There Will Be Signs
(Preached at Normal First UMC on Dec. 12, 2012. Scripture text is Luke 21: 25-36)
It’s happening again. All over the world, people, governments and various religious groups believe the world will come to an end Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. This latest end of the world prophecy has its genesis in the Mayan calendar. Again, paranoia is spreading about impending wars and rumors of wars, droughts, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes, global warming and famine, disease, terrorist attacks and solar storms. If the Mayan prophecy is “legit”, there’s not much time to prepare for the end of the world.
The gospel reading for today would have us think on these things. Is this scriptural rehearsal of disasters, natural and those made with human hands meant to scare us into doing the right things, not really? Jesus’ message about what will happen during the eschaton and/or apocalypse is a cause for hope. Let’s see how this hope evolves from a path that seems to go only one way, down. The pathway to an “up” is to read the signs and take from what our Lord prognosticates. So, I have lifted a segment of the first line of today’s gospel to share one reflection on the end times, namely “There will be Signs.”
Your Senior Pastor echoed that sentiment when he sent instructions about a Parking Spot. He wrote and I quote, “A “marked” spot will be on the west side of the building next to the entrance with the awning.” His was a caring message but not without challenges. To park in the “spot” designated for me: I’d have to ignore other spaces that were open. Two, find the west side of the building. Three, look for the entrance with an awning. Four, park in the spot marked for the Bishop. (In passing, I read the sign, came to the west side of the building, saw the awning and parked in my spot; Yeah!)
Take note, signs carry a message which one must read, understand and implement to reap the benefit intended by the sign maker. “Lord, how are we to read signs in the sun, moon, stars and disasters on earth? Are not most of us amateurs i.e., non-scientists regarding the natural world, etc.? True, But our Lord urges us to act on what we know about these signs. The sun is good for us. We need it. Too much sun may cause skin cancer, premature aging and blindness. Some say too many manmade chemicals are destroying the ozone layer. Over time, destruction of the sun’s ozone means “curtains” for humankind if the ozone layer is destroyed.
Astrologers read the moon for horoscopes. Movie moguls use the moon to communicate fear and love. Folks love to watch the moon and ask it questions. In children’s lore, “the cow jumped over the moon.” Others fear moonlight because of the so-called nocturnal activity of vampires and werewolves. But it is the gravitational pull of moon that controls high and low tides. If one is near a coastland or has built his/her house on a floodplain, cannot or will not move to higher ground when the likes of Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina visit our shores, “Lord have mercy.”
Similar consequences may result from shooting stars fallen to earth, natural and human disasters. They keep our world in turmoil be it the death and dying in the Middle East, folks left homeless, jobless and without health insurance by Hurricane Sandy, a Bishop involuntarily retired in the tumult of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference and returned to office by the action of Judicial Council, lament and concern rife in our nation during the Presidential Election and what some pundits see as “the End” should Uncle Sam go over the “Fiscal Cliff.” All the while, our Lord poses a question, what is the meaning of these things? Should our response, be fear or faith? Our Lord wishes our response to be one of faith. Yet, he knows human nature. We are more prone to fear than faith. Quite frankly, Jesus spends most of time telling anyone who hears, “Do Not Fear.” If we must fear says our Lord, “fear the one who can kill body and soul.”
Our Lord has already seen fear in the eye of his disciples during a visit to the temple. Notice an earlier section of Luke 21, specifically 5-21. Jesus and his disciples are attending worship. Two matters draw attention. First, our Lord points out the disparity in giving between the poor widow and the rich people. Relative to what each possesses, the poor widow gives more to the ministry than the rich. Some of the disciples seem more impressed with the magnificence of the temple than the widow’s might. The temple was “adorned with stones and gifts dedicated to God.” Thanks to numerous donors, it was exquisite and indescribably beautiful like the Mormon temple in Utah. However, their admiration of the temple is shaken by the prophecy Jesus utters. “This temple won’t last,” Jesus says. One day, “not one stone will be left upon another.” Disturbed over the predicted destruction of the most sacred place in Jerusalem, the disciples ask their Master for a sign.
So our Lord shares a list of signs for his disciples to watch for. Do not let them to separate you from your faith. One, people will try to separate you from your faith. Two, you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Three, nations will rise up against nation. Four, earthquakes, famines, plagues…and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven will occur. Five, you will experience religious persecution. Come what may, hold on to your faith. It’s easy to hold on to one’s faith when all is right with the world less so when it’s not. Can we hold on to our faith in the face of all these destructive signs.
While the disciples are digesting Jesus” first prophecy, he hits them with a second. Jerusalem, The Holy City, is going to be destroyed as well!! That is like unto repressed fear that reigns in these United States when or if America is no longer number one among the nations. After our Lord and his disciples leave the worship service, I can imagine Jesus’ disciples asking him if he could talk about something else, something uplifting or something joyful. Jesus already had. He wanted folks to face the future with hope but fear kept taking over. Our apprehensions have made us vulnerable too.
Twelve years ago, the world was on pins and needles. No Mayan Calendar produced this scare. No Bible thumping preacher /prophet sounded the alarm. Computer geeks and gurus led the way. They fed the dread with two letters and a number, Y2K. January 1, 2000 the world would be changed forever. “Our computer systems around the world would cease to function,” they said. As a result, planes might crash. Nuclear missiles could be launched by mistake. GPS systems could run amuck. Crashes might occur at the Panama Canal, busy 24/7. We’d have to get along without bulletins certainly those of the projected kind. Access to systems producing water to drink, electricity to light our ways, gas to propel our cars, protect our citizens from war and the rumors of war meant immediate cessation of our way of life-void of the basic necessities much less luxuries.
When these signs were mentioned, paranoia and/or panic broke out around the world. My only son instructed me to get money out of the bank, stock up on food and water, and gather with family in waiting for the great day of calamity. I disobeyed him and preached watch night service in Chicago. Y2K scared us. Yet, the world didn’t end. We made it through. We lived to talk about it. However, the global cost of getting ready for Y2K and assuaging our fears cost the world an estimated “$300 -$600 billion dollars.” The estimated $300 to $600 billion dollars spent to prepare for Y2K declares that the world took the word of computer geeks and gurus seriously. For when the world clock turned to midnight accompanied by the singing of Auld Lang Syne or Nearer My God to Thee, we sailed into a new century with hardly a malfunction on countless computer systems around the world.
If we take the Word of God more seriously than the progenitors of the Y2K scare, we can sail toward Dec. 21, 2012, and any date hence confident that his truth is marching on. First, spending countless hours trying to figure out the day and the hour of his Second Coming is useless. We know neither the day nor the hour of his coming. According to Mark 13:32, neither does the Son of Man. Some of the disciples or their friends thought they could pin it down believing the end would come in their lifetime. 2000 years later, the end has not come. In every century between the first and the 21st centuries, folks have tried and failed to predict the end. They failed with Y2K. The failure will be repeated Dec. 21, 2012. Jesus said it, not I. “Have done with lesser things.”
Second, read, understand and act on the signs in order to reap the benefits intended by the sign maker. Hear it again. The gospel declares there will be signs in the sun, moon and the stars-signs on earth in the distress among the nations-signs of some people fainting in fear and foreboding of what is to come upon the world. After that, our text says don’t look for death and destruction. Look for the Son of Man. He is coming in a cloud with power and glory. It’s Jesus, the same God that John baptized in the River Jordan and called twelve disciples-the same one who fed 5000, healed the woman with the issue of blood and raised Lazarus from the grave-Jesus, the same one who preached and taught the world to love God and neighbor-Jesus, the same one who died on Calvary for the sins of the whole world-Jesus, the same one that has seen you, your family and/or church “through many dangers, toils and snares.” That’s who is coming back. His character won’t be all that different. When our Lord returns, our Lord will urge every disciple not to despair over the last judgment or become frightened by end times. “Stand up, raise your heads, because your redemption is near,” says the Lord. Judgment will never set aside Jesus’ top priority, i.e. redemption. Jesus is coming back to complete the task of redemption. However, one thing is required of us, prepare for his coming 24/7. Do so with a commitment and passion that exceeds our getting ready for Y2K.
Given Jesus’ description of the Second coming, this carol is a good sign. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart, prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing.” Glory Hallelujah! Amen.