(I highly recommend reading the blog posts on sermon preparation in the order they are posted. So read the next one first. The visceral images of this week’s Gospel, reflected there, are a necessary backdrop to these thoughts. Without the earlier reflections these fall flat and remain mundane and less objectionable. Yes, the Gospel, properly presented, is always objectionable … to the sinner in each of us.)
The signs of what is to come are hard to bear. And what is foretold is even more horrendous.
There is no good news in that ending.
There are two ways that we minimize the impact of how horrendous this news is.
One way is to fully realize how terrible the end that is coming will be and how terrible even the signs of the end times are. And then to despair. To wring our hands. To lose our minds, sometimes literally, to the horrendous turn of events in history that convince us that we finally are getting what we deserve. Maybe we, individually do not deserve this, but we all suffer the terrible ending because enough of us more than deserve it.
Global warming is on us. Oceans will rise, Cities will sink, and Chaos will rule on earth. We deserve it because we have chosen to burn fossil fuels to build our civilization, or very high standard of living.
The second way is to recognize that every generation has seen the signs of the end times, and anticipated the end of the world, or at least the end of the world as they know it.
Therefore we do not need to get too excited, upset or even the least bit concerned.
When a little child hurts herself, the pain is physical. But even moreso it is the psychological attack: how is it that the world can treat me so that I can be so hurt?!
A parent who tries to soothe her, to convince her it really is nothing, this scrape on her knee, will be missing the greatest need of the child, which is to have recognized how terrible this attack on her person is, and to know that the world is still going to be okay.
A parent who offers with the greatest urgency, even too much urgency, to provide care for the hurt child, for example taking her to the emergency room, will start to meet all the hurt. The child is taken seriously at the most profound levels. The child can then turn back the parent’s excessive proposed care to something more reasonable, a little hydrogen peroxide, polysporin and a band aide. The child gets to choose less care, but receives ALL the attention, empathy, care and love. The child’s universe is still in good order, as recognized by the parent affirming and accepting the child’s choice to more a reasonable care response.
When the signs portend the end of all that exists, from micro to macro levels, we need someone to provide too much concern, so that we can choose to dial it back to what we really need. We get to prove to ourselves that this world, our world, God’s world, is still a reasonable place in the universe.
The problem is, do we then pretend the end times are not that serious?
Or do we pretend that this is just the course of destruction we deserve, because we are all sinners?
Neither is a very helpful or healthy manner for our responses.
This is Where the real Good News comes in:
If the end times are so horrendously destructive, it is exactly in the face of this unfathomable destruction that we get to point to the wonders of Jesus’ Birthday and promised return after these horrific ends times.
The bad news is that even with the signs of the end, all hell is breaking loose and the end of time is not far off. Just like it did for all the previous generations. Evil has got the world, our world, by the tail, so to speak, and the Devil is swinging it around, which messes tremendously with gravity and all that is grave.
The real good news is that God is loving, compassionate, and present with us, and forgiving us, setting us free from destruction, now and always.
More importantly, God’s promise that Jesus will return demonstrates most clearly God’s grace in the face of our deserving this destruction. God does not leave us to our destructive ways that separate us from God. God remains, and in the end of all ends, conquers Evil in all its realities, puts it to rest, rules and executes justice. Then God is our righteousness. God, not us, not something else, is both the measure/criteria for righteousness, and is the source/end of that righteousness for us and all creation/universe. Exactly in the face of the signs of the end soon coming, as horrendous as the end is, there buds new life as the fig sprouts new leaves.
As experienced pew sitters, the danger is to know the good news so well that we do not listen to the true horror of what is coming.
And we miss out on the true and so profoundly necessary wonder of how God makes good for us, even when we do not deserve it (at all.)
We miss how wonderful Grace is.
And our response is then spit-warm, ineffectual and disappointing.
Or our response can be of deep and deserved gratitude to God for all of creation, but most of all, for God’s forgiving us, and being the righteousness with us that we cannot be for ourselves.