Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Ready For the End

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 and Luke 21:5-19

 Just in case you were wondering, the answer is no, I didn’t just pick that text from Luke at random.  Both of this morning’s texts are from the Christian lectionary, which gives four Scriptures for each Sunday of the year.  But it did occur to me that this might be an appropriate text for this week.  You see, this text is about what most people would call “the end of the world.”  And no matter how things shook out on Tuesday, at least some people were going to think it was the end of the world.  Trump won, and some people think that’s the end of the world.  If Hillary had won, other people would have called that the end of the world.  And just to be fair to all perspectives, some people thought it would be the end of the world no matter who won.  

 But getting into the text:  The disciples are talking about the great stonework of the Jerusalem Temple.  It has been gone for 2000 years now, and all we have for information about it are some old historical descriptions from the Jewish historian, Josephus, and some others.  But it must have been a sight to behold.

 The “Temple Mount,” the raised area on the eastern side of Jerusalem was almost 40 acres in size.  The retaining walls built to create this enormous artificial plateau were as much as 100 feet high.  They were built out of stone as large as 45 feet long and weighing 600 tons.  And the whole Temple complex, the courtyards, the colonnades, the walls, and so on, were all made out of brilliant white marble.  Visitors to Jerusalem said that it looked like the city was crowned a snow-capped mountain when the sun shone on it.  

 On top of it was the Temple itself, which was another 90 feet tall.  The front of the Temple was clad in pure gold.  People said that if you tried to look at as the morning sun came up over the Mount of Olives, you just couldn’t.  You had to avert your eyes; such was the brilliance of the Temple.  

 The disciples were overwhelmed by it.  But Jesus drops a bombshell on them when he says, “It will soon all be destroyed.  Not one block will be left on top of another.”  That prophecy came true in less than 40 years.  The Jewish people revolted against the Romans in 66 AD.  The Romans retaliated with brutal force, and when it was all over, more than a million Jews were dead and Jerusalem was destroyed.  

 There will always be a temptation to seek security in strength and greatness.  But it is a false security.  No great nation or empire has endured for more than a few

hundred years on this earth.  We can also fall prey to this temptation.  In 1991, the end of the Cold War, the United States certainly seemed to be the greatest nation on earth.  How long did that feeling of security last?  Less than a decade.  I would say September 11, 2001 was the end of that false feeling of security.

 Jesus’ prophecy leads into his discourse on the events leading up to the end.  The Jewish people believed in “The Day of the Lord,” a day of judgment that stands between this present age and the age to come.  We understand that day to be the return of Christ, his “Second Coming,” when the old creation will pass away and a new creation will take its place.  

 Jesus speaks here about the kind of things that will happen before that day.  

 There will be false Messiahs.  I don’t think that we should understand false Messiahs just to be people who claim to be Jesus.  I think we should understand that in a more general way.  False Messiahs are any people who claim that they can give us peace, security, prosperity, and we should put our hope in them.  Hitler was certainly a false Messiah by that measure.  You might also want to think about some recent presidential campaigns here.

 There will be wars, insurrections, epidemics, earthquakes, and so on.  These things have always been part of the normal course of history on planet earth.  We live in a fallen creation, fallen away from the original goodness God created.  So these things are normal in this world.  But I think they can often be used by those who want us to look to them to offer peace, security, and so on.  

 There will be persecution of God’s people.  

 Are we being persecuted as Christians today in America?  Some say yes; others no.  If you want my opinion, no, I don’t think we are being persecuted today, but I do think we are on the brink.  Certainly there are some in our society who persecute Christians, mostly verbally and by means of exclusion, not really violently.  But I don’t think our society as a whole persecutes Christians yet.  I think it’s on the horizon, but not yet.  And honestly, we do a disservice to Christians who are enduring real persecution when we call silly things persecution.  Wal-Mart is not persecuting you when the sign says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” just so you know.

 Instead of worrying about these kind of things, we should be concerned with standing firm in our faith and being prepared to testify about our faith and hope in Jesus Christ.  We can’t control what happens or what the world does to us, but we can control what we do in response.  Remaining faithful and offering a solid testimony is our responsibility.

 We also heard earlier from 2 Thessalonians 3.  That chapter speaks to preparedness for the return of Christ, but from a very different perspective.  Some people in Thessalonica were using the return of Christ as an excuse for laziness.  They were not doing their daily work.  They were begging food off of other believers rather than tending to their own affairs.  They were idly passing the time in gossip or “nebbing,” as we call it.  You know that old saying about “Idle hands are the devil’s instruments?”  Well, that’s the basic idea.  

 Gossip really is a problem in the life of many churches.  Here’s the thing about gossip:  It makes us feel like we are “insiders,” like we know things most people don’t know.  And we might even think that we are “looking out for other people” in some way by gossip.  But it really is destructive, both to individuals and to Christian communities.  

 Why were they doing this?  Why were people quitting their work and just sitting around waiting for Jesus to come back?  Part of it may have been cultural.  Thessalonica was a Greek city.  In Greek culture, manual labor was not looked upon in high regard.  The wealthy did not do manual labor.  And of course, people in lower classes wanted to be like the wealthy.  

 It may also have been the influence of the Cynics.  The Cynics were a school of philosophers, and they also despised work.  They begged their way through life.  Perhaps some Christians were following their example.  

 By contrast, Jewish culture highly valued hard work.  Rabbis could earn a living just by teaching, but most of them worked a day job as well.  It was believed that manual labor was necessary for true wisdom.  After all, we are made in the image of a working God.  The first thing we see God doing in Scripture is laboring at creation.  And when God became flesh, he worked as a carpenter, building things with his hands.  

 So Paul says, “If someone refuses to work, they should not eat.”  The issue is not someone who is unable to work, but rather someone who is able but refuses.  We

should each earn our own livelihood and also “do good,” which was a Jewish way of saying to be charitable, to give to others who are in genuine need.  

 Rest is necessary for a balanced life.  We do need to take Sabbath rest to be whole people.  And recreation is necessary.  We need things that are not economically productive but which are restorative to our souls.  But laziness is harmful to us.  

 By the way, work and a job are not the same thing.  In other words, doing things that are productive and beneficial are not the same thing as earning a paycheck.  Many of us are able to retire from having a job at some point, but that doesn’t mean we should stop working.  Work is good for us.  It is good to do things that are productive and constructive.  

 How does that fit into a discussion about the return of Christ?  Well, if we don’t know the day or hour, then we shouldn’t sit around waiting for it to happen.  We should continue in our daily life until it happens.  We just need to be ready spiritually.

 How do we prepare spiritually for the return of Christ?  

 First, we should accept that there will be difficulties.  Life isn’t easy in this world.  We may face challenges even from our family and friends, if we want to stay faithful to Christ.  And we may even be persecuted for our faith.

 And second, we must be prepared to stand firm, to keep our faith, even in the face of difficulties.  

 Jesus never promised us ease or comfort.  But he promised that he would always be with us.  And he promised us that he will give us protection beyond all the perils of this world.  “By standing firm, you will win your souls.”  

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