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THE END OF THE WORLD

Read Mark 13:1-10

Have you ever had a song that has been stuck in your head and you just can’t get it out of there?

Sometimes it’s a commercial jingle. “A sprinkle a day helps keeps the order away!” Oh, I hated that one.

Maybe it’s a hymn. “I come to the garden, alone, while the due is still on the roses.” There are times when it gets stuck on my mind and I can’t get rid of it.

For the last several of weeks I’ve had the refrain of another song in my head. I heard it first back in 1987 when it was released on a album by the alternative rock band REM. Since I can’t get the tune out of my head, I decided to title this morning’s sermon after the song. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

It started around the time when some preacher got the notion that Jesus was coming back on May 21st to destroy the world. That didn’t happen. You’ll be happy to know that he’s revised his date. Now we have till October 21st. That’s it. Then end is near, again. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

If this guy turns out to be wrong, we always have the Mayans and their date when it will all come crashing down. If you haven’t heard, some five thousand years ago a Mayan calendar predicted that the end of the world would take place on December 21, 2012.

Now the Mayan calendar is uncanny in it accuracy at predicting an astonishing number of other astrological events. Still, I feel sorry for them. Despite their ability to predict the end of the world on December 21, 2012, they still couldn’t predict the THER own cultures demise with the arrival of a bunch of Spanish soldiers.

Well, Hollywood has got involved in the act. Yes, Hollywood, that bastion of reliable scientific and spiritual information. About a year ago they released a new blockbuster movie titled: “2012.” So, now, according to both Hollywood and the Mayan calendar, we’ve only got 18 months remaining until the end of the world.

Now according to astronomers and mathematicians, 2012 may well be an interesting year. In that year, the suns cycle of sunspot storms will be at its peak. Furthermore, the sun and the planets in our solar system will be lined up with the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Oh, and I am also told that Nostradamus had some scary things to say about 2012. Now I’m worried.
We’ve been here many times before, haven’t we?

In 1970, I remember reading a book by Hal Lindsay published a book titled: “The Late, Great Planet Earth.” In the book he said that the ensuing decade was the “era of the Antichrist as foretold by Moses and Jesus.”

In 1980, Lindsay published another book, titled: The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. In this book he predicted “the decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it.” He pointed to the frequency of earthquakes and famines, plus the rise of the European Union, as evidence of earth coming demise.

Of course, Lindsay’s predictions have not come to pass, but that hasn’t stopped him from making new predictions. In fact, his initial book has been revised dozens of times to include new apocalyptic interpretations. What does it say about a book about end times that is continually under revision?

We’ve been here many times before!

With every election – with every earthquake – with every tsunami – with every flood – with every war – with every political, economic, or natural disaster – there is always somebody somewhere who is saying, “lo, the end of the world is upon us.”

In 1980, I heard some identify Ronald Wilson Reagan as the anti-Christ. Why? Well, there were six letters in each of his names 6-6-6. He must be the anti-Christ!

Then there was all that trepidation we felt as we approached the new millennium and possibility that the world would be destroyed due to a computer glitch called Y2K.

Next was the fear we all felt on 9/11. There were many who thought that this event was an usher of “end times.”

Throughout human history there has never been any shortage of end-of-the-world scenarios. From the Mayans to Hal Lindsey, from nuclear winter to Nostradamus, from Y2K, to 9/11, to 2012, there has always been somebody somewhere saying, “It’s the end of the word as we know it.”

In today’s text, the disciples and Jesus are seen leaving Jerusalem. For a moment, the disciples look back and say, “Look, Rabbi, what massive stones. What magnificent buildings!” Jesus stopped dead in his tracks. He points to the temple and says: “Do you see all these great buildings. Not one stone will be left on another.”

For the disciples, the temple and all it stood for was bedrock. Nothing could bring down those walls and all they stood to represent. The smallest stones weighed 2 to 3 tons. At the base, many of them weighed 50 tons. The largest stone still existing today is a part of the Wailing Wall which is 12 meters in length and 3 meters high, and it weighs hundreds of tons! So immense are these stones that no sort of mortar or binding material was needed to keep them in place. The walls of the Temple towered over Jerusalem, over 400 feet in one area. Inside the four walls was 45 acres of bedrock mountain shaved flat to serve as the courtyard. During Jesus’ day a quarter of a million people could fit comfortably within the structure.

You can then understand the disciples’ surprise at the declaration of Jesus. In their minds, nothing could destroy the Temple. The Temple was the central institution of Israel, the primary religious shrine, the center of commerce and banking, the heart of history and tradition. Nothing could tear down this grand and glorious symbol of their institutional religion. Nothing could tear down their church.

But Jesus said: “Do you see all these great buildings. Not one stone will be left on another.”

As their continued to travel away from Jerusalem and up Mount Olive, Peter, James, and John were understandably shaken. He had just said that their world was about to become unglued. They pressed Jesus for more information. There voice was filled with uncertainty. They were fearful that their lives were about to change forever. They wanted words of comfort.

So what does Jesus say next? He says that what’s coming is going to be really bad. His disciples are going to be subjected to all sorts of pain and abuse. Then there’s going to be wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions, beatings, betrayals, and death. It’s the end of the world as we know it!

Forty years later it came true. In 70 AD the Temple was destroyed by Rome. But that’s not really the main point. The reality is that “the world as we know it” is always coming to an end. The question for us should never be “when is it going to happen.” The question is always, “What do we do then the world as we know it seems to be crumbling down around us.

That’s THE question, because in some way every day, the world (as we know it) is coming to an end. What are we to do in this kind of world?

Jesus gives his disciples something to do. When the end of the world as you know it is upon you, what should you being doing as a following of Jesus? In the midst of all this doom and gloom, Jesus says: “The good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.” So, what are we to be doing? We need to be proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom.

What a curious thing to say! When the world is falling apart, you should stand up and deliver a sermon.

The nuclear bombs have just been sent hurling through the sky. You are standing at ground zero. It’s the end of the world as we know it. What do you do? Preach the gospel.

An asteroid has just struck earth in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean while you are vacationing in Virginia Beach. It’s the end of the world as we know it. What do we do? Preach the gospel.

The world economy is suffering through a great recession and depression. People are unemployed, underemployed, hungry, hurting, and homeless. It’s the end of the world as we know it. What do you do? Preach the gospel.

War and rumors of war are impacting our nation and a world in very concrete and frightening ways. It’s the end of the world as we know it. What do you do? Preach the gospel.

Illness impacts our health. The doctors do not have any words of hope or miracle treatments. You know that your time remaining is short. It’s the end of the world as we know it. What do you do? Preach the gospel.

Let’s say it again. “When the world is falling apart, preach the gospel!”

The world always seems to be falling apart, doesn’t it? It seems like the world (as we know it) is always coming to an end. This is a world of disease, of headaches and hemorrhages. This is a world in which we are constantly confronted by our own human weakness, deafness, blindness, paralysis, and death. This is a world of chaos and cruelty, where the innocent suffer and lives are put at risk.

Jesus says, “When the world is falling apart, preach the gospel!”

Why? We preach GOSPEL (good news) because we know trust that no matter how bad the circumstances, there is still a Word that brings hope. There is still a Word that brings life. There is still a Word that creates possibilities out of the chaos and calls God’s Kingdom into being.

In the words of a favorite hymn of the church,

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,
One little Word shall fell him . . . 1

The Word. The Word is Jesus Christ.

This world may well be troubled by evil, but this world still belongs to God.

Consider Jesus as he carries His cross to the place of His own death. Evil swells up to kill Him. Even for Jesus this was a world where things fall apart. But that is not the final WORD. God is stronger. God has not given up. God is going to win. That’s the Good News we preach. That’s the Gospel we proclaim.

But it’s not just words. It’s not just three points and a poem. It’s not just about leaving a gospel tract with the waitress after dinner. Oh no, it is so much more. The disciples should have realized this. They had been walking with Jesus for a very long time. They had been with Him from the early days of his ministry when he said, “The time is fulfilled; God’s kingdom is at hand. Turn and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). They saw that kingdom advance one step at a time.

They saw the hungry fed.

They saw the tormented find peace.

The saw the eyes of the blind become opened.

They witnessed the lame rise up and walk.

They’d seen the dead brought back to life.

Preaching the Word is always more than simply speaking words. It’s engaging in action. It’s about finding those who are hurting and bringing comfort. It’s about standing for those who are suffering from injustice. It’s about feeding those who are hungry, sheltering those who are homeless, clothing those who are naked, and visiting those in prison. It’s about finding the hurts and needs of those in the communities that surround this place where we have been planted and ministering to them.

Preaching the Word is living with the confidence that even while the world (as we know it) seems to be coming to an end, there is another world of possibilities – a world of justice, and hope, and peace.

Preaching the Word is always more than speaking words. It is about being a missional people. It is being what God wants us to be and doing what God wants us to do.

The four disciples wanted to know, “When will the kingdom come?” The reality is that in Jesus Christ, the Kingdom has already made its appearance.

Our calling is not to wait and wonder about “the end times and the Second Coming of Christ.” Our calling is to take seriously Christ’s First Coming. We are called to do what Christ does and be who he was to the rest of the world.

____________

1. Presbyterian Hymnal (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), p. 260.

2. Brian Blount, “Preaching the Kingdom: Mark’s Apocalyptic Call for Prophetic Engagement,” Princeton Theological Seminary Bulletin Supplementary Issue, Number 3 (June 1994), p. 46.

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One Response to “THE END OF THE WORLD”

  1. What a messge hurting people need to here: both those of the household faith and those outside that faith. People along the Gulf coast, in Joplin, up and down the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, people in Fukishima, Japan, in North Africa and the mid-East all need to know the hope that’s in Jesus Christ. Why aren’t we doing better at this one simple task, preaching the Gospel?
    Once again you’ve rung the bell. Thank-you.

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