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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  • Affirmations of Faith

    On the last Sunday of October, ‘Mission Sunday,’ many of you helped us pack more than two hundred bags for a local school food distribution program.  Those bags of food went out to local schoolchildren, who live in food insecure settings, to keep their bellies full. The food we provided has the potential to ensure the schoolchildren are more successful in life and in their education.  In worship we sometimes use the phrase ‘Affirmation of Faith’ and then repeat a longstanding confession of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Brief Statement of Faith. I value reciting these affirmations, because they remind us of the core values we hold as Christians. But as I was thinking about this over the last few months, I believe that such mission work to the community around us is an even deeper affirmation of our faith by acknowledging Jesus’ call upon our lives, and then living out that ministry.

    I want to share information with you this month about another ministry which I believe is an affirmation of our faith. You have heard us talk about it quite a bit but may not know the details. For years now the Deacon’s Fund at First Presbyterian Church has provided financial assistance to those in our community facing immediate financial need that impacts their ability to live a healthy and productive life.

    There are social services around town, which provide supportive and meaningful resources, but there can be qualifications and restrictions associated with the access of those services. The Deacon’s Fund strives to offer judgment-free ministry to those who are facing financial challenges in life and helps people access these services.

    Barbara Troisi and Beth MacDonald are currently our two Deacon’s Fund facilitators.  They spend time each month looking at applications for assistance, and then distribute funds, which may involve multiple phone calls, trips to the store for Smith’s gift cards (useful for food or fuel), and various other tasks.  Prior to Beth and Barbara, other wonderful people contributed their efforts to this ministry: Linda Roberts, Tina Purintun, Kelly Rhea, Terry Brennand, Barbara Lutz (I am sure I have left a name or two off, please forgive me). Pam Riffe also makes contributions and supports people applying for these funds in her role as our office administrator.

    These are some of the ‘saints’ of the church. These are angels among us – superheroes, one might say – who make time in their lives to help others.

    The Deacon’s Fund recently received a large contribution from a couple in our community.  They are not part of our church, but they learned of our efforts to help local people through some friends who are church members.  They made this contribution to help those who are struggling to find sustainable and affordable housing. They wanted to make a significant contribution to help with housing issues and knew that First Presbyterian Church would be a wonderful avenue for those efforts. I am thankful for everyone who makes contributions to the Deacon’s Fund, small or large (most offerings to this ministry come in $10, $20, or $100 increments). Over the decades these dollars have helped hundreds of people in our community in moments of great need. This is truly part of the mission of the church, and one of the callings Jesus has placed upon us.

    Beth MacDonald is transitioning out of her role as a Deacon’s Fund facilitator at the end of the year (she will be plenty busy helping to organize and lead the Westminster Bell Choir). Thank you, Beth, for your efforts. This means we are looking for a new Deacon’s Fund coordinator to work alongside Barbara Troisi. If any of you would like to help, please let me know. If you have questions about this ministry, please talk to Beth, Barbara, or me. Beth has set up a nice spreadsheet to help keep track of funds received and funds dispersed. You don’t need to be a financial expert or math whiz to fill this role, only to have a caring heart.

    The ministry efforts of Mission Sunday and through the Deacon’s Fund are two of the wonderful aspects of First Presbyterian Church. Our calling as a faith community is certainly to worship and praise the Lord, but also to share the good news and make helpful, life-affirming contributions to the community and world around us. I pray that our ministry together continues to be vigorous.

    May the grace and peace of Christ be with you all,

    Pastor Derek

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