Monday, 31 October 2011

Don't Waste Time On End Times....

4 Before Advent (2011) Year A RCL Principal

The End Is Nigh!

You have to feel sorry for Harold Campion.  Perhaps you heard his name on the news back in May when on the 21st of May this chap predicted with absolute certainty that the end of the world was coming and that the world would be destroyed, the dead would rise from their graves and the faithful would be raised to heaven by way of the Rapture.  When it didn’t happen he quickly revised his calculations, said his Biblical Mathematics had been wrong and proclaimed with the same absolute certainty that the end of the world would come on the 21st of October.  Did you notice it?  Nor did I?

Though he has done the same thing twice before this year – proclaiming without a shadow of doubt that the end of the world would arrive on May 21st 1988 and September 6th 1994.  As the head of Family Radio, a Christian Media Ministry broadcast all over America, Camping has now retired from his public ministry and has since been heard to say that no one does know the day or the hour of the return of Jesus – finally admitting what Jesus said a long time ago a few verses later than today’s reading in Matthew 24v34 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

These predictions of the end of the world have provided fodder for both fundamentalists and comedians over many years!  There used to be rather grey looking individuals that would wander up and down places like Oxford Street in London wearing sandwich boards or holding up placards which told us ‘the End of the World is nigh! Or there were folk who would stand on the streets of Cambridge on a Saturday or who would proclaim at speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park ‘Repent, Jesus is coming’.  Maybe they still do, though we don’t hear much of it these days. 

Books have been written with titles like ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ and ‘Arise and Reap’ which have told those who have read them that we are living in the end times, and Jesus is coming back soon.  Well, one day they will be right – the Bible says that Jesus will someday return and – in the words of Mother Julian of Norwich – ‘All will be well and all manner of things shall be well’.  But those who seem to fixate on working out exactly how the words of the book of Revelation fit into the present age seem to be missing the point – how are we living here…

When we pray in the words Jesus taught us, the one prayer he gave us to say, we say ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ – that’s not just about the time when Jesus will return and the kingdom will come in all it’s fullness – it’s also a statement of hope that God will bring His reign to the earth NOW, and a statement of our willingness to be involved in that.  Jesus soon goes on in that prayer to ask that we know forgiveness and share that forgiveness with others, that we have the food we need for each day, and that in trials we will stand firm.  Any understanding, hope, faith we may have for heaven coming to earth must be grounded in lives of love and service here on earth.

Look at today’s lesson from Matthew Chapter 24, for instance.  Jesus says that life will become very difficult indeed for those who follow him – and hints of needing to endure to the end, but he doesn’t obsess about what that end will be, he talks about needing to remain faithful. 

Now when Matthew is writing – we reckon about AD 70 or later – the Church is being torn apart by persecution, many are abandoning faith, the Jewish people are on going to be decimated by the Romans and sometime after, or even just before, the Gospel is written down and made available the Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed.  Jesus’ words about the destruction of the temple stand out in the mind of the writer as he is compiling his writings and stories to make up the Gospel and it’s those words that open our Bible passage, Mt 24:
1As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

Jesus could see that time would come when the political intrigue that the leaders of Israel were involved in would eventually bring about chaos and destruction for Israel.  And he warns his followers that a time will come that being faithful to his message will endanger their wellbeing, indeed even their lives.

But Jesus has one message: “Stick with it, don’t be distracted”  - don’t listen to false prophets, don’t get caught up in worrying about the end, don’t allow the disloyalty and hatred of others make you give up.  Stand firm in the face of persecution, live with hope, but don’t live just for the end – as no one knows when it will come….

Common sense tells us that to live for something that might happen is a recipe for disaster.  We worry, we fret, we get nervous, or we constantly look forward without seeing where we are or where we should be going.  Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be distracted – as he says earlier in Matthew’s Gospel ‘where your treasure is, there will your hear be also’ or, in other words, what you think is important will be what you focus on…

I honestly believe Jesus wants us, his Church, to focus on one thing… and that is summed up at the end of the Gospel reading we heard just now, in Chapter 24 verse 14 he says:
And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world…

That’s the focus we should have in the Church today!  We call it Mission – and part of that mission is evangelism, sharing the good news of the kingdom.  And it IS Good News – that amidst the turmoil of this world, even when there are wars and violence, natural disaster, strife and hatred, even then Jesus is with us.  Even in the worst that this world has to offer Christ offers us his strength, his love, his hope, his faith – through his Holy Spirit he has promised to be with us, and if we were to go to the very end of the Gospel we would read Jesus’ parting words to his disciples.  Words that we call the Great Commission, when Jesus instructed his disciples, and through them instructs us, to carry on his work of making the Good News real in everything we do and we say.  In loving God and our neighbour, and learning to love ourselves as God loves us.  In speaking the truth even in difficult situations, in standing up for what is right even when it is not the trendy, easy or popular way.  In keeping Christ as the absolute centre of our lives and as the basis of our worship and living.

This is what we are called to focus on, this is where our heart should be – rather than winding ourselves and others up about when the end of the world might be coming or not, and exactly what form it is going to take, we should focus on our calling as Christ’s people to share this good news, in word and action, in silence and in service and we should always keep in mind these words which we call the Great Commission:

Matthew 28.19-20
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’