Borderless World by Chuck and Peg Hoffman. Acrylic on canvas, Sept 2008, 30 x 30 inches.
Proper 28-B - November 15, 2009
Grace Church, Utica
From today's Old Testament Lesson we hear these words:
There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence.And in today's Gospel reading, Jesus says,
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.Some Sundays in the Calendar of the Church Year have specific names attached to them: like Palm Sunday and Trinity Sunday. If we were to give this Sunday a name the most appropriate would be Apocalypse Sunday.
The word, apocalypse, in its Greek form, means "a lifting of the veil." So it's a word that has to do with disclosure and revelation. In one sense, of course, all of Scripture is a revelation. We believe that Scripture is God's Word to us, that through the scriptural writings, God's Word for us is revealed. But there is a more particular sense of apocalypse associated with the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, as well as the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament. The book of Revelation, traditionally attributed to the Apostle John, is a vision of "the end" of all things, the end of time. The graphic scenes of crisis and judgment, of the separation from good and evil, of devils from angels, of the righteous from the unrighteous -- with the monsters and beasts on one side and the saints and the Mystic Lamb of God on the other side -- it's all a dramatic and vivid presentation of the struggle that goes on between the forces of good and evil, both in our individual lives and also in the world at large.
If you think about it, every age, every historical period has these moments: wars, plagues, great disasters; the sudden end of an era, the conquest of a nation, or the fall of an empire. The movie Apocalypse Now revealed the horrors of war in Vietnam. A more peaceful and more amazing Apocalypse was the sudden collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989; the whole world changed in a few months without a shot being fired. Then of course there were the events of 9/11, when we all wondered if the world might be coming to an end.
There are also more personal experiences of an apocalyptic nature. A crisis comes -- a loss, an illness, a financial setback, a death -- something that tests, reveals and uncovers our true character. In some instance, you might say that these experiences lift the veil on our soul, sometimes just to our own eyes, and sometimes for all the world to see.
While all these revelations may bring new and startling things to light, life nonetheless goes on. As the angel told Daniel, "Many shall be purified and made white and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand." Some people, some of the time, gain new insight. At other times, we continue to be left in the dark.
But what about the end, I mean the real, final end of all things?
In the opening chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, at the time of the Lord's Ascension, Jesus and his apostles are gathered together at a place outside Jerusalem. They asked him, "'Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? He replied, "it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority."
It was not theirs, and it's not ours, to know the dates and times. Yet scripture clearly points to the fact that there will be an END, a closure, a reconciliation of all things in heaven and earth. We see it in nature all the time; and we see it in human life as well. At least as far as our earthly life is concerned, you and I will come to an end in death. A hundred years from now, not one of us here this morning is likely to be breathing and walking around on this earth. And yet, as commonplace as death is, the death of each and every human being, is, nonetheless, a deeply moving moment, an apocalypse of its own before God. We know from our own experience, that everything in life has its own Alpha and Omega -- it's beginning as well as its end. Scripture affirms that this is true of all creation.
But scripture and the Christian Faith make one more important affirmation. In the grand vision of heaven found at the end of the Revelation to John, a voice from the throne proclaims "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end" (21:6). It is our belief, it is the truth that we know by faith, that the beginning and the end are not just events in time and space. The beginning and the end cannot be separated from the one who is, in His own Divine Being, the Alpha and the Omega. God is not only the source and beginning of life; God is also the One who stands before us at the end. That's because our end is not determined by the deterioration and obliteration of death. At the end, there is God.
Remember what C.S. Lewis told his friend, when he was asked what happens when we die. Lewis told him that death would be that moment when God throws his arms around us and says, "At last, I've got you."
And what will we find? We'll find that any questions and doubts will fade away, as we meet God face to face. Which is simply to say that when things fall apart and time runs out, God's love remains and God's eternity breaks in. The word to us is wake up and live; watch and pray! Jesus Christ is truly the Living End -- the One in whom there is a new Heaven and a new Earth, a City of God, where we will at last be home, safe and sound, forever.
This was the last sermon Jim wrote. He finished it on Friday, November 13, 2009 - he was to preach it on Sunday, November 15,2009. I found it lying on his desk in his office today.