Saturday, November 15, 2008

Endtimes Musings

During the month of November, the lectionary becomes very Endtimes-heavy.  The last few Sundays of the church year before we wrap back around to Advent 1 feature texts describing "the day of the Lord," or at least include admonitions to be prepared for its arrival.

We heard it last week with the parable of the bridesmaids and Paul talking about the dead saints being taken up first in 1 Thessalonians 4.

We'll hear more tomorrow by continuing in Paul's letter.  And next week, Reign of Christ Sunday, will feature the sheep and the goats being separated during the final judgment.

For the bridesmaids, I talked about the incredible emphasis that some Christians place on The End.  They pray that it comes as soon as possible (a bit escapist, no?) or they use it to justify not caring about working for justice or caring for the environment in the here and now, i.e., it's all going to burn anyway, so let's use and abuse it before it does.  This later attitude ignores statements about our being charged with creation's care in Psalm 8 or the implications of that sheep/goats parable.  

Anyway, my main point was that the five wise bridesmaids are commended not for what they did in the end, but that they did in the meantime.  They were ready for the groom's arrival, but they were more ready for his delay.  So in turn, we shouldn't focus so much time and energy on waiting for the end and instead should ask what we're called to do in the meantime.

As mentioned, tomorrow features 1 Thessalonians 5, which is Paul talking about the "day of the Lord."  It's the usual schtick: we won't see it coming, be prepared, yadda yadda.  This'll be a slightly more feisty sermon where I must have worked in a half dozen or so jabs at the Left Behind series in talking about how the "day of the Lord" is not a horror show but a love story.  The true emphasis for those who mention it in the scriptures is on God's fulfillment of shalom, of true lasting peace throughout the earth, and the creation of a new heaven and earth.  Things are destroyed, yes...evil, suffering, oppression, war.  These texts are texts of hope for a suffering, struggling community of faith, not suburban evangelicals.  They need to be read in that context.

Kingdom Grace was my muse for this one.  I need to mention that.

And next week?  Next week I'm on vacation.  But I love the sheep/goats parable.  I was actually sad to see that I'd miss it.  But that's okay.


Present and Accounted For said...

Hey, happened across your corner of th information highway and though you had some good thoughts. You need to be careful, though, in generalizing about people who may hold a particular theology. The "they' you refer to I assume is those who hold to a pretty strict dispensational theology. I grew up in that tradition and the truth is that the majority of those who are looking for Christ's return and pray for it to be soon (which the Apostle John did by the way) are very much concerned with the here and now and doing their best. They may not share the same priorities with you but their desire for the most part is not motivated primarily by a desire to escape but rather from a desire to be with Jesus because they love him. You don't need to agree with their theology but be careful about judging their hearts.

Jeff Nelson said...

Point taken, Present.

The inherent danger of such a theology, however, is escapism. Too much of a preoccupation with the endtimes can lead to it.

John, and Paul for that matter, earnestly hoped for and expected the end to come in their lifetimes. And understandably so, as they envisioned an end to the suffering being experienced by their communities; replacement of it by God's fulfillment of shalom. My thoughts are fresh off of hearing and reading Christians praying for Jesus to return soon just because their presidential candidate didn't win or for some other "culture war"-related reason.

John and Paul balanced their hope and expectation with admonitions to love one another, to care for the weakest of their communities, and to be inclusive of others. Certain modern theologies don't seem to me to encourage that balance.

That's fine if the motivation is to be with Jesus. In such a theology, is there no mention of the risen Christ being with us always, as is promised at the end of Matthew and at the communion table? Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus teaches that we need to be doing more than just desiring to be with him. That's why the sheep/goats parable is one of my favorites.