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Sunday Sermon for 28 November 2021: “The End is Dear”

Luke 21:25-36 is a cautionary tale about profound disturbances preceding Jesus’ Second Coming. Jesus admonished people about being ready for his imminent return in the lifetime of his earliest followers.

The interesting part of this apocalypse topic is the timing and circumstances. All types of conflict such as wars, persecutions, evil rulers and genocides have occurred since Jesus left earth. Every generation since Jesus could claim that their era would be the last, and that the end of history was near. But there is a problem with pushing the Second Coming into later times because Jesus said in Matthew 21:32, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.”

Jesus spoke unmistakably about returning in the lifetime of Luke’s audience. You’d think that Jesus’ clear statements would settle once-for-all the babbling about his Second Coming by subsequent generations. Sadly, Luke’s and Jesus’ words are misused by people who claim that Luke’s writing was not written for his day but for Christians far in the future. The fatal flaw in this is that it renders Luke’s and Jesus’ pronouncements as a false tease for the day and time in which they were originally written.

The problem with most predictions about the Second Coming is that they distort history and give people false hope. Jesus didn’t return during the generation of his listeners or at any other time. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE, dispersed the Jews and Christians, and yet Jesus didn’t return after this greatest calamity in Jewish history, all within decades of Jesus’ words. Did people of faith look to God wondering what happened to the promise? People still wonder today, and thoughtful interpreters and people of faith remain perplexed trying to reconcile Jesus’ words with the irrefutable facts of history.

What are you to do with the contradiction between Jesus’ words and how history actually played out?  It’s clear that wars, persecutions and all sorts of mischief happen constantly. Although it’s tempting to become fixated on matching biblical prophecy to news, terrible events arise in the world continually. Each generation can make a convincing case that theirs will be the last. Perhaps there’s a psychological need for people to believe that history will end in their lifetimes. The thought of the apocalypse provides a strange comfort and predictability. Without a sense of Jesus’ imminent return many people feel powerless and disconnected, devoid of a reassuring timetable that may alleviate persecution and the pain of uncertainty.    

More than ever, biblical prophecy has married itself to greed, raking in cash through seminars, books and movies proffered by celebrity pastors and shrewd entrepreneurs. Given this profiteering, no wonder that the end is dear to so many. Much of the apocalyptic talk is mere noise distracting from the more important task of pursuing the power of compassionate love in daily living. Trying to match this or that verse with what’s happening in the world seldom accomplishes anything other than make certain people rich and many more filled with dubious conspiracy theories. Don’t let this happen to you!

No one has a convincing argument about precisely how and when history will end. As always, the focus should remain on your attitudes and actions in the present, what you can do to love your neighbor. Avoid distractions and focus on what you are doing with present opportunities and challenges. Heaven will come for each of us because no one is getting out of this life alive. With that sobering truth we can begin to fully live in the present. Spiritual life isn’t about trying to escape death but it is about embracing life.

Being prepared means that you can receive God’s spirit and testify about your faith any time during the constant ebb and flow of wars, calamities and persecutions. Recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 21: 19: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” By receiving and sharing God’s love and truth you are embracing life. You can never know for sure what God is planning or how the divine timetable for history has changed. Yet you have the assurance that God is with you no matter what happens.  –Reverend Larry Hoxey

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