THE END IS COMING!
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 15th 2009
Hebrews 10: 31 “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
This week saw the release of another movie about the end of the world, called “2012”. This one is a little different to the usual ones. It is not about aliens attacking us and taking us away, or the fall-out from atomic warfare – but about the explosion of our planet itself. Yes, in 2012 global warming will have fulfilled its threat.
I couldn’t help wondering if those in charge of publicity for releasing the movie last week were Episcopalians. Obviously they had seen today’s readings and thought that it was the perfect week to release a movie about the end of the world!
All of today’s readings are about the end of the world. They have prophecies about the end of time and the second coming of Christ – and it’s scary.
The Gospel (Mark 13:14-23) makes it clear that Christ will come again, and it will be a time of great tribulation for the world. In the first reading (Daniel12:1-4) the prophet Daniel takes up the same theme. He says there will be judgment for every living person on the earth. Psalm 16:5-11 is much more hopeful, particularly verse 11: “Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell: neither shall thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption”.
This verse is a promise to all God’s people. We shall not be left in hell if we are faithful. The verse was particularly used by Saint Peter in his first sermon, on the feast of Pentecost, when he preached to the crowd about the resurrection of Christ – and he quoted this verse to refer to Jesus himself.
In the same way, Saint Paul refers to Christ in his resurrection as being the “first fruits of all who have fallen asleep”. That is, Jesus rose from the dead to lead all his people to eternal life. Psalm 16 is more hopeful in its interpretation of the end of the world and the second coming. In this sense verse 11 is declaring that we have nothing to fear about the end of the world.
Having said that……..I’m sure I am not the only one here this morning who does not want the second coming to happen just yet. And I can assure you it’s not going to happen – because we haven’t finished gathering in all your pledges yet!!
Hebrews 10: 31-39 puts all this into perspective.
Yes, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” – but Hebrews points out that to those early Christians that they had already endured tribulations and affliction because they were Christians and their witness to Christ – therefore they should face the future with confidence, not with fear – for they are those who have faith.
And there is that wonderful line in verse 38 which comes from the prophet Habbakuk: “The righteous one shall live by faith”.
So the Epistle today reminds us that the second coming is in scripture and the teachings of the Church – but because we live by faith it is not something to be feared.
This Epistle reading comes towards the end of Hebrews. In previous chapters the writer has gone to great lengths to explain Christ’s death and resurrection in terms of what happened in the temple every year – when the priest went into the Holy of Holies and offered the sacrifice of a lamb for the sins of the people.
The writer says that Christ’s death is the sacrifice that replaces that annual sacrifice. Now all who follow Christ, the true sacrificed Lamb of God, are saved from sin. All we have to do is have faith in him.
Yes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” – but we have nothing to fear.
Never-the-less, in every generation the end of the world and the second coming have been presented as something to be feared. In the middle ages, when death was very quick and sudden, the great plague was seen as a portent of the coming of Christ. Then the wars of the reformation were seen as another sign of the end times. Then at the beginning of the twentieth century we had the great world war, which was to end all wars. Then we had the depression, and then another war – all signs, they said, of the coming end of the world.
Of course in every age there were preachers who said these were signs to be feared – and they called men and women to repentance. It always seems that those preachers who predict the end of the world rather like the idea that God is coming and will be destroying everything, especially all the naughty sinners!
I take great comfort in today’s Gospel. Jesus says: “If anyone says to you: ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it”. Thus, if some preacher or TV evangelist suggests Christ is coming soon – he is definitely wrong! No one knows except the Father, as Jesus said. But there are plenty of examples of groups and churches founded on the idea and fear of the second coming.
In the same passage Jesus also says: “False christs and false prophets will arise” now we can easily point to various people who fulfill that – like Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy. But it could also be the odd Episcopal bishop – for even the Church is not free from false prophets, and has always had them.
Forty years ago, Bishop John Robinson of Woolwich, in the Church of England, coined the phrase “God is dead”. What a lie that was! Yet he sold thousands of books on the subject. I think that like those priests who cross their fingers when they say the creed, Bishop Robinson must have had fun every time he said a collect at the altar and concluded: “Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen”.
And may I point out that when we say “world without end” the Church does not mean that the world will never end. Far from it, rather this means that as long as the world exists God will reign – not that the world will never end.
When Jesus talked about his second coming he said there would be signs: war, disease, natural disasters. We’ve seen all those things in recent times, and we’ll see them if we go and see the movie “2012” ………yet we are still waiting.
Sometimes it does seem that the world is coming to an end and our society is getting worse. Perhaps things might be coming to a climax? Yet it’s always been that way.
In Germany did they think that when the Nazis took all the Jews away to the camps that it was a sign of a terrible thing? No. They shrugged their shoulders mostly, and went about their business – fooled by a government they didn’t realise was actually bent on evil.
The bible explains the existence of evil through the very simple story of Adam and Eve. Simply put, they disobeyed God and did what they wanted to do. Nothing has changed. People still disobey God’s way and do what they want to do – that is the cause of problems in society today.
After Adam and Eve disobeyed God and did their own thing, when the crunch came they blamed someone else: “The serpent tempted me”, said Eve, “The woman made me do it”, said Adam. That has been the problem ever since – we are always blaming someone else. That is why evil still exists.
When the first Christians began to suffer persecution they longed for the second coming, to fix the problems – but it didn’t happen. Maybe it won’t happen for a long time, certainly not in our generation? Yet the world is still full of evil, and it still lurks around the corner.
Christ is the “first fruits” of the human race and he leads us to victory in heaven – whether it is when the world ends or when we cease to live. But he also calls us now to be his body on earth through the Church, and to fight against evil – that the world may one day be a true place for Christ to return
The fight against evil can only be fought by we who are baptised Christians – pledged at the beginning of our Christian life to fight against sin, the world, and the devil.
So let us live as if today is the first day of the rest of our life – and as if tomorrow is the last day of the world.