One of my work responsibilities is to assess and manage the diocesan risk plan, reducing risk, minimising harm; being watchful and alert to ensure our Churches, buildings, communities and individuals are safe. We put in place strategies to do this across our communities; and we make sure we are prepared.
In our lives, as individuals and for our families we take out insurance, we look after our houses, we teach our children and grandchildren good life strategies, about what is important in life. We put money into superannuation, we take out private health insurance if we can afford it, we read the economic signs, and we have water tanks, pantries and things that will help us live comfortably. We are responsible for ourselves and our lives and try hard not to be dependent on others.
There will be signs in the sun and the moon, and the stars and on the earth distress among the nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken (Luke 21:25-27)
These are difficult verses. How are we meant to think about the end of the world? These verses and the ones before them are described as apocalyptic prophecies which means ‘unveiling’ or ‘revealing’ prophecies about end times.
When Luke was writing, his listeners knew what had happened to Jerusalem in graphic detail. The siege of Jerusalem and the sacking, rape, pillaging and slaughter of the Jews by the Romans was appalling. It was a recent memory.
Across the world today and in Australia, there are people who have directly experienced similar disasters and whose worlds have ended, in Rwanda, Cambodia, in Europe, in South America and our first nation peoples. We are fortunate indeed to live presently in a stable democracy where power is transitioned without murder and terror.
Sometimes we do manage to think about this through the stories of refugees, as we watch, listen and learn from a safe distance about the impact of war, death, natural disasters and the horror of losing everything we love and know as familiar.
However, in our way of thinking about what is happening around us, we have distorted the meaning of faith by aligning it with the Western idea of progress. When we think of history as progress, we imagine the continuum of advancement will never stop. Jesus’ words defy our rational minds and challenge our way of thinking about history as moving in a logical and progressive manner. This makes it very difficult to deal with Jesus’ reflections and the disruptive nature of his prophecies of the end times.
When we join up our faith in our progress with our confidence in our own abilities to manage the risks and in our own self-sufficiency, we are blinded to the ways in which our unseen God may be at work in our community and with each of us, near and far.
Jesus’ predictions to his original audience and those to whom Luke was writing, about the fate of the temple were correct. It happened, and we only have to look at human history to know it will happen again.
Importantly, the core message of Jesus’ prophecy is about redemption, not warnings of catastrophe, hellfire and death. This is not an instruction to pull your risk management plans of the shelf, build bunkers in the woods, stock your pantries and seek to make enough money to insulate yourself from your neighbours. All you are doing is insulating yourself from God.
The death and destruction of the world is a consequence of our behaviours and our blindness to God. This is our story we choose, rather than the central story being told by Jesus, who reminds us never to forget God’s love for us (see John 3:16-17).
The point of these end times reflections is not to inspire terror but to strengthen our faith in God who works in real time. We are being asked to recognise what is happening with God at work now, here, near, around us; even in places where we might not expect to see it.
Jesus’ prophecies are not intended to scare, coerce, or even intimidate us as disciples into spiritual submission to avert death and hell. We are not being asked to believe that if I am good enough, rich enough, privileged enough, God will bless me, look after me and I’ll be alright even if others are not.
We should never allow the fear of death to force us into doing what love cannot inspire in us as faith.
The end time prophecies appeal to our Christian faith in God, rather than to human progress and our own capacities. It calls us to trust God is at work, despite all appearances to the contrary. Jesus’ desire is to open each of us to the experience of full faith and trust in God.
And let us not forget, amid the fears which are often used to strike terror, this is not the end, but a transition into the new beginnings for each of us and for the world, as God’s creation in Jesus Christ.
I find in the waiting for Christ’s coming as I pray and reflect in my faith journey, it is a gift of waiting, quietness and of accepting consolation as the end is not the end, desolation is not the last word.
God did not provide escape from massive suffering by you and I needing to be really good, or by accumulating treasures on earth as an escape clause in the risk management plan. God is providing a new world to dawn and redemption which continues to come.
We are told;
Then 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.’ (21:27-28)
Someone wrote about the most recent end times prophecy (for December 2012 according to the Mayan calendar):
I am not afraid that the world will end in 2012. I am afraid it will stay the same.
For us as Christians, we wait, prepare, stay alert. We look out for the signs, which Jesus tells us will be so obvious that for us it will look like the leaves on the vines bursting into life – so obvious we know immediately what it means: spring is coming, the grapes for the next wine harvest are on their way. So my questions for you are:
What is Jesus revealing to us that we need to understand and make sense of in our lives?
Are there things we should be doing but aren’t?
Are there things we are doing, which we shouldn’t?
How many of us look to the politicians, the economists, the world leaders, to set our lives right and provide us with direction?
How many of us reach for our mobile devices to catch up on the latest news, the latest Trump twitter, the latest comment by our favourite politician to show that things will be alright, or not, depending on our ideological beliefs?
How many of us are not praying, not preparing, not looking to Jesus and not reading the signs telling us Jesus is near, is here, is close right now?
Our preparation has to do with the state of our hearts and affections, our life’s focus, our priorities, our alertness, keeping our wits about ourselves. Jesus also reminded us dissipation is to do with wasting resources and excessive living, whether its drunkenness, or too much consumption, focussing on wealth, which dull our senses and leave us ill-prepared for the nearness of the kingdom.
Our society teaches us to depend on a combination of fear, blame and suspicion. Instead, with love Jesus is teaching us how to live with firm resolve in a perpetual state of preparedness and ‘be on guard’.
This invites us into spiritual engagement with the world, offering us the way to live through difficult times with prayer, preparation and strength, trusting in God’s love. This will enable us to escape from the weariness through which the worries of this world seek to define us, control us and close our minds to any other way of living.
In finishing, it is worth reminding ourselves there is no escaping or rejecting the kingdom of God as a fact; because in fact it is already here. So, we respond to Jesus’ call and ‘stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near’ (Luke 21:28).
The Lord be with you