Committed to the Here and Now

Sermon Preached November 18, 2007
St. Mary's Episcopal Church - Stone Harbor
Proper 28C

There was a skit on Sesame Street that I really loved as a kid. It went something like this. One of the grown-ups, maybe Luis, is sitting on the steps of 123 Sesame Street reading a story to the kids. After awhile, one of the Muppet monsters walks by carrying a sign that he reads aloud – it says, “The end is coming.” He keeps on walking, but then returns again in a few moments. This goes on for quite awhile. The children giggle a little bit each time the monster comes by, but Luis keeps reading the story and they, for the most part, continue to listen. Finally, Luis reaches the end of the story, and – perhaps you’ve already guessed it – the monster walks by with a new sign that he reads which says, “The end is here.”

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about the end – specifically the date, December 21st, 2012 because this is the date on which many are expecting the end to occur. Last July, The New York Times Magazine featured an article by novelist Benjamin Anastas called “The Final Days” in which he explored some of the mystery of 12-21-12. Apparently the present day popularity of this prediction centers around something called the Harmonic Convergence – a 1987 gathering of people in a number of locations around the world – including Stonehenge, Mount Shasta, and Central Park. The Convergence was promoted by José Arguelles, the author of a number of “books about the Mayan cosmos and his experiences with telepathically received prophecies.”[1] Arguelles got the word out that the convergence was “an earth-changing event requiring 144,000 participants . . . to free the planet from the dissonant influence of Western science and synchronize with the ‘wave harmonic of history’ set to culminate in 2012.”[2] And in a way that only our modern technological advances would allow, people did gather for the Harmonic Convergence and the media did cover it extensively and soon the year 2012 had taken on a significance of mythic proportions.

And here, I confess, I am quite a skeptic. After all, people have predicting the end of times since the beginning of time and, so far, they’ve all been wrong. The early Christians thought that the second coming would occur in their life time. “Christians in Europe attacked pagan territories in the north to prepare for the end of the world at the first millennium; the Shakers believed the world would end in 1792” and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have offered more than their share of predicted end times: 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1994 and so far, we’re still here.[3] In more recent times such end time predictions have led to the tragic deaths of many including The People’s Temple, founded by The Rev. Jim Jones; the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland; and the Heaven’s Gate cult in California.[4]

We live in a culture that has a preoccupation with the end times. But Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel warn us, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.”[5] O.k., that’s fine, but how will we know who we should believe and how will we know when that time is truly near? Those to whom Jesus was speaking in the temple were wondering the same thing. “Jesus said, ‘. . . the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’”[6] And this statement begged the question: “When? When will that day come?”[7]

Jesus’ answer had two parts. In the first place, he gives them a list of events – wars, insurrections, “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” earthquakes, famines, plagues, dreadful portents, and “great signs from heaven.”[8] These things are typically associated with end times in the Scriptures. In the book of the prophet Isaiah it is written, “I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, one against the other, neighbor against neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom.”[9] The book of the prophet Ezra, from the Apocrypha, says,

“So when there shall appear in the world earthquakes, tumult of peoples, intrigues of nations, wavering of leaders, confusion of princes, then you will know that it was of these that the Most High spoke from the days that were of old, from the beginning. For just as with everything that has occurred in the world, the beginning is evident, and the end manifest.”[10]
But what is different about the list provided here in Luke’s gospel are the words Jesus adds – a bit of a surprise: “When you hear of” these things, he says, “do not be terrified” because “the end will not follow immediately.”[11]

So just when those in the temple are thinking he is about to tell them when the end will come, he stops short and says “do not be terrified.” And here is the second part of Jesus’ answer. The reason they are not to be terrified is that, when the time comes, they will have “an opportunity to testify” – an opportunity for which they are not to prepare for, Jesus promises, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”[12] And with this simple phrase, it comes into focus why we should not worry ourselves about the end of time. Knowing when the end of time will come will in no way prepare us for it. Because, in that moment, there will be nothing for us to prepare. God will provide us with the words we need in the moment.

Jesus then refocuses his questioners from concern about the end times to concern about the present time reminding them that it is by their endurance that they will gain their souls.[13] And what is this endurance that we are called to? Endurance is about life in the present, a life fully committed in the here and now to Christ, to living in the body of Christ, the Christian community, always working toward fulfilling the promises made at our baptism:
· To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship
· To persevere in resisting evil
· To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
· To seek and serve Christ in all persons
· To strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.[14]

When we do these things we will come to recognize that the monster’s warning that the end is coming will do nothing to provide sustenance or direction for the present and that being focused on following Christ in the here and now, living in the story of the our present days, will leave us nothing to fear when that future time does come. Because Christ will give us the words and the wisdom we will need in that moment and our endurance now will have gained us our souls.

[1] Benjamin Anastas, “The Final Days,” The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2007 accessed online on November 15, 2007.
[2] Anastas.
[3] Anastas.
[4] “When Devotion Means Death,” BBC News: Africa, March 18, 2000 accessed online on November 15, 2007.
[5] Luke 21:8.
[6] Luke 21:6.
[7] Luke 21:7.
[8] Luke 21:9-11.
[9] Isaiah 19.2.
[10] 2 Esdras 9:3-5.
[11] Luke 21:9.
[12] Luke 21:13b-15.
[13] Luke 21:18b.
[14] BCP 304-5.