You know we are approaching the end of the church year when the readings take a little…apocalyptic bent. The church year always ends with Reign of Christ (often called Christ the King), which is next week. The week before Reign of Christ, we always read Jesus foretelling the destruction of the Temple. These can be odd readings for us, because unlike the first disciples we generally aren’t anticipating the end of the world any time soon. (For the most part, anyway.) But, if we pay attention, we notice that Jesus doesn’t talk much about the actual end of the world, instead he focuses on the trying times before the end. What does Jesus have to tell us about living in difficult and scary times? (If you want, read Luke and Thessalonians, which I focus on in the sermon.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you’ve ever watched Parks and Recreation, you might remember a group called “The Reasonablists.” These people were a cult, who were convinced that the world was going to end soon, when their leader Zorp came back to earth. They named themselves Reasonablists, because they decided no one would want to oppose them. To do so would be unreasonable.
In one episode, they rented a city park to celebrate and be together, because that was the night that the world was going to end. Zorp was coming back finally. Now, these guys were pretty harmless. Their rituals included playing music on wooden recorders and dancing around a fire. One of the main characters loved the Reasonablists, because he carved recorders to sell to them. And they would pay any price. They even laughed while asking if he took checks. Because they were convinced those checks were never going to get cashed. The world was ending! It didn’t matter what they did.
Only, as you can imagine, the world didn’t end, and those checks definitely got cashed. In the Parks and Rec story, this was just a funny way to point out some of the many ways humans can be ridiculous and unreasonable. But this actually happens, and it’s not always funny. Back in 2011, a man named Harold Camping thought the world was going to end. He amassed a huge following of supporters, many of whom sold their homes and gave him their life savings.
Well, the world didn’t end, and these people had no recourse. He hadn’t done anything illegal. It happens often—at least once a generation, but it seems like more often now—people become convinced that the end times are near and quit their jobs, sell their homes, take drastic measures. It’s funny when it’s a TV show, but it wasn’t funny at all when almost a thousand people died at Jonestown, all because they thought it could bring about the second coming.
Why this obsession with apocalypse and the end of time? And what is a faithful Christian response? This is some of what the Apostle Paul is trying to address in his letter to the Thessalonians. This very early community of Christians was convinced that the end was upon them, that Jesus would be returning any day.
They lived in the Roman town of Thessalonica. They were an extreme minority and were probably experiencing persecution. All around them, they thought they saw signs of Jesus’ second coming—as he had promised his followers. Wars, persecutions, troubling times. And it led some of them to stop working. They thought there was no reason to tend to the fields or the shop, because soon all would be gathered in the Lord. They had given up their day-to-day lives.
And Paul tells them: guys, you can’t do that. You have to keep working, you have to keep living life. You can’t be mere busybodies. Because if you don’t participate, the whole community suffers. You can’t just sit around waiting for the end times to come, because we don’t know when that’s going to happen. Instead, do not grow weary of doing what is right.
Jesus himself seems to say pretty clearly that it’s not our job to try to figure out when the end will be. In our reading this morning, he is standing outside the Temple, during the last week of his life, and he says to his disciples that one day the entire Temple will fall. This huge, marvelous, impressive building will crumble to nothing.
Immediately, they want to know when this will happen. There are lots of people who are going to try to tell you that the end is near, warns Jesus. Don’t be led astray. Things are going to be terrifying, but do not be alarmed, do not be afraid.
You’re going to live through wars and persecutions, famines and earthquakes, but these thing are not the end, but rather an opportunity to testify. Terrible things will happen—some of the terrible things that were surely happening to the church in Thessalonica, but Jesus promises protection and confidence even in the midst of terrible, terrifying events, and urges the disciples to see them as an opportunity to make their faith known.
Maybe we don’t have the same inclination as the early church to look for the end of times. When we see wars and famines and natural disasters, we are more likely to see the ways human hatred and greed have caused such brokenness than to think it is God bringing about the end of the world.
But Jesus’ words speak to us still. They speak to us about what our calling is in the midst of difficult things. In the midst of natural disasters and climate change. In the midst of political unrest and upheaval. In the midst of an uncertain future that we wish we could somehow predict.
First comes the promise: You are not alone in this. Do not be alarmed. God is always with you, and God will never leave you. And second comes the calling: Use this as an opportunity to testify. Use the time which you have been given, the circumstances that you find yourself living in, to testify to God.
Jesus promises that he will provide words and wisdom when we need them. And he has. The church has been equipped with all kinds of gifts: some of us are gifted in the ways of speaking publicly for God’s kingdom. Of advocating for justice. Some are gifted to organize efforts to care for those in need. Some are gifted in prayer to support the work of the church and lift up all in need. Some are gifted in resources to provide for the work of ministry. Some are gifted in teaching to raise up new generations.
All have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit, and so all are needed. We can’t have mere busybodies in the church, like they did in Thessalonica. Because all of us have a part to play in testifying to God’s love and justice in the times we have been given. We all have gifts to offer, and the church is not complete, our testimony is not complete, without all of them.
These are scary texts today. But Jesus knew his disciples were going to have to deal with scary things. Following Jesus doesn’t mean you get a free pass through life’s difficulties. We have to deal with scary things in our lives and in our world. But siblings in Christ, do not grow weary in doing what is right. Because we not are alone. And we have the amazing—and sometimes overwhelming—call to be God’s voice, God’s heart, God’s hands, in the times that we live. This is an opportunity to testify. And the message we bring of love and hope and justice is something our world needs to hear. Amen.