Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thinking About The End Of The World

18 November, 2018 –– 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Daniel 12:1–3 / Psalm 16 / Hebrews 10:11–14, 18 / Mark 13:24–32
Thinking About The End Of The World (as we know it)

As the liturgical year approaches its close, the Scriptures increasingly focus our attention on what is traditionally referred to as the four last things: death, judgment, Heaven, Hell. These are not popular topics for preaching. It seems that even in the Church there is a tendency to want to keep our attention on good things in this world. We do not like to be reminded that this world is passing away. 

Yet there is popular interest in trying to foretell the future. Some people use horoscopes and other occult practices that God has told his people to avoid. But many Christians try to use Scripture the same way with such things as the visions in Daniel’s prophecy and the imagery in the book of Revelation. That is not the focus of Christian Faith. Even Jesus’ words about the last-days do not give exact future details.

Jesus talks mostly about how his disciples should respond to the events going on around them. This is a wisdom that focuses on what we can do something about, not on the things beyond our control. We cannot do too much about the big catastrophes or way the world will end; the one thing you and I can do something about is our own response to the things that happen in and around our lives. How shall we respond to our world––even when it seems that it is falling apart? It is normal to fear for our comfort, our happiness, our security, and to wonder what might happen to us and our children.

Jesus' words in Mark 13 can be expressed in four short exhortations. 

The first one is: Don't be dazzled; be steady. Jesus warns not to let the world around us, with all its wonders, sweep us off our feet. Whatever it is that is so impressive, we must remember it will not last forever. We need to be steady in our assessment of the things around us; they will not last forever. Nothing in this world is forever. We will not be in this world forever.

A second guideline is: Don't be deceived; be studious. Jesus says that other people will claim to be the Christ. He says that people will say it is time for the end when it is not. Jesus gives the parable of a fig tree: just as one can look at a tree and discern which season it is, so can a disciple who is studious discern the signs for his coming––not so that we know exactly ‘when” but so that we can live wisely.

A third lesson here is: Don't be dismayed; be steadfast. In v13 he says, the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. In the face of opposition.... in the face of hate.... in the face of arrest, imprisonment or death––do not be dismayed; be steadfast. Jesus says we will only be saved as we stand firm. Be steadfast.

The fourth word is: Do not be distracted, but be still. Jesus says to be careful, to watch, to pray (vs35,36). In other words, to be still. God tells us through the Psalmist, Be still, and know that I am God

The reason we are to be still is so we can truly see what is going on around us and, in the imagery of the fig tree parable, discern the season around us. It is hard to be still. We so easily surround ourselves with distraction––some electronic device commanding our attention almost all the time. We stay in a hurry. We do not want to be alone. How can we hear the voice of God? How can we keep watch for the things which would distract us from the kingdom?

Jesus told his disciples these things because of what is someday going to happen: the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.... he will send his angels to gather his elect from the ends of the earth (v26,27). Yes, terrible things happen: wars, famines, wildfires and hurricanes and tornadoes, homicides, addictions that cause death.... The list goes on and on, but these things do not have the last word.

For God's people, these things are reminders of a greater reality: the world will not always be this way. Someday Jesus will return and make it new, but until then we are in a spiritual war; the demons of hell will fight like crazy to keep the world the way it is now. Jesus gives his disciples these words to help us understand what is happening around us, and to know how to respond.

In the face of threatening circumstances, here are four things ways to keep our spiritual equilibrium:

–– do not be dazzled, but be steady;
–– do not be deceived, but be studious;
–– do not be dismayed, but be steadfast;
–– do not be distracted, but be still.

The basic invitation is always the same: keep our hearts open to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As this life disintegrates, God's word is sure. This world is passing away; his kingdom is forever.

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