Out.
[calming breath] Ok. Moment of clarity.
Earthquakes, famines, wars, signs—when is this not the case?
Right. Maybe St. Douglas Adams was right [advance slide: “Don’t Panic”]
So, what’s the point of this, if it’s not to scare us?
Jesus actually says, “Do not be terrified.”
Maybe, like the scriptural appearances of angels
We’re told “don’t panic” because we already are panicking
We’ve already freaked ourselves out
assuming we know what’s gonna happen
[reverse slide: black]
this story Jesus tells
about disaster and war and politics and doom and gloom
this story has been told before.
many times.
Daniel of Daniel and the Lion’s Den told it
Malachi and Isaiah and other prophets told it
Jesus told it
Mark wrote it down and Luke borrowed it from him…
And it has pretty much the same words every time
This story is called Apocalyptic
Or, if you like $5 words, Eschatology
Eschatology is the study of the eschaton—the end—
and it’s not what you think [advance slide: “Don’t Panic”]
Apocalyptic is not what you think
It’s not telling the future in a Nostradamus kind of way
And it’s not a puzzle for us to try to figure out
Partly because that’s never worked
Partly because it cannot work
People for centuries have confidently claimed
the last days were upon us
people for centuries have pulled numbers and notations
from the text
and figured out the code that tells us the date of the end
but that’s not the point [reverse slide: black]
Jesus himself in the text says
“the end will not follow immediately”
Violent events “do not signal that the end is near”
“all attempts to figure out the texts…
make us master of the word rather than vice versa”
plus, Jesus says we’ll never know the hour or the day
And apocalyptic is not meant to scare you.
Well, it’s meant to scare you a little, but we’ll get to that.
Apocalyptic means “a drawing back of the curtain”
It’s a revealing of another truth
Apocalyptic literature is, at its base, a literature of hope
To the Jewish people who are ground under the heel of Rome
To a people who,
have been waiting for God to fulfill
the Great Promise for centuries
To a people who feel completely helpless
Apocalyptic is a story of deliverance, of justice, of hope
What this story of earthquakes and famines
—and the rest of it that we didn’t read—
is about is the oppressed being freed
and the oppressors being brought to justice
and, more importantly, about who’s really in charge
apocalyptic literature said to the Jews [advance slide “Don’t panic”]
“hang in there, don’t freak out
it stinks right now and it’ll probably continue to stink for awhile
but they’re not in charge
Be faithful” [reverse slide: black]
But what does it say to us now?
Here in America, most of us in this room are not the oppressed
We are the middle class,
the mostly educated, civic-minded,
and yes, upstanding Lutheran folk
Certainly we have our struggles—
the wealthy are not exempt from misery and sin
by any means
but we are not the garbage-pickers of Brazil
we are not the despairing gay kids who commit suicide
we are not the mothers trying
to nurse their cholera-ridden children to health in Haiti
we are not the housekeeper
struggling to survive on $140/week
or are we? [advance slide: “Don’t panic”]
this apocalyptic literature has been misinterpreted for so long,
it’s hard to say what it means to us now [reverse slide: black]
but I wonder if it’s saying that it’s not about Us and Them?
It is not about We, the righteous of Good Shepherd,
being embraced and redeemed
while They—the sinful, oppressive
…Episcopalians? Athiests? Muslims? Whatever…
are judged and burned, much to our satisfaction
Lutherans know better than that
We are, in Luther’s words, simul Justus et peccator,
both saint and sinner
We are all both us and them.
We are all oppressed. And we are all oppressors.
We are all beloved. And we will all be judged.
But we don’t know when and we don’t know how
Roberta Bondi, one of my favorite devotional authors, says
“…if you think you know when it’s coming,
the very fact you think so is proof that you don’t.”
so, what are we supposed to do with this lesson?
[advance slide: “Don’t panic”]
it seems to be saying both, “don’t panic” and “the end is nigh”
and so it is
we need an apocalypse
for the parts of our lives where we are beaten down
where we are self-hating or bruised by the world
we need a revealing of God’s love
we need an apocalypse of hope
we need an apocalypse
for the parts of our lives where we are complacent
in our current good works,
in our easy political fixes for complex problems,
in our justification of what we have
we need an apocalypse of justice
we need an apocalypse
we need a pulling back of the curtain to reveal Truth
because it means a chance to remain faithful [reverse slide: black]
because here’s where it’s supposed to be a little scary
God is not saying “time to panic” but “time to participate”
This is what we promise in our baptism
That we will commit to the Word of God
That we will work for the revealing
of God’s peace, hope, justice, and love
That we will be faithful to our brothers and sisters
no matter what it costs us
One commentator on this passage writes:
“Those who wish to find a more vibrant religious experience, should look not for signs of the future but for signals that it is time to live by Jesus’ call for obedience here and now.”
So _____ and _____ who are baptized today, this is my prayer for you:
“… let your responses to the hype and horror of accumulating disasters not be determined by the one-liners of media editors or religious demagogues, but by the same Spirit who is now the centre of your life.”
babies cry when they’re being baptized
and, once, when my friend Bonnie was being baptized
she cried, too
because this Christian life is hard and scary
every baptism is an apocalypse
every baptism is revealing of a deeper truth
every baptism reminds us of God’s call to faithfulness
and of God’s infinite faithfulness to us
you should cry
and you should shout with laughter [advance slide: “Don’t panic”]
because God is moving,
doing a new thing, says the prophet Isaiah,
“God is doing a new thing, now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?”
Do you not want to be a part of it?
It’s big and scary and exciting and it’s change and it’s nigh.
Don’t panic, be faithful instead.
Don’t panic, God’s in charge.
Don’t panic, participate.
[advance slide: black]
[end of sermon slides]