Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
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Living In the Shadow of Eternity

Luke 21:25-36

 For us modern 21st century Americans, living in an age of reason and science, I guess there are some parts of the Bible that are just easier to skip over.  This would be one of them.  If you just say the phrase, “The end of the world is near!” you will most certainly get some strange looks.  Someone might even offer to give you a sandwich board sign so that you can go stand on a street corner and shout your message to passers-by.  Be sure to wear dirty old clothes, just to complete the ensemble.  

 But this is a part of our story.  It’s not even as if it’s something that just shows up once in the Bible.  There are at least eight books in the New Testament alone that speak about an end of this world as we know it and the coming of a new creation and the return of Jesus Christ.  So it’s not something that we can just skip over, if we want to be faithful to the message of Scripture.  

 And I would also say that it is a necessary part of the Christian story.  In Bible study this fall, we were looking at the book of Genesis, another one of those parts of the Bible that “rational” people might be tempted to skip, and we see there that sin is not just something that affects us as individuals.  Sin affects everything in creation.  As Romans 8 says, all of creation is “groaning” as it waits for its deliverance from death and decay.  And if we want to understand redemption in the fullest sense, we need to understand that God’s desire is to redeem creation, not just Christians.  

 Jesus speaks in this passage about some of the ways we see creation “groaning”:  signs in the heavens, roaring seas, and strange tides.  And if we were to look through the rest of this chapter and some similar passages in Scripture, we would come up with a longer list of signs of creation groaning:  wars, famines, earthquakes, disease, persecution, and so on.  

 I would say that all of those things are “generic” enough that we can see them at pretty much any time, if we want to.  For example, Jesus speaks about roaring seas and strange tides, and the first thing I thought of was the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, and more recently the Japan Tsunami.  It would be very easy to read that and think, “Jesus must have been talking about today!”  But we could find these kinds of signs at any time, if we wanted to.  And every generation has looked around at the disasters and struggles of their time and thought, “Surely, the end is near!”

 I’ve always been a fan of mysteries, and I usually watch documentaries about them whenever I get the chance.  Some years ago I saw a show about the Bermuda Triangle, which is an area of the Atlantic Ocean where a large number of mysterious things have happened:  Ships and planes disappearing especially.  One of the things they talked about in this show is that if you pick pretty much any place in the world that sees as much traffic as the Bermuda Triangle, you can find plenty of mysterious stories.  And they picked another place in the Atlantic Ocean that was just as busy and talked about all the strange things that have happened there.  It was convincing.  If you want to see strange things, you can find them anywhere.  If we want to see “signs” that the end is near, we can find them.  

 I believe Jesus did that on purpose.  I think he talked about things that were generic enough that they could be found at any time for a reason.  These constant “signs of the end” are constant reminders that this world is passing away.  This creation is groaning, as it awaits its redemption.  

 The only really specific sign Jesus talked about was the destruction of Jerusalem, and the destruction of its Temple.  And he said it would happen within a generation, which in Scripture, was often used for a period of 40 years.  And that’s just what happened.  Jesus spoke those words in 30 or 33 AD, depending on which date of his death and resurrection you accept, and within 40 years, Jerusalem was leveled by Rome in 70 AD.  And I think that from that moment on, Jesus’ return has always been imminent, always something that could happen at any moment.  

 All the other signs, wars, famines, earthquakes, and such, are just constant reminders that this world is passing away and Christ’s return could happen at any moment.  And if we want to look for reasons to be afraid, we can find them.  Just think about the things that we’ve seen in the last year or two:  Turmoil in the Middle East, the threat of a nuclear Iran, drought and heat in the US, soaring food prices, a threatening debt crisis in the US, and a worse one in Europe.  

 And the world does find reason to be anxious and afraid in the midst of all this.  Just like Jesus said, “People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth.”  

 But Jesus has a different message for us in the midst of all this.  For us, Jesus says, “Look up, for your salvation is near.”  Rather than being afraid in the midst of the turmoil of this world, we are to be hopeful and full of expectation.  Because we have

this hope:  On the other side of this present darkness is the light of Jesus Christ.  And he assures us that even if everything else passes away, his words will not pass away, and his promise to us is one of redemption.  

 There is, however, still danger out there.  “Watch out!  Don’t let your hearts be dulled by careless ease, drunkenness, and the worries of this life.”  Your translation of the Bible might render that a little differently, but I think Jesus is warning us about three very real dangers.

 The first is complacency, careless ease.  This is the attitude that leads us to say, “Well, I’ve got plenty of time to worry about that later!”  I would say this is the “Eleventh hour conversion” crowd, as in “I’ll make my peace with God later.  I’m busy with other things now.”  It’s also the “I’ll get back to church when things aren’t so busy” crowd.  Good luck with that one.  If things ever become less busy for you, please pass on the secret to me, because I could so use some of that!

 The second danger is “drunkenness.”  Actually, in this case, I like the older word better.  The old word used here was “dissipation.”  What is that?  I think it’s best summed up by an old commercial that said, “You only go around once, so grab for all the gusto you can.”  In other words, live it up.  Not just alcohol, but anything that allows us to “drown out” the world:  partying, sports, consuming ourselves with our interests.  After all, if we don’t know what the future holds, it’s always tempting to lose ourselves in the present. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die!

 And the third danger is the anxieties of this life.  It’s about getting so wrapped up in the things of this world that we don’t think of the world to come.  That could mean financial things, of course.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart.”  But it can be so many other things of this world as well.

 And I think all of these continue to be great dangers to the Christian life.  

 I see a lot of “complacency” as a pastor.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “I’ve been meaning to get back to church, pastor,” boy, I’d have a lot of nickels.  Well, I’d certainly be happy for them to “get back to church,” as if Church is just a place we go, but what really concerns me is, “Are they prepared to meet Jesus Christ?”  

 We may not think we have a problem with “dissipation,” but it can also be a temptation for us.  I think about it every time football season comes around.  I worry

just how much time I spend thinking about what is, in the end, just a game.  And when I look at the garbage on television, I think to myself, “We are very good at wasting time with pleasurable diversions.”  

 And we can also get wrapped up in the “anxieties of this life.”  I couldn’t help but notice how much time and attention people, including many Christians I know, put into the recent elections.  Some people were really invested in one outcome or the other.  But at the end of the day, we should care much more who is our King in eternity than who is our president for four years.  

 What we really need as Christians is steady faithfulness.  We need it because we are living our lives in the shadow of eternity.  It is always hanging over us.  And every day is an opportunity for us to be either more or less prepared for it.  

 And even if we find the language of “the end of the world” to be too difficult, we are always living in the shadow of the end of our world.  Our lives are fragile, and we don’t know that we have any more time before we meet Christ, no matter how much longer the rest of the world goes on.

 If we have a steady faith in Christ, then we do not need to be afraid when the “seas roar and the heavens shake.”  And if these things do cause us anxiety, I think that should be a sign to us to go back and examine our own lives.  Are we prepared for eternity?  

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