Lectionary Readings: Nov 17, 2013
- Luke 21: 5-19
- Malachi 4: 1-2
- Isaiah 12
- Isaiah 65: 17-25
Dr. Ian Paisley, the fiery Irish cleric and politician was reputed to have been preaching one Sunday on the End Times – and in particular on the Day of Judgement.
As he reached the climax of his address he said that on the Day of Judgement “there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth”.
At which point an old woman put up her hand and said “Dr. Paisley, I have no teeth”
Paisley replied “Madam, teeth will be provided”
The French news agency, Reuters, dubbed the decade 1994-2003, “the Decade of Disasters”. From 1994 to 2003, disasters killed 673,070 people and affected 2.58 billion people, causing $691 billion in estimated damage. In 2003 alone, 76,806 were reported killed.
Of course, all of that was before the December 26, 2004 earthquake and the resulting Tsunami, where killer waves slammed into the coastline of 11 Indian Ocean countries, resulting in at least 155,000 fatalities and 500,000 injuries. Some 5 million people lost their homes or access to food and water.
In the decade that followed we have the Haiti earthquake in 2010, with possibly as many as 159 thousand deaths. At least 3 million people were affected by this earthquake.
In March 2011, we watched in horror the breaking news and videos from the earthquake and resulting Tsunami in Japan and the Fukushima disaster. “Only” 20,000 people were killed in this disaster, with losses and rebuilding costing an estimated US$235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in world history.
In 2012, we have Hurricane Sandy, which once again “only” killed 199 people. Of course, when compared to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Sandy only caused economic damage, not the devastation.
Now we’re faced with the Philippine’s typhoon, with some 2,500 people confirmed dead and some 673 thousand people displaced. I can only imagine that these families have no food, water, money, or clothing. Most no longer have homes or jobs to go back to. Therefore, they have no pay-checks coming in to provide for basic necessities. Relief efforts, unfortunately, are blocked by the debris left by the typhoon, making it difficult for emergency crews and food and supplies to get to where they are most needed.
In ongoing conflicts, we have the civil war in Syria, where according to the United Nations, the death toll reached 120,000 by September 2013. More than 4 million Syrians have been displaced; more than 2 million Syrians fled the country.
Or what about climate change: Planet Earth stands on the cusp of disaster. This is not doom-laden talk but rather the considered opinion of 1,300 leading scientists from 95 countries who published a detailed assessment of the state of the world. Two-thirds of the delicately-balanced ecosystems studied have suffered badly at the hands of man over the past 50 years…
Does it sound like end times to you?
In Luke 21, verse 11, we read:
“There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.”
Unfortunately, these verses from Luke 21 get worse before they get better:
9 And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” 10 … “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. … 12 “But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. … 16 Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. 17 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.[c]
Looking forward to this with great expectation, are we? Do you cringe when you read these verses from Luke? Do you try to find another meaning in the words? Do you think – that’s not relevant to today’s Christian?
Part of the prophecy from Luke already came to pass: In AD 70 Titus, a Roman general, with 80,000 men, began a siege of Jerusalem. It was a difficult city to take, set on a hill, and defended to the death. The result was famine and terror, and there were even reports of cannibalism. At the end the Holy Place was burnt down; and Titus ordered the whole city and the Temple to be razed to the ground.
How many times will we look at the signs of the times and wonder?
All the disasters Jesus talks of in this discourse in Luke’s gospel could come together at this moment, or this afternoon. Or in a million years’ time. The fact is all that these things have happened at one time or another, sometimes two or three of them simultaneously.
The Bible commentator, Fitzmeyer writes, “There are almost as many interpretations of this passage as there are heads that think about it”.
Let me put it all in perspective for you: THE BLACK DEATH from 1338 to 1350 killed some 75 million people in 12 years! In some countries 90% of the population was wiped out.
WARS AND RUMOURS OF WARS: our world has lived through World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Nuclear arms race, Cuban Crisis, Berlin Wall, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Africa, Iraq again, Syria, the threat of Iran… – the list goes on and on.
There is nothing new in predictions of great catastrophe. From way before the time of Jesus right up to the present day predictions of the end of the world have come and gone and have often left people with egg on their faces.
These kinds of predictions don’t get me excited at all – I will admit, I cringed when I read the Lectionary readings for this morning.
¿This is what I have to speak about?
We should all note, Jesus refused to be drawn into speculation about the end times; “it is not for you to know the times or the dates that the Father has set by his own authority”….
But then again… why meditate and pray when you can worry…
How are we, as Christians, meant to react to all this turmoil in our world?
Jesus instructed us to get out there, outside of our comfort zones, and preach the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to be “witnesses”.
13 But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.[b] 14 So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, 15 for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! 18 … not a hair of your head will perish! 19 By standing firm, you will win your souls.
See… another passage that makes me uncomfortable! Another cringing on the inside!
But that’s what it says, “tell them about me”.
So, today I want to discuss what it means to be a Christian in times of unrest. What does it mean to be a witness of Christ?
Let you give you this from a legal perspective:
In a Court of Law, the witness is not the defence lawyer. He or she doesn’t have to explain why something happened. We are not here to protect or justify God or Christ. We don’t have to “fight” for God and explain why God is right and “you are wrong”. We are not put here on earth to “defend the Bible”.
The witness is not the prosecution lawyer either. We don’t have to try and convince people to make a decision. That’s not our job either. We don’t have to point the finger and call people sinners. We are neither the prosecutor, nor judge, nor jury, nor executioner. It’s not our job to judge others!
A witness is a person who can testify to what he or she has experienced or knows of first hand. All we are called to do is to say why it has made a difference in MY LIFE.
Christians are sometimes confused into thinking that everything should go perfectly, that there should be no more difficulties.
That hasn’t been your experience?
I’m a Christian, and things are going tough – so maybe I need a little more prayer… Or you get the guilt trip – ¿am I at fault? That’s it, if only I had more faith, the hard times would go away.
That’s not what the Bible has taught us:
It doesn’t say “take up your sack of gold and follow me”, but rather “take up your cross”.
When you put your faith in Christ you will STILL experience pressures and persecution.
Let’s consider for a moment, our perspective of inner peace: If I asked you to choose, which one of the following images conveys to you a message of inner peace, which would you choose: a Buddhist monk meditating or a Christian on his knees praying)?
How many would say the Buddhist Monk?
How many would say the Christian?
What’s wrong with this picture????
Let me remind you of one simple fact of life:
Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react.
THAT’s what being a Christian is all about. It’s not about “what happens to me”, but rather “how do I handle and react to these events”.
Have I found inner peace? Can I share that peace with others?
Am I willing to persevere, knowing that the Holy Spirit has given me strength to face this? Can I encourage others to keep on “keeping on”?
It’s irrelevant whether the prophecies of the end of times are coming true right now – the ONLY question we have to answer is: Am I taking each opportunity I am given to show God’s love to my neighbour?
Charles Swindoll reminds us:
… we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. …The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…
We can choose to worry.
We can choose to find inner peace.
Whatever we choose to do, we are called to bring God’s love and grace to people who may not have had the opportunity to experience it.
As we reach the Thanksgiving and Christmas season – I challenge each of you to take stock of your blessings, to take stock of your faith and your inner peace, and wherever you are at, that’s the place to start sharing from: whether you decide you have a lot to learn still or whether you feel that you have found peace, start sharing from there.
Creator God, we thank you for this day and for the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Lord, we pray not for tranquillity, nor that our tribulations cease; we pray for Your Spirit and Your love, and that You grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity; through Jesus Christ. Amen.