Finding Grace in an Apocalyptic Age
Readings: Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” So begins Dickens' “Tale of Two Cities”. Every age and culture echoes that lament, for every age and culture seems to have its apocalyptic sense. Some greet it with a sense of excitement and joy; most find that is something to be feared. The question for us is how to find grace in an apocalyptic age.
The prophet Isaiah greets the possibility of the end of time with great optimism. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” he prophecies. It is a poem of great promise. His vision of that new place is idyllic. No more pain! No more suffering! It’s gates will be named joy and gladness. It will be a restoration of Paradise. God will once more be near to the people, so near that they will not even have to ask in prayer. It will simply happen.
The Thessalonians have a very different reaction. They believed that they were living in the end times, that Jesus would come again in their lifetime. Paul knows that many of them are ready to give up. Fear of what the future may hold causes them to opt out of life. Why bother to work if it will all end tomorrow? They are unable or unwilling to live with the kind of uncertainty that often brings with it a sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness. Paul writes to them. “Everyone of every age,” he says, “should contribute to the life of the community.” “You are to remain vigilant. You are to watch for the things that need to be done, and do them!” And is that not simply part of the responsibility of being a member of a family? He is trying to get across that the responsibility for ushering in the kingdom of God belongs to each and every one of them.
For Jesus’ disciples the message is ominous. They are admiring the temple in Jerusalem. It is the same temple that was continuing to be rebuilt at great price following the exile in Babylon. Historians of the time report that the white stonework overlaid in gold glittered so brightly in the sunshine that people were dazzled by the sight. Jesus tells them that the beautiful temple they see before them will not last. It fills them with a sense of foreboding. “What are the signs?” they want to know.
Jesus paints a portrait of a world in great turmoil and conflict. It is a picture of an apocalyptic age. He speaks of wars, of earthquakes, famine and plague very much like our own age. He tells them that it will be a time of testing for the faithful. They will experience persecution, betrayal, hatred and even death. It is a frightening picture. It was frightening to the disciples. It was frightening to the early Christians as they struggled with the persecution they faced. Through every age such stories have continued to frighten people.
What worries you about the future of the world? Is it the apathy you see in people who care so little about the environment that they will throw their garbage wherever it lands? Is it terrorism, or child poverty and homelessness, or the violence in society? As the G-20 meetings in Seoul end, is it that once again the powers in the world have failed to cooperate about the trade and currency issues that caused the 2008 financial crisis, never mind their inability to agree on the ecological problems facing the world?
What worries you about the future of the Church? Some people fear that we have become irrelevant, that we need to change the way we worship and the way we approach God. Some think that we have deviated too far from Scripture. There are many who fear that we will allow issues like Same-Sex blessing to fracture our unity.
What frightens you about your own future? We all face challenges in our family lives. In these difficult economic times people face uncertainty. Job loss, financial stress, health issues … The list goes on.
Jesus’ answer to the disciples was remarkable when you think about it. He called them to persevere in the faith. He recognized that they were living in a time of terrible threat; yet it was too, as such times always are, a time of deep rewards and rich promise. They are to continue to trust in God’s promises and live in hope. They are to be part of God’s plan as they await the coming of the Kingdom.
I trust that it puts our own faith into perspective as well. It is not up to us to make claims about special knowledge when it comes to the signs of the end of time. It is up to us to remain faithful to the message of salvation and to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus. It is up to us to live out our lives in faith, being like Christ.
So perhaps the question we need to ask is what excites you about the world in which we live? What excites you most about the future of the church? Those are the real signs of the kingdom of God breaking through. I find it so amazing to look back at the changes that have taken place in this particular community of faith over the past ten years. I see such hope in our life together. We have a diverse community that is representative of the rich cultural diversity of Mississauga. We have people who give of their time, talent and treasure to ensure that we are able to reach out into the community. We encourage one another in the faith and in our personal lives. We offer a place of peace and comfort. We reach out to those in need. We are responding to God’s call.
It is a call is to follow Jesus, to be like Christ, to seek Christ in those we encounter in our lives, to be Christ in the world. So what if we stop wondering when the weeping will cease, and start to do something constructive about the state of the world? We live with anxiety and uncertainty, but it is also a time of great rewards and benefits.
Discipleship is not about waiting for God to do something; it is about anticipating God’s actions in the world. It is about being Christ in the world. It is about serving with compassion and mercy. What will you do today in anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises? It is ultimately up to each one of us. It begins with putting our trust in our loving God. It continues with living our lives faithfully and prayerfully. It means especially living out God’s promises in everything we do.
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