I had written another sermon last week since I was out-of-town at a training for the first of the week and then at Diocesan convention for the last two day. But in light of the events at Beirut, Sharm el-Sheikh, and Paris, I felt compelled to speak about those atrocities.
The abhorrent murder of 129 Parisians with hundreds injured, the double car bombing in Beirut, leaving 43 dead and over 230 injured, would make some people sure that the end of the world is near. The downing of the Russian passenger plane with over 224 innocent vacationers, for no reason except to create fear – does just that – create fear that our world is coming apart.
We grieve for the senseless killing of innocent people:
- families and couples enjoying quiet dinner at a sidewalk café on a pleasant autumn evening;
- young people crowded into a stadium to hear their favorite band;
- people gathered in Shiite community hall, where gunmen kept citizens from providing aid to the injured;
- and those on a plane looking forward to vacation.
Certainly those who look for signs of the apocalypse believe we are beginning that progression to the end of the world. However, I must remind you what we have been taught repeatedly – that we must stop interpreting the world events as milestones leading up to the end of the world. Jesus specifically warned us:
- “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (Mark 13:7-8)
The massacres, hostage-taking and bombings in Beirut, Paris and Egypt certainly make all of us stop and think about what is going wrong in the world. . . how a group of zealots could willingly and randomly execute people who are innocent. ISIS, who has claimed responsibility for these atrocities, is a sub-culture of the Islamic faith which in no way represents the central teachings of Islam or the majority of the Muslims in the Middle East. Yet these are the people whose actions cause alarm.
We need to keep a level head on our shoulders and not overreact, lumping all Muslims in one basket. While it has portions of war and vengeance, just as the Bible does, the Qur’an is not a book of vengeance – it is a holy book that gives in great detail, the manner in which Muslims must live and care for the planet and all those who inhabit it.
In the aftermath of these tragedies, we need to remember what Jesus told his disciples, and is telling us:
- “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. (Mark 13:5-6)
We must not be lead astray by those who speak doom and gloom and the end of the world. We must not listen to the false prophets.
There have been millenniums where prophets have foretold the end of the earth. Do you remember all the fuss before Y2K, when the prophets were sure that the world was going to explode when we hit the year 2000? It was foretold that all the computers in the world were going to blow up and the world, as we know it, would end.
Notice how that didn’t happen? There was hardly a hint of problems!
Do you remember a fellow named Harold Camping, who was sure that Christ would return to earth on May 21, 2011? Feeding on people’s fatigue with natural disasters, wars and suffering, he riled up many fundamentalists and the ‘Left Behind’ people. Some sold everything they had, knowing for sure that they would be in Heaven on May 21st.
It didn’t happen!
Then there was the doomsday message generated when someone looked at the Mayan calendar and realized there were no dates after September 3, 2012. The fact that the 5,125 year Mayan calendar came to an end on September 3, 2012 didn’t mean the end of the world. It meant the end of the Mayan calendar.
The world did not end in 2012 – and it hasn’t happened yet!
We often hear of people who believe they know when the world is about to end. They look at what’s happening in the world and say “the end is near”. People point to the Bible and find images and passages that reinforce their point. It’s easy to do – it’s called proof texting – taking words right out of the Bible, adding them to other words from the Bible, and other authoritative statements that support whatever they want to support. It’s no way to read, or study, the Bible.
We have had wars for time immemorial. Do you think that the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Lebanon are twentieth-century events?
About 15 years ago a group of academics and historians compiled some startling information. Since 3600 BC (that is 3600 years before Christ!), the world has known only 292 years of peace! During the past 5,600 years, there have been 14,351 wars/conflicts, in which 3.64 billion people have been killed.(1) Wars are not new. . . since Cain and Abel, men (and women) have fought to gain what they didn’t have, annihilate entire cultures, or ‘right a wrong’. The Old Testament is full of stories of bloody wars, sanctioned by God. But Jesus told us that
- “the end is still to come.” (Mark 13:7)
In this gospel from Mark Jesus was trying to tell the disciples of things to come. They have been in Jerusalem and seen the magnificent temple built by Herod. As you would imagine, most of these itinerant disciples were not familiar with large cities and the grandeur of massive buildings. The Temple must have been amazing. It was twice the size of the Roman Forum, with huge white stones – some as long as 70 feet and weighting as much as 100 tons. When viewed from a distance (from the Mount of Olives, where Jesus and his disciples were sitting), it glowed with plates of gold shining brilliantly in the Jerusalem sun. The disciples were impressed. I imagine their reaction was much like ours when we might have viewed the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the first time. They were in awe of the structure; probably thinking that this building would last forever.
For the Jews, the Temple was more than just a building in Jerusalem, more than a place of worship. It was the center and anchor of their life. It provided identity, structure, and meaning; for the Jewish people the Temple was God’s home.
But, as the disciples commented on the Temple in today’s scripture, Jesus replied:
- “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2)
Yes, the Temple of Jerusalem in all its grandeur was indeed destroyed – except for one wall, the ‘Wailing Wall’ – that is a hallowed shrine for all Jews, and many Christians as well.
We need to remember that the book of Mark was written just about the time the Temple was destroyed. It was written for a community who was trying to figure out how to live between Jesus’ resurrection and his return (or the end of the world). Jesus was again speaking to his disciples, and to us, with an analogy. He wasn’t talking about the end of the world, but rather how to live when “all our worlds” collapse!
As the Franciscan monastic, Richard Rohr, teaches in his marvelous little book, Falling Upward, it is in crisis that we learn life’s greatest lessons. It is from disappointment and struggle that we learn what is truly important; it is in meeting failure and loss that we find the richest contents for our lives. It is at difficult times that we realize that our soul within is greater than any of our earthly bodies.
But we do want answers. We do want to know what’s going to happen next. Like the disciples, we want to know every detail about when and how our future will take place. The disciples hoped for a way to save themselves as they interpreted the signs of the time. . . and so do we.
So, how do we wait for the end of the world? So how do we live in the time between birth and death? How do we live in a time when chaos surrounds us? How do we live in a world that pulls us apart, rather than pulling us together?
First – Look around and see what we have, not what we don’t have.
We’re being sold false promises every day. ‘If we have a new car, a bigger house, a thinner body, a younger face, or a better job – life will be better.’ Likely, these are the false prophets that Jesus warned us about in our gospel of today:
- Jesus said: “They will deceive a lot of people.” (Mark 13:5-6)
And these are false prophets – they do deceive us. They make us fearful of what lies ahead. They make us unhappy with who we are; they let us allow other people to define and limit us. They make us see the death all around us rather than the life that remains.
But, God says,
- “Don’t be afraid, I will be with you forever”. (Isaiah 41:10, Romans 8:39)
Secondly – Think about what you really value in life.
Ask yourself – “if I only had one more day to live what would I do?”
The end still hasn’t come, even after more than 2000 years.
Life still goes on. Good and bad happens. People are born, grow up and die, and the circle of life continues. In the meantime, we need not live in uncertainty, because:
- no matter what happens,
- no matter when it happens,
- We are loved beyond measure.
We are the creations of a forgiving Creator. On this life’s journey, in joyous and difficult times, we are God’s own. We came from God and to God we shall return. No matter what happens, we can depend on love to see us through. The ‘end’ is not the end, but only the beginning.
We need to fill our lives with the love, forgiveness, compassion and beauty of God.
The mystic Julian of Norwich assured us:
- all shall be well, All manner of thing shall be well.
Jesus tells us that the end is just the beginning of what God has planned. God assures us:
- Behold, I shall make all things new. (Revelation 21:5)
So, as the world seems to be colliding into chaos all around us, with evil, greed and meanness rampant at home and abroad, let our cooler heads prevail. Let us try to act in love and forgiveness while standing up for what is good and right, and let us always remember we are in the palm of God’s hand.
Let us be silent for a minute in memory of those who recently lost their lives . . . and for all who have been cruelly murdered by extremists.
And indeed, God said:
- I shall make all things new. (Revelation 21:5)
(1) “Statistics”, http://www.bible.org./node/13168
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH, 15 November 2015