Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 33, Luke 21:5-19
November 15, 1998
For some people, there are many reasons why we should be worried today. The upcoming Provincial election, for example, could be the beginning of the end for our beloved country. In addition, a lot of people are worried about the year 2000. One religious fanatic in the U.S, for example, led people to commit mass suicide, believing that the end of the world was imminent at the threshold of the new millennium. So-called "Millennium Bug" in the computer systems is worrying many people, and the rumour has it that our government has a secret plan to mobilize the entire Armed forces and the Police to deal with the chaos caused by the massive failures of computers in such essential services like banking, business records, hydro power distribution systems, transportation, etc. Some people declare that the recent spate of unusual and often disastrous weather patterns, and endemic of terminal diseases like AIDS and cancer are the signals to warn us about the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ, the last judgement, and the end of the world. What are we supposed to think about those predictions of doom and gloom? The message of Christ is very clear. "Do not be led astray by those who come in my name to predict the imminent end of time."
When the books in the New Testament were being written, many people in the church were in a collective state of anxiety. They were waiting for Jesus Christ to come back to establish the Kingdom of God, as he promised. But Jesus did not come back as they expected. So they kept on waiting. In the meantime, the Roman Empire began to persecute the Christians, and many started to die. They were very worried that those who had died before the second coming of Christ might have missed the chance to enter the Kingdom of God. They thought, wrongly I must say, that such a kingdom would come in the form of a political system, and would defeat the Roman Empire. Christ the King would sit on the throne, and all the Christians would be vindicated. So every time, something disastrous or unusual happened, always there were a certain number of people who declared that it was the sign of the second coming. They became very agitated, when they saw or heard about events like insurrections and riots, wars between nations, earthquakes and other natural calamities, spread of plagues and other deadly diseases. As the result, some people began to behave strangely. They quit work and refused to pay taxes. The Christians in Jerusalem sold all their personal property and started to live together sharing all possessions. Having to meet in secret in small groups in homes and underground cemeteries at night so that nobody outside of the church would find them did not lessen their anxiety. But fear is not what the message of the Kingdom of God is supposed to generate. The Gospel is the good news of freedom, hope, and love, not a blackmail of doom and gloom.
This is why the New Testament is full of teachings like: the "Judgement Day" will sneak up on you like a thief, so be prepared, always keep oil in your lamp; or calamities and rumours of calamities are not necessarily the signs, so do not be swayed by those events even though some false prophets may scare you by saying "the Day is coming." It”s like my mother who kept telling me, "Always wear clean underwear. You never know." The message is clear: "Live a normal good life. Then there is no need to worry about the judgment of God or the end of the world. Give your best whatever you do, and always love others and be faithful to God. When the faithful life-style becomes your habit like brushing your teeth, you are ready to meet Christ anytime." This is why the Gospel teaches us to be kind and loving always; to give water to the thirsty and feed the hungry, visit the sick and prisoners, clothe the naked; they are Jesus Christ in disguise.
A problem is, however, our short-sightedness. We want to know the conclusion, soon. This is why we are easy suckers for those pundits who claim to predict the future. We don”t have patience to live in ambiguity and wait. This is why some unwise parents get so upset when their teenage children rebel and become obnoxious, even though we know in theory that teenage rebellion is a normal process of growing up. This is why there is so much "eschatology" among religious people. Eschatology is the whole gamut of talk about future – prediction of an ideal world in the Isaiah 65 or talk of doom and gloom like the end of the world. The first such story in the Bible is the Noah”s Ark. There are a few books like Daniel and Revelation that are almost totally dedicated to eschatology. Jesus spoke about it often, so did the Apostles.
But if you read all these eschatological writings carefully, the message is always the same. If you are faithful to God in your daily life and love your neighbours, there should be no reason to worry. You must live as though you meet Jesus Christ everyday. Everytime you love someone, and especially when you extend your kindness to those who need it, you are being kind to Christ. Difficult or unusual situations must not upset you nor push you into despair. They do not signal the end of the world.
In fact, my personal belief is; Jesus Christ did come back on the day of Pentecost, and He lives among us in Spirit. All of us have a bit of Christ in us. Christ has come back and he lives with us who believe in him. Also I believe that the Kingdom of God is here already. You may think that this world is too corrupt and too rotten to be the Kingdom of God. Remember Jesus said, "Kingdom of God is at hand." It is like a nation becoming a state. You first "declare" the statehood of your nation. You begin the work of building the nation-state after the declaration. Canada was declared a state more than a hundred years ago when the British North America Act was enacted. We still have many problems. But together we are working to build up this country. Canada is here, and yet not complete. So is the Kingdom of God. Heaven is here, and yet not.
Because there are many events to disturb us, you may want to ask, "When do we know for sure that Christ is with us?" It is like asking, "When do I see the proof of your love?" The answer is, "Now or never. If you trust me, the proof is everywhere. But if you don”t have faith in me, you will never know." According to today”s lesson the answer to many disturbing questions is, "We will know now, or never." It all depends on our faith. But I believe that Christ has come back and is with us. Let us work hard to complete the project he has started; to complete building heaven on earth.