May 30, 2020

Sermon: Things may get tough, but it’s not the end of the world

30833753026_14516fc2f4_k

SERMON: Things may get tough, but it’s not the end of the world

Prayer of the Day

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Luke 21:5-19

5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

• • •

My sermon today is called, “Things may get tough, but it’s not the end of the world.”

For about the past 200 years, there has been a thriving industry in the church and in Christian theology. It involves a focus on the end times. It includes teaching about things like the return of Christ, a coming period of tribulation that will fall upon the earth, the Antichrist, the millennium, the final judgment, and the final states of heaven and hell.

People have been attracted to these teachings and to those who have said that the Bible is clear about all of these matters — that if we read it correctly we will discover that God has revealed many details about the future and the end of the world as we know it. It is part of our human nature to be curious about the future, and these teachers have taken advantage of that by developing whole systems of doctrine, elaborate end times schemes, charts and outlines detailing exactly what is going to happen and when and to whom.

There has been a fascination with the book of Revelation, with prophecies, and with trying to figure out how current events might fit into God’s plan for the end.

This became extremely popular around the time I had a spiritual awakening as a teenager. A man named Hal Lindsey, for example, wrote a book called “The Late, Great Planet Earth” that purported to explain how God’s prophecies were being fulfilled in the 1970s. I attended a Bible college that was well known for holding a view of theology called “dispensationalism.” This theological system teaches that the Bible reveals that world history is made up of several different ages, and that God works in special ways in each age to accomplish his will.

Dispensationalist teachers believed that we in our day were coming to the end of what they called “the church age” and that the next thing on God’s clock was an event called the “rapture” of the church, when Jesus would come back and take believers home to heaven while the rest of people would remain here on earth to endure seven years of tribulation. After that terrible time, Jesus would return in power and glory, defeat the Antichrist and the kingdoms of this world at the battle of Armageddon, and set up a thousand year kingdom called the millennium. Satan would be bound during those 1000 years, and there would be universal peace. At the end of the 1000 years, Satan would be set free, there would be a final battle that Jesus will win, and then God will create a new heavens and new earth where we will be with God for all eternity.

A popular series of fiction books called the “Left Behind” series imagined how all of this might take place, and the teaching of dispensationalism became even more widespread.

I abandoned dispensationalism a long time ago. Ultimately, I found that its teaching is not really true to the biblical record. If you ever want to talk about that, I’d be happy to have that discussion. I only bring it up today because our Gospel lesson for today is one of the passages that those who focus on the end times bring up when they teach.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all portray Jesus teaching about things to come during the last week of his ministry. One day Jesus and his disciples were near the Temple in Jerusalem and the twelve were admiring it. In response, Jesus told them that some days of trouble were coming in which the Temple would be destroyed. Jesus goes on to talk about how he will come on the clouds and he says that’s when the disciples should lift up their heads, for their redemption is near.

Without going into detail, let me just say that, in my view, this passage is not about the end of the world at all. It is about the first generation of Christians, who went through a time of trouble that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in the year 70AD.  Jesus foresaw this coming, and he warned his disciples to be ready and he encouraged them to be faithful during this season of distress.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it. After all, the world has been filled with times of trouble ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, and the words of warning and encouragement he gave to the twelve that day are words that can help us in our own seasons of distress.

30236104694_3c431d711c_kThe first point we see here is that we all tend to put our trust in this world’s institutions. (21:5)

The disciples, like all good Jewish people, were proud of their Temple. It was the center of Jerusalem and Jewish life. It had been destroyed once by the Babylonians, but now it was rebuilt and more glorious than ever before. It was the great monument to God’s presence in their midst and they built their very identity around it.

This is natural to all of us as human beings. We build institutions to order our lives and give meaning to them, and we treasure and rely on them. This past week we saw our American system of government in action, and regardless of how you feel about the outcome of the election, for over two centuries now we have put our trust in the system to keep our lives stable and secure. This church building and the history of this congregation is an institution upon which many rely. Whatever institution we’re talking about, we depend on them to give structure, order, continuity, and stability to our lives generation after generation.

Second, even the most solid of this world’s institutions change and may even come to an end. (21:6)

Jesus’ next words must have shocked the disciples: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” He was warning them of something that must have seemed inconceivable: soon this sturdy, magnificent temple would lay in rubble. If that could happen, then the whole foundation of their life must be shaky!

Things like this do happen don’t they? Just fifteen years ago, we witnessed the terror attacks on 9/11, when two of the tallest and most majestic buildings in the world came crashing down, and in many ways life has never been the same. The economic collapse of 2008 shook the ground under many people’s lives. They lost their jobs, their homes, their security, life as they knew it. We never know, do we? We always pray for God’s protection and hope for the best and do the best we can to guarantee the stability and security of our lives, but sometimes the earthquake shakes the ground beneath our feet, sometimes the floodwaters overwhelm us, sometimes the tornado blows our lives to pieces.

Third, Jesus warns us that deceivers will try to convince us that these troubles portend the end of the world. (21:7-8)

Back in the mid-1800s, at about the time this congregation was founded, a prosperous farmer in northeastern New York who was also a Baptist lay preacher and student of the Bible named William Miller became convinced that Jesus was going to return in or near 1843. His teaching spread, and eventually over 5 million copies of his publications were distributed. Thousands of people began to look for these things to take place. Many dates were proposed and finally Oct. 22, 1844 became fixed as the day when Jesus would come back and the world would end. When that day came and passed like every other day, it became known as the “Great Disappointment.” The Millerite movement shattered into a thousand different sects.

My brothers and sisters, whenever we go through troubles, especially on a large scale, that’s when the prophecy teachers come out of the woodwork. Jesus warned us about that. Don’t listen to them! They’ll lead us astray.

Instead we need to listen to Jesus, who tells us these three things we must remember:

  • This age will be characterized by ongoing trouble and distress (9-11)

These verses describe what the world is like in every age, all the time. There are times when these troubles intensify, as during a world war or a widespread economic collapse, but this world is always facing trials, and that has nothing to do with the end of the world.

  • Followers of Jesus will not be immune from these troubles (12-19)

Christians suffer just like everyone else. The disciples suffered along with all the Jewish people in the troubles of the first century, and it has been the same ever since. In these verses we read about persecution, troubles with family members and friends, as well as the natural disasters and wars that characterize the world.

  • God will be with us and we must look to him for wisdom and strength to endure (12-19)

God, does however, promise to be with his children and to help them as they go through these troubles. We read here about how he will give us wisdom. He will give us the right words to speak when we need them. He promises protection and the strength to endure.

One of the great heroes of the faith in the 20th century was a little Dutch woman by the name of Corrie ten Boom. Corrie’s family were devoted Christians who loved their neighbors, and their home became a refuge for Jewish people and others fleeing the Nazis during WWII.

One day they were betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo. Corrie and her sister Betsy spent ten months spent 10 months in three different German prison camps, the last being Ravensbruck concentration camp near Berlin. Betsy died there, but Corrie survived.

Realizing her deliverance was God’s gracious gift, she dedicated herself to telling her story and the truth that Jesus is the Victor no matter how much we suffer for his sake. She became known around the world for her faith, her spirit of forgiveness, and her testimony of the love of God. Her book, The Hiding Place, became a bestseller and was made into a movie.

Corrie ten Boom once said:

If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.

She also said:

With Jesus, even in our darkest moments the best remains and the very best is yet to be…

These weren’t just clichés to Corrie ten Boom. These encouragements may sound clever, but they came out of great suffering. She suffered much and watched others suffer a great deal also. She knew the darkest moments and in those moments God gave her the wisdom and strength to persevere.

May God grant us the same blessing. Amen.

Comments

  1. And even if by some chance it is the end of the world, it isn’t the end of the world (at least, not if Jesus Christ is Lord).

  2. The film, The Hiding Place seems faithful to the book:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhVC9q_ZlDs

    I watch it every Lenten season.

  3. Great sermon. You hit the nail on the head with verse 8 – it’s the deceivers (often trying to make a buck selling their latest book – I wonder if a certain large preacher from Texas made another million dollars off the latest supermoon?) who say ‘ the end is near’. Jesus said, ‘don’t follow them’ (‘go after’ is a term for being a disciple) – or buy their books!

  4. “13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
    ( from the Gospel of St. Luke, ch. 21 as quoted in the post)

    This is interesting. I’m thinking about all the pseudo-persecution the alt-right Christians have been spouting off about recently, and contrasting it with the real Christian persecutions going on world-wide. It makes me so mad that the phony ‘christians’ would even attempt to use the word ‘persecution’ to talk about their political agendas being thwarted that I am ashamed of my level of contempt for them. I need to not let the mean-spiritedness of of these phonies drag me into its vortex but I’m fearful that I’ve already succumbed to the plague of their ‘negativity’. I reserve some of my most intense darkness for those phony ‘christians’ who mock the real suffering of martyrs. My thoughts about them are unprintable. In the words of the immortal Annie Lamott: ““I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”

    So, if persecuted by phony alt-right ‘christians’ at some point in the coming battle, I will keep my own words to myself and let the Good Lord supply me with something less awful and infinitely more awesome. Like Birgitta of Sweden, who understood to pray for direction over a thousand years ago, I am open to her source of guidance also:

    “O Lord, make haste and illumine the night.
    Say to my soul
    that nothing happens without Your permitting it,
    and that nothing of what You permit is without comfort.
    O Jesus, Son of God,
    You Who were silent in the presence of Your accusers,
    restrain my tongue
    until I find what should say and how to say it.
    Show me the way and make me ready to follow it.
    It is dangerous to delay, yet perilous to go forward.
    Answer my petition and show me the way.
    I come to You as the wounded go to the physician in search of aid.
    Give peace, O Lord, to my heart. ”
    (St. Birgitta of Sweden, early 1300’s)

    • Christiane,

      It may not be death, but losing your job and your home because of what you know to be true is not trivial. I’m at a loss to understand your condemnation. To lose your job and/or business because you don’t want to sell abortion inducing drugs, to lose your job because you don’t want to kill an unborn child, to lose your job because your agency does not wish to place newborn children in the care of people who don’t understand the important role that both sexes play in life, etc are pretty severe penalties. Losing your job means potentially becoming homeless along with your family. There are no other pharmacies. clinics/nurses, adoption agencies, bakeries, flower shops that can give them satisfaction? This is mean-spirited bullying, the kind that all the protesters now are yelling and screaming about might happen to THEM, has been going on for years. We don’t want to drop incense for Cesar’s deification, With Clinton and her cronies gone, maybe we won’t have to.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Veteran/survivor of The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay and its corollary Christians For Nuclear War in the Seventies. Last flashback 1987. Damage still there.

    (This was back when the Bible only had 3 1/2 books: Daniel, Revelation, the “Nuclear War Chapter” of Ezekiel (the 1/2), and Late Great Planet Earth. Bible Studies with NO Bible in sight, only Late Great Planet Earth. It’s Prophesied, It’s Prophesied, Any Minute Now… Any Minute Now… Any Minute Now…)

    My writing partner (the burned out preacher) credits John Nelson Darby & Hal Lindsay with “destroying Protestant Christianity in America”. When The World Ends Tomorrow (at the latest) and It’s All Gonna Burn, don’t expect anyone to dare anything great or make future plans.

    I only bring it up today because our Gospel lesson for today is one of the passages that those who focus on the end times bring up when they teach.

    We had the same Gospel yesterday at St Boniface. After the initial processional of “Our Help in Ages Past” (which I associate more with Massachusetts Puritans than Catholics), the only thing I could think of with that particular Gospel (which was shall we say “popular:” during my time in-country) was “is he going to use those two for post-Election craziness?” Because I could see how easily you could.

    And our priest didn’t. His homily was mostly about how us laypeople’s testimony in times of stress and confusion would have a lot more impact and influence then that of him or any other clergy or Professional Christian. Because clergy and Professional Christians are easy to dismiss because “of course he’d God-talk, it’s his job”.

    Re the Millerites (whose formal name was “The Adventists”):

    Many dates were proposed and finally Oct. 22, 1844 became fixed as the day when Jesus would come back and the world would end. When that day came and passed like every other day, it became known as the “Great Disappointment.” The Millerite movement shattered into a thousand different sects.

    1) The dates were not only proposed, but calculated from the Time of Christ using the “Seventy Weeks” of the Book of Daniel, the “Time, Times, and Dividing of Times”, and a secret numerology key of “One day in Prophecy = one year”.
    2) “The Great Disappointment” is the RL source of the picture of Christians standing atop the tallest hills on the prophesied Date (so they wouldn’t have as far to ascend to Heaven), wearing White Robes. Because that’s what the Millerites actually DID. Including such news-of-the-weird accessories as the steamer trunk filled with the latest fashions and the cow, both in their own white robes (so one Millerite woman could dress fashionably in Heaven and another could have milk for her children in Heaven).
    3) The Movement may have “shattered into a thousand different sects”, but one stood out and demonstrated staying power due to the visions of one Ellen G White, who assumed leadership of that particular splinter and grew it into the Seventh-Day Adventists (who to this day have a unique interpretation of Revelation and End Times Checklist).

    • Richard Hershberger says

      ‘My writing partner (the burned out preacher) credits John Nelson Darby & Hal Lindsay with “destroying Protestant Christianity in America”.’

      Yabbut… Even at this late date White Evangelical Protestantism is only about half of American Protestantism. Even within White Evangelical Protestantism the influence of dispensationalism varies, and among non-Evangelical Protestantism it is completely a non-issue. Walk into a Lutheran church and you will have no difficulty finding many people who have no idea of what the Rapture is supposed to be. They might have some vague notion that it is a Fundie thing, but not what it is about.

      • My husband who is from PA was raised Lutheran (his grandparents came from Germany) and he has never heard of ‘the rapture’ either.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        All I can reply to that is until I burned out and got out of “Born Again Bible Believing” Fundagelicalism, I NEVER heard anything else than Dispy and Secret Rapture. Anything else did not exist, and these Fundys used the term “Christian” without any adjectives to describe themselves. Also that this “Plain reading of SCRIPTURE” was the original and only true one. I literally knew or heard nothing else.

  6. In my view the biggest mistake in all the swirl of apocalyptic language and literature from Daniel on is misunderstanding the end of an age as the end of the world. As foretold by Jesus, an age ended with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple as the most visible sign, tho the world itself did not end, and it would appear that another such transition is upon us, perhaps a much bigger one. I would say the second biggest mistake is refusing to recognize what’s happening right in front of our eyes and proceeding as if all is as presented on television. Keep moving, nothing to see here, oh look over there, a puppet show! I am grateful to Hal Lindsey for running me thru his wringer forty-odd years ago so I could learn the pitfalls of Dispensationalism in a reasonably safe setting. Certainly would not want to be sorting out that morass today. Difficult enough sorting out today’s morasses, but a forty year head start is most helpful, even crucial. Thanks, Hal!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      …and it would appear that another such transition is upon us, perhaps a much bigger one.

      Forty years ago, the “much bigger transition” was The Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War(TM). (Which universal trope of the time Lindsay just slapped a Christian coat of paint onto.)

      What “much bigger transition” than the destruction of the Temple were you thinking of?

      • >> What “much bigger transition” than the destruction of the Temple were you thinking of?

        HUG, I’m watching three in particular as of most interest to me. I’m assuming that you know how disinformation works and that these matters need to be approached with discernment and the employment of probabilities rather than true or false dichotomies. Those people who get their information from mainstream media and academia and religion are ill equipped to deal with anything outside our box.

        1) It would appear that a world-wide conflict is in process to determine who ends up in control of the World System. The present controllers have certainly been running things in the western world for a thousand years, perhaps going back to the Roman Empire, perhaps Babylon, perhaps beyond. In any case, these people are not your friend and their time may be up. Stay tuned.

        2) There is much talk of a phenomenon often called Ascension, which superficially resembles the Rapture of the Dispensationalists but is a natural process much as springtime occurs every year at a certain point in our trip around the sun, tho this one is connected to the galactic year, which takes nearly 26,000 of ours. There are spiritual aspects to this, but also quantum physics is involved. Stay tuned.

        3) I feel pretty much alone in my sense that Jesus is in process of returning big time, but it’s a strong feeling. No idea how this will actually occur, if it does, but I’m betting it doesn’t involve him floating down out of the sky wearing a bedsheet. All three of these scenarios may be connected, if in fact they are all happening, which of course may not be the case. Given the choice, this is when I would want to be embodied on this planet, and here I am. Stay tuned.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          (1) sounds too much like Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory (Jesuits? Illuminati? Priory of Sion? Global Elite? Freemasons? Greys? Reptoids? Whatever?) to be credible. Christians are highly-prone to Conspiracy Theories, and I have heard Conspiracy after Conspiracy after Conspiracy after Conspiracy after Conspiracy. Complete with all media and World System being under the thumb of The Conspiracy and the Sheeple bleating along as The Conspiracy leads them to slaughter. So how is this any different?

          I’m usually pretty up on astronomy and fringe literature, but Ascension (2) sounds new to me on both counts. Just that Quantum Physics has been used as a “god of the gaps” to explain a LOT of macro-level pseudoscience which cuts into the credibility. If I remember right, 26,000 years is also the precession period of Earth’s spin axis.

          And (3) has no analogy in anything I’m familiar with, except maybe a couple of the really Fringe Catholic EOTW choreographies. Is this an EO thing?

          • 1) A master stroke of programming the populace is to label any forays into peeking behind the curtain as conspiracy theory. If you don’t believe that some people conspire to accomplish their goals, you might be five years old. If you don’t believe that investigating conspiracy theory requires separating the occasional kernel of wheat from a mountain of chaff, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about any of this anyway, and there’s probably something good on television you could watch. I take everything with a grain of salt, but some things make more sense than others. How this is different is that you may be able to watch it happening in real life, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. I’ve got fifty years of sorting things out behind me and I’m watching things happen that I’ve never seen before, so I’m paying attention with my saltshaker at hand. There’s a lot of disinformation to wade thru.

            2) 26,000 years is the precession of the equinoxes as you say. That doesn’t need quantum physics to explain it, but much else being developed and disclosed now does. I don’t understand a lot of it, I just watch it happening. We are moving into new territory by leaps and bounds, and orthodoxy is having a hard time keeping up.

            3) I wouldn’t call Jesus returning fringe, but calling it The Second Coming certainly confuses things since he has already returned in various ways including in his resurrection body and in the fall of Jerusalem. But there seems to be one final return left to happen, it’s standard creedal belief, and I have no clue as to how. What I do know is that a lot of folks missed the first time around because of preconceived ideas. Even tho the preterist folks say it’s all been fulfilled in 70 AD, and much of it was, I take it seriously as applying to myself today when Jesus says to keep watch and stay awake. You are not required to get on board with anything I’m paying attention to, I only answered because you asked. I’m pretty used by now to being out here on my own, and it will all happen as it happens whatever you or I might think..

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              1) A master stroke of programming the populace is to label any forays into peeking behind the curtain as conspiracy theory.

              Which is exactly what Conspiracy Theory no-lifes say, with their Special Gnosis. Anyone who doubts the existence of The Conspiracy has PROVEN themselves part of The Conspriacy. Any evidence against The Conspiracy is Disinformation planted by The Conspiracy. Lack of evidence for The Conspiracy PROVES The Conspiracy.
              How are you different?

              3) We both have a LOT of precedent that God likes doing the unexpected.

              Personally, I’m closest to Partial Preterist — the prophecies had an immediate meaning with the Temple and the crushing of Jerusalem by Rome, but they also illustrate patterns and archetypes that will echo throughout history and probably converge at The End.

              Like my original impression of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — a pattern that repeats because “people are people and the world is full of tricks and twistiness”.

              P.S. In the small-press tabletop RPG Rapture: The Second Coming, the Rapture Ready Christians actually help put the Antichrist in power because the actual fulfillment of the prophecies doesn’t follow their itemized charts and checklists. After all, it can’t be Armageddon — it’s NOT following (our) End Time Prophecy!

              • HUG, I would be interested in whether or not you thought Jesus was put to death by a conspiracy of the Templers, not Templars, because it sounds like you are claiming that conspiracy does not exist in human affairs. I would share a beverage of choice with you over the reasonableness of Partial Preterism as long as I don’t have to live in that box or wear a lapel pin or learn a secret handshake.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              3) I wouldn’t call Jesus returning fringe…

              But there are a LOT of fringies out there filling in the details.

              The “Fringe” I was referring to was the Fringe Catholic “Three Days of Darkness” choreography; in its way as strange (and just as hyper-detailed) as Hal Lindsay’s or Ellen White’s. The Jack Chick set doesn’t have a monopoly on Getting Weird with the Book of Revelation. (Though Catholics are more likely to flake out through “Mary Channeling” Visionary and Orthodox through “Monk-a-bee” Ascetic Monastic role-playing.)

    • It’s “the end of the world AS WE KNOW IT”. Somehow that inflates to being the literal end of the world.

      Well no duh. Many worlds have ended. Jesus’ world ended. The apostles’ world ended. Israel’s world ended.

      Happens.

  7. I’m not in the habit of worrying about the end of the world. But to whatever extent I do, I do so a lot less when the crazies and opportunists are bellowing the loudest about how it’s imminent, and a lot more when the bellowing stops and they all seem to think it’s going pretty well for them and their friends, because they lack the discernment to see the evil before them.

  8. We ate the food, we drank the wine
    Everybody having a good time
    Except you
    You were talking about the end of the world

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Pt2fzVFCrY

    #musicmonday

  9. Ronald Avra says

    Although he is not a Christian, a good read to check out would be Natan Sharansky’s ‘Fear No Evil.’ He spent time incarcerated in Soviet prison for his political positions. He credits the communists allowing him to keep his Psalter as the principal reason that he was able to endure nine years of confinement.

  10. Yes, Chaplain Mike, could you post something on being a dispensationalist? I too, grew up in that tradition, but left before I really knew it in depth, or what the other options were. Now I do, but would love a discussion and perspective on it from you and the posters.

    This was our scripture to yesterday, as we worship in the Lutheran tradition (as you say). I so enjoy your insight, and the 4 scriptures were so timely, in light of the elections, etc.

    Thank you for this post, some overlap with the sermon we heard, so it’s fun!