September 24, 2017: Why Hope? (The End)
Scriptures Used: Luke 21:5-9, 25-28, John 12:44-50, Revelation 21:1-4
It seems every couple of years there is a new calculation for the end of the world. We escaped another one yesterday, if you happened to see the story in the news. My personal favorite is one that was written in 1987. It goes like this:
That’s great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, and aeroplanes
And Lenny Bruce is not afraid
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs,
Don’t mis-serve your own needs
Speed it up a notch, speed, grunt, no, strength,
The ladder starts to clatter
With a fear of height, down, height
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site
Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry
With the Furies breathing down your neck
Obviously, I’m kidding. That one isn’t a prophecy. Those are the lyrics to R.E.M’s song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”
That song showed up at a meaningful time in my life. At a New Year’s church lock-in, some of us turned on the TV to watch the celebration of the year 2000 as the band No Doubt covered that song. Many people were scared that night that the technological systems of the world would fail. I wasn’t scared. I just hoped to come out of that evening with a girlfriend…or at the very least a replacement friend for the one who ditched me.
I left that night with neither, but it was there that I heard words that still resonate with me today: “Whether the world is ending or it isn’t, God is with us.”
These words seem especially prescient as we continually hear news of real, actual wars and ongoing rumors of war. The prophetic language found in Matthew of the signs of the end-times are often used in contexts like these, although they skew differently if one was to read the chapters before and after, but they give us a sense of purpose to a world seemingly gone wild. It leaves folks with a conundrum: pray that nothing happens and we all are safe, or maybe this is the time Jesus returns and we can get to heaven.
The problem is, we simply don’t know. The long history of believing in Jesus’ return goes all the way back to the days immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples began building churches fairly rapidly after the events of Pentecost, when the Spirit came in tongues of fire upon the disciples, but they did not expect the churches they started would last past their lifetime. Paul, in his earliest letters written around the same time, warned Christians against marriage since they would be “leaving soon.” As time passed, so did the hope that Jesus’ return would be any day now.
Many point to the Revelation of John as another example of the signs of the end. Those who attended Bible Study this past spring realized that book of the Bible is far more about comforting Christians under persecution than it was about accurately calculating the event. But it is that same book that gives us information about what “the end” could look like and the hope God offers us in it.
In the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation – Revelation, not Revelations, there was only one – God offers the writer a vision of what God intends for the world. We read:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
God intends to dismantle the divide between heaven, which is God’s realm, and the earth. Bringing together that separation requires a recreating of the sinful world into a new, perfect one. Whether it is by destruction and rebirth, or if it is through the transformation of earth into perfection simply by being in the presence of God’s perfect love, creation will be made into something new.
People get so bogged down in the details of the end, we forget why we need an end in the first place. If your only reason for being in church is to avoid damnation, then your faith needs work. God may as well be an angry kid burning ants on the sidewalk. The reason we need an end to this world is because God did not intend for us to be separate from God. The end is a good thing; that is why in Luke’s gospel read earlier Jesus tells the disciples that when it comes they must keep their heads high.
In John’s gospel, Jesus speaks about it a little differently. He says:
Whoever believes in me doesn’t believe in me but in the one who sent me. 45 Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light into the world so that everyone who believes in me won’t live in darkness. 47 If people hear my words and don’t keep them, I don’t judge them. I didn’t come to judge the world but to save it. 48 Whoever rejects me and doesn’t receive my words will be judged at the last day by the word I have spoken. 49 I don’t speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me regarding what I should speak and say. 50 I know that his commandment is eternal life. Therefore, whatever I say is just as the Father has said to me.”
The idea was always for Jesus to finally set in motion the necessary conditions to bring together earth and heaven. Christ’s mere presence – divinity on earth – began to change the world’s fabric. On top of that, he took on the weight of our existence to understand us through that process. God’s law demanded a justice of love that Jesus taught over and over and that we must be actively searching for God if we are to see this world’s evil come to an end. That means most of all, God wants the sins of suffering, oppression, and division to end.
Now, when I tell you there is hope in the end times, some of you still hear that as death and destruction. That may be true. I’m not God, and I don’t know God’s plans; however, I also have read the Bible enough to know that God’s story has moved away from the awful violence of judgment in ages past.
The next step is to transform the creation back to its original intended state. That doesn’t necessarily require blowing it up and starting over. What if God’s end time involved the body of Christ? What if our love of God and neighbor grew to be so powerful that it infected the dark hearts of the world? What if God’s plan for making a new heaven and a new earth started with an earth that achieved the impossible – we love instead of fighting; we stop demonizing people who think differently from us; we search for every single lost soul regardless of if they deserve it – risking our lives for peace so that none would dare take them? You can call me a bleeding heart or a fool, but the words of Jesus mean so little if God’s going to blow it up and start over.
Why do I have hope? Because my life matters. I and so many others will fight the good fight; we will live and die for the cause of love; we will be foolish to mankind because we are fools for God’s law of justice. I have hope because many are leading this world to its joyful end: the end of suffering, the end of greed, the end of violence, the end of oppression, the end of all the things that tell us that the only way to live is to live for ourselves.
My goal in life isn’t so different from what REM said. At the end of the world as I know it, I want to feel fine.
 Paraphrase, Matthew 24:6