The Gospel we heard today is one of the numerous ‘apocalyptic’ verses foretelling the destruction and end of the world. Not a pleasant thing to have to preach about. . . . and not something that the average Episcopal Church lists among its favorite readings.
We start out hearing about how wonderful and beautiful the temple in Jerusalem is remember that this was the temple rebuilt for the third time by Herod the Great in 20-19 BCE. It had been rebuilt with care and was now a showplace of grandeur and opulence that made a Hebrew, and Herod, proud. People made pilgrimages to Jerusalem just to see that temple, with its immense size, white marble columns, and brilliant golden plates. It looked like it would stand forever.
But just like all the treasures we collect on earth, it was only transitory. Jesus foretells its destruction (again) and He was right — within forty years the temple would again stand in ruins.
And not only that, but Jesus foretold that the people would be divided. Brothers would betray brothers, relatives and friends would become enemies, and some would be put to death. Not a very pleasant portent. And obviously, not one that the Hebrew people wanted to hear!
One phrase that is particularly troublesome in this scripture is:
- Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
But the world did not come to an end . . . . although the temple lay in ruin and the people were again scattered to the ends of the earth, the world did not end.
And we are still here!
There have been wars and families rent asunder, countries destroyed, but the world goes on.
The end has not come.
But has it?????
Jesus talks about the end of the world, and every one interprets that to mean that the planet we live on will cease to exist. We will be blown to smithereens.
But what if that is not what Jesus meant???
Supposed that we have already seen ‘the end’ – the end of the world as it was known in biblical times. –
- Did not the entire world change when Jesus rose from the dead those many Easter mornings ago?
- Did not the world see the end of an era and the beginning of a new one – one of Christianity?
- A world not dependent on what we do, but a Kingdom based on what God has done and is doing for us?
But how do we enter that world?
As it says in the reading for Malachi, destruction comes from the rejection of salvation offered by Jesus. We are destroying our souls, just as the temple was destroyed, if we do not accept the grace and salvation given by God through Jesus.
Jesus warns us that we must not be deceived by false prophets or messiahs. There has been much written about this piece of scripture those who believe in the end of the world and rapture use this, in part, to support their beliefs. They believe that only they, because they have seen the light, will be saved on that fateful day. How many of you have seen the bumper sticker that warns:
- “Beware – this car will be without a driver in case of rapture.”
Do you really think that ‘the end’ will come as a rapture with the chosen floating into heaven?
I think we can remember seeing a man on a street corner holding a sign: ‘The End Is Near’. We all laugh uneasily about it, not too sure that there might be some truth in it. But we are still here.
Remember the panic over Y2K did all the planes fall out of the sky? I certainly did not hear of any. But there were plenty of prophets foretelling the end of our civilization and many more people who followed them and lived in panic until its arrival. Some people retreated into bomb shelters or sealed up houses, waiting for the world to come to an end.
But we are to do more than sit around eating bonbons, waiting for the end.
Someone asked Saint Francis, as he was weeding his garden, “What would you do if you knew that this was your ‘last day on earth?’ His answer was simple: ‘continue weeding my garden’. We have much to do before our days are over.
Jesus further warns that the faithful will suffer for their beliefs. Even some will be put to death. But then later he says
- not a single hair on your head will be destroyed. (Luke 21:18)
How can that be?
When Saint Thomas More was about to be hanged, he kept his sense of humor and pointed out that although his might lose his head, not a hair on his head would be harmed. Neither fear nor his impending death swayed his faith he knew he was going to be with God. His body was just as transitory as the temple of Jerusalem. What was eternal was his soul.
I offer these thoughts for you to ponder:
- What if the temple at Jerusalem really represents our external and personal wants?
- What if the temple represents our physical body?
- What if, by believing in Jesus and the salvation he brings, there will be no hair on our head destroyed?
- What if we have already seen ‘the end’ and lived through it? the end was the crucifixion of Jesus?
- What if all we have to do is stay centered on Christ? We don’t need a prophet or mystic to tell us how to survive?
Both Malachi and Luke tell us to remain faithful in our faith and we will survive. Even though the world around us may be in turmoil, and brother had turned against brother, we will win eternal life through faithfulness.
No matter who may betray us family, friends, co-workers, governments we are secure in the love
and grace of God.
No matter what ordeals we may suffer for our faith, remember, Jesus has the last laugh. He conquered death for all of us.
Delivered at Church of The Good Shepherd, Athens, OH 5 September 2007