“THE END IS NEAR!” Who cares…

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Pentecost 23 | 11.17.2019 | Luke 21:5-9; 25-28

Today, Jesus refers to the BIG ending, the end-of-times, the great apocalypse, the final judgment day…and he says this:

…they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:27-28).

There’s a lot of talk these days, and seemingly always about the ‘end times.’ I’m talking about the end-of-times chatter like the people standing on street corners with signs that read ‘The End is Near!’, like the crazy Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye rapture books like The Late Great Planet Earth or Left Behind series, and their even more ridiculous movies meant to scare the heck out of us about ‘Judgment Day’; I’m also talking about the History Channel specials, and the TV preachers like Pat Robertson and Jack Van Impe who flood TV channels with their erroneous calculations and predictions for when the world is going to end.

All of these sources shouting about the end of the world have at least two things in common: a timetabled prediction for when it will happen and fear mongering. They supposedly decode parts of the bible, throw them into their buffoonery calculator, and then use their predictions to scare the hell out everybody. Literally. They make crazy predictions to scare you into believing and acting your way into heaven by staving off an apparent Rambo Jesus who’s ready to open fire on all the did-too-little sinners of earth.

But there’s a problem for all the end-of-time predictions and fear mongering preachers out there. Their problem…is Jesus.

Because, for instance, here’s what Jesus has to say about predicting timetable for the end of times:

  • …about that day and hour no one knows… (Mt 24:36/Mk 13:32).
  • And from our text today: Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come…and say…‘The time is near!’…do not [follow] them (Luke 21:8).

Hmm.

Apparently all these people decoding the Bible in order to determine the date and time of the end failed to get to the…part…of…the…Bible…where Jesus says no one will know the date and time of the end.

As one New Testament scholar says:

The force of Jesus’ warning in vv.7-11 is that the disciples should not be misled by the false prophets who will come claiming…that the time is near. Such claims are the words of charlatans who prey upon the gullible… (see v. 8).[1]

So, Jesus eviscerates any notion that this day can be predicted. Now, what about fearing this day as a violent and scary day?

Because the Left Behind series, the Late Great Planet Earth, and all these ‘rapture’ fear mongers on TV all describe this end-time event as something that will be destructive, terrifying, bloody, chaotic, and turbulent. BE AFRAID!

But, wait…does Jesus say. Well, in our text today he says this about the end of times:

  • Do not be terrified…when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:27-28).

So, Jesus does NOT say there will be some terrifying rapture with violence and destruction in its wake.

Now that I’ve said the word rapture a couple times, I better say a bit briefly about ‘rapture’. Those of you unfamiliar with rapture theology, GOOD. I hope it stays that way. And I am not going to dignify it by trying to explain it. But I will quote a biblical scholar who has this to say on the supposed scary and violent end-of-times rapture:

The Rapture is a racket…this theology distorts God’s vision for the world. In place of healing, the Rapture proclaims escape. In place of Jesus’ blessing of peacemakers, the Rapture…glorifies violence and war. In place of Revelation’s vision of the Lamb’s vulnerable self-giving love, the Rapture celebrates…lion-like wrath…Sadly, what gets ‘left behind’ by the Rapture plotline is the Bible itself.[2]

BURN.

I hammer all of this…because there’s enough fear in the world and in our lives—real or imagined—and what is Jesus’ message about the end times? His message is comfort, promise, and reassurance. “The gospel offers not a way of predicting the end of the world”; rather, it offers us “the spiritual resources to cope with adversity and hardship.”[3] According to Jesus, our ending, whenever that may be, is “not a time of fear and uncertainty, but one of encouragement and hope.”[4]

And it was because of those words of promise that Martin Luther reportedly said this to the apocalyptic fear mongers of his day: “[Even] If I knew the world were going to end tomorrow I would plant a tree.”[5]

 As if to say, Oh, God is bringing in the end-of-times? Who cares? I’m confident in the love of God. I’ll just carry on, thanks.

As I have said from this pulpit before and am more than happy to say again: put that in your apocalyptic pipe and smoke it.

Sisters and brothers, because of the love of God we should walk with such swagger, boldness, and confidence.

And such confidence in the grace of God makes me think of one of my favorite quotes on life by one of America’s greatest modern poets, Charles Bukowski:

We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.

 I love that…because what I think he’s is saying is…Have some fun. Work for peace. Laugh at anxiety. Be courageous in the face of death. And these are those are the things to which we are empowered by the grace of God.

Because of who God is and God promises to be, we don’t tremble at the end of times. In fact, we live so confidently in God’s grace that the end of times and death ought to tremble at US!

When Jesus gives us this sermon about the end of things here in Luke, it “isn’t a [fear mongering] timetable — it’s a letter of comfort and courage and invitation” to seizing the life given to us with “faith and confidence in Christ.”[6]

Christ promises redemption, not destruction – that is a promise made physical in our baptisms. So as any fear threatens to grip you, remember your baptism. Remember your identity and hope in the Christ who claims you. And may such a promise lead you to witness to the God of life, to plant apple trees, to stand up…[and] raise your heads (v. 28), to laugh at the odds, and live life so well that Death will tremble to take YOU. Amen.

     [1] R. Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke, The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), v. 9, 402.

     [2] Barbara R. Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Boulder: Westeview Press, 2004), 1.

     [3] Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke, 402.

     [4] Walter Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 602.

     [5] Rossing, Rapture Exposed, 16.

     [6] David J. Lose, “A Public Works Project,” Dear Working Preacher, workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2869.

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