Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
November 16, 2003
The Gospel: Mark 13:14-23
Sermon: "To Fear the End Times"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
"But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. And if anyone says to you at that time, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'Look! There he is!' - do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything.
To Fear the End Times
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost - November 16, 2003
The years of the 1990's were years of wonder and wealth for some. In the United States computer technology took off at an incredible rate. Microsoft came to power and there seemed to be no end to what could be done in the new computer age. How different the world must have seemed to a child in Bosnia. Civil war has erupted all around her. Her parents do their best to protect her. She moves with them from one place to another with other refugees. They carry what food they can find and what clothing they need. Their belongings are left in their home, shell-pocked and bullet riddled. As they move from one place of refuge to another the war grows and the atrocities begin.
Eventually, word of the atrocities gets out to the world. The world powers begin to converge on the area. Immediately the word goes up, Armageddon. The end of the world is near. The prophecy of John in Revelation is coming true. The armies are gathering from east and west. The final conflict is approaching. Prepare yourselves for the end time is at hand.
Couple this event with the movement of time from the 20th century to the 21st century. Various grocery store newspapers had a field day with these events. At the stroke of midnight when the year 2000 arrives the end will come. It must be true. Nostradamus predicted the end of the world. The gathering of forces in Bosnia were also predicted by Nostradamus. So the end must be coming.
As a result of all of these events and predictions people went to the stores and bought extra food. Survivalists prepared caves with ammunition, water, food, and clothing so they would be prepared when the end came. Street preachers who called people to repentance had more people listening to them. People became curious about the issue and asked questions particularly about the book of Revelation.
Yes, the armies gathered around Bosnia. But they worked for peace. They brought in food, blankets, and shelters. They created safe zones for the refugees to stop the violence and the bloodshed. And the ringing in of the year 2000 came and went. We are now in 2003. The end did not come. Nostradamus missed again.
Today's Gospel reading is part of the answer Jesus gives to the disciples concerning the end times. Jesus told them the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. They wanted to know when. They wanted to be able to prepare. Jesus can feel they are fearful. He doesn't allay their fear. At least, he doesn't allay their fear in the way we would want. He doesn't say things like, "Go and buy food for the end will come in seven years." or "Don't worry. I will protect you." or It's all right. It won't hurt much."
If Jesus had said any of those things to the disciples how do we think they would have responded. They would have gone ballistic. They would have forgotten everything Jesus told them and started preparing for the end times. They would have gathered food, water, family and headed for higher ground, caves, anywhere where they could find shelter. They would act like some of us act today, very scared and afraid.
I am reminded of the story of the Chicken Heart as told by Bill Cosby. As a child he loved to be scared. So, he listened to the scary programs on the late night radio. Even though he knew the stories really weren't real, he was still prepared. He had a bowl of Jello in the refrigerator. When he would get real scared and think the monster was coming into the house he would smear Jello on the linoleum on the kitchen floor in front of the door. He rationalized that the monster would either be scared of the Jello or slip and fall, hurting or killing itself upon impact. Of course, he never did get any monsters, but he did manage to hurt his father who slipped on the Jello instead.
When we think of the end times we get fearful and sometimes irrationally scared, Jello smearing on the floor scared. Fear is a funny thing. When we are scared we get the fight of flight response. We try to run or we stand to defend ourselves. Fear does not give this response. Fear paralyzes us. We get incredibly internally focused. We can not move properly. We can not think properly. We start behaving strangely. We pack things in caves. We hoard food, money, clothing, ammunition. We wonder what we can do to escape what we are fearful of, the end times. We turn away from the world and we look to ourselves. Can you imagine what we would be like if we knew the exact year, month, day, minute, hour and second that the world would end? It would not be pretty.
Jesus does not tell the disciples the exact moment of the end time. Instead he warns them not to follow false prophets and teachers. He warns them against people who will claim to be the Messiah in tough times. He calls them to keep their eyes focused on him. He calls them to keep their thoughts focused on his teachings. He calls them to keep faith in God.
Fear may paralyze, but faith offers freedom. By having faith in God we know what the outcome will be. We know God has already won the battle over sin and death. Death holds no fear for us for we will be resurrected. Trials and tribulations hold no fear for us. For those moments pass away in the blink of an eye once compared to being in the presence of God. We do not have to be afraid of fear. For instead of being paralyzed we are energized to carry on God's work of redeeming love to the world. We are free to help the poor and the needy. We are free to assist the blind and the lame. We are free to go to the people of whom we are the most afraid and share the Gospel of Christ. We are free to go to them and share the love of Christ. As faithful Christians we do not need to fear the end of the world or even the end of our own days because we are surrounded by the love of God.
In the next few months we will see the newspaper stands in the grocery store filled with predictions for 2004. Somewhere in those papers we will be told the end of the world is upon us. We have the freedom to say maybe, but today I follow Jesus. Today, I will share the love of Christ with someone else. Through faith, that is also my plan for tomorrow.