Go Ahead – Look!

Mark 13:24-37

We have 1482 days, my friends. Alternatively 4 years, 21 days, or 35,568 hours or 2,134,080 minutes or 128,044,800 seconds until the end. In the car the other day, Eric informed me that in about 211 weeks (rounded down), we will reach December 21, 2012…when the world will end.

2012 is claimed by many to be a great year of either spiritual transformation or, alternatively, an apocalypse. For these foreseers, we will see some kind of end. The date, December 21, 2012, is the completion of the thirteenth B’ak’tun cycle in the long count of the Mayan calendar. Coinciding with this is the “extremely close conjunction of the northern hemisphere winter solstice sun with the crossing point of the Galactic equator and the ecliptic”, an event that will not be repeated for thousands of years.

Michael Drosnin, in his book The Bible Code, claims that, according to certain algorithms, an asteroid or comet will collide with the Earth. Another author connects a possible global awakening to psychic connection that will arise by the year 2012 creating a noosphere (don’t ask me what that is, it’s in wikipedia). Another claims that Biaviian aliens will allow passage aboard their ‘Great Mother Ship’ when the Earth is ‘transformed’ in 2012. Numerological novelty theory suggests a point of singularity in which humankind will go through a great shift in consciousness. Various versions of the end, all in 2012.1

We are even getting a movie version directed by Michael Bay, the director who did The Transformers. We can be comforted in two ways by this: 1) Optimus Prime will be here to protect us (you have to see The Transformers) and 2) planned release for the movie is 2010, in plenty of time to enjoy it before the apocalypse really comes (we’ll even have it in DVD by then).

Some might be uneasy about my making light of the end. I am not (making light of the end). I am making light of many of our all too human attempts to predict/deal with it. In fact, I take the end of the world very seriously. I take it scripturally, for the Bible does happen to talk about it quite a bit. While many simply go to the other end of the interpretive spectrum and dismiss all biblical discussion of the end as mere ancient belief that we have “outgrown” (and therefore easily disregarded), I do not.

I believe that the Bible’s talk about the end is no mere accident. Jesus, in all of the gospels, talks about it different ways. Paul the apostle focuses on it in a fundamental way.

Don’t forget the book of Daniel, and Revelation’s graphic imagery of the end. To the contrary, as the Word of God written, these end time texts place belief about the end at the center of our theology, and in such a way that it colors all that we see.

Much of the Bibles discussion of the end of time comes to us in the form of “apocalyptic”. Inherent in apocalyptic is a particular way of seeing the world. Much of the Bible is shaped by this ancient way of seeing. It draws its imagery from other ancient traditions. It views history as a cosmic struggle between darkness and light–between good and evil. It is a worldview that arises when times are particularly challenging and uncertain (like today…and worse). Though it employs ancient mythology and imagery, I believe that this way of seeing reveals truth–deep, profound truth that is relevant to our lives today.

In this morning’s text, in light of the end times, and when faced with the end of his own life here on earth, Jesus exhorts his disciples to “keep watch” (literally “keep awake”).

When Jesus says, “keep a sharp lookout,” he is telling us, I believe, not to be afraid to see the world for what it really is. He is telling us not to be afraid to face the challenges of the present time in your life and the world. Last week’s apocalyptic text about the sheep and the goats taught us about where Jesus will be until the end. This week’s text tells us where we are until the end.

You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to live in denial. You don’t have to get lost in ever more creative ways of escapism. Go ahead, read the leaves of the tree. Know what is coming. Go ahead, grapple with the science that tells us that the world is nearing its limit, and that if we don’t change, some kind of end is on its way. Go ahead, read the headlines about war and acts of terror, about politics and world affairs. Go ahead, look at the circumstances of your own life. Face the challenges in your relationships. Look at the limitations of your resources and energy and time. Go ahead and feel the wounds of your past. Open your eyes. Go ahead and look…and do not fear.

That second part, by the way, is the other message of apocalyptic end time texts. We don’t need to be afraid of darkness. We don’t need to be afraid of evil because our lives rest in the hands of a loving, generous, and wondrous God. Though times are dark, keep awake!

Because then you will see not only the world as it really is, but you will also see God as God really is.

Our lives and this world rest in the hands of a God who time and again proves to be larger than our limited ways of seeing. (Scripture reassures us of this time and again.) This larger God is a God who loves us, and is even now reaching out to pull us out of the depths of despair and crisis and place us on the road to life. This is the God whose coming we anticipate in this season.

What the story of the Bible tells us is that on the other side of this darkness that we face is Sabbath. That kind of time that we find both at the beginning of the Bible in Genesis (in the garden, Gen. 1-2) and at the end (in the new Jerusalem, Rev 22). It is a time of harmony and peace, intimacy and life as God always intended (and intends).

We don’t need to fear the end because when it comes, the day of the Lord “will be a Sabbath, a day when no labor is permitted and required, because all that God desires and all that the faithful seek will be achieved. It will be finished, done, accomplished, and not destroyed, but fulfilled, just as it was on the seventh day of creation.”

“We need fear nothing the future has to offer, and before that time comes and ends, we might emulate that generosity of God in the conduct of our own affairs, for as the great reformed theologian Matthew Henry wrote, “Our duty as Christians is always to keep heaven in our eye and earth under our feet.”2

So go ahead and look, my friends, and do not be afraid of 2012. Our lives rest in the hands of this Sabbath God.

1 See Wikipediaʼs entry for “2012”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012#2012_metaphysical_speculations

2 See Peter Gomes, “The Gospel and the Future” in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, HarperOne, p.158.

November 30, 2008

Rev. Paul Heins

First Presbyterian Church

Logan, Utah

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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