The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
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Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2000-2001

Living in the End Times
Mark 13:1-8
Our Scripture lesson appears out of place with the coming holiday. We are all looking ahead to this weekend and our plans for a Thanksgiving feast. The men are wondering if this year will be the year that their wives finally synchronize mealtime with halftime. The wives who have not even thought about halftime, are trying to figure out how to get so many people and so much food all around one table. 

This morning's music also captures that holiday spirit. Some may have even come this morning expecting a sermon listing five benefits for maintaining a thankful spirit and four ways of expressing thanks. Instead, the Scripture lesson talks about natural disasters, wars, and prophecies concerning the end times. You may be wondering how the text relates to the season.

Maybe that is why we need to hear its message. There is a tendency in the human psychic to block out the thought of disaster or crises. We do not like to think about the threat of war or the likelihood of earthquakes and famines unless something has already taken place or very immanent. Then we become glued to our TVs and fascinated with the most minuet details. We do not want to prepare for a crisis. We do not want any unexpected emergencies interfering with our celebrations. We do not want to think about the famine that threatens Afghanistan this winter or, the thousands of African children who were made orphans this year by the devastating AIDS epidemic. We want to enjoy the turkey, mash potatoes, and cranberry sauce. We want to think about Pilgrims braving winter storms and lonely continents in search of religious freedom. We do not want to think about four Christians who are sitting in a jail in Nepal falsely accused of bribing people to convert from Hinduism to Christianity or the 15 Indonesian Christians killed last month when Muslims attacked their village with mortar fire. These images are too unsettling. They are not suited for our Thanksgiving fare.

Maybe that is why the lectionary scholars selected this passage for "Thanksgiving Sunday." Maybe they wanted to wake us from our lethargic security and remind us that in an instant, all that we know can suddenly change. Jesus offered that very warning. In verse 9 he said, "You must be on your guard."

William Barclay in his commentary on this passage wrote:

"If men live in the shadow of eternity, if men live with the constant possibility of the intervention of God, if men live with the prospect of the consummation of the coming of Christ ever before them, if the times and the seasons are known to none but God, then there is the necessity ever to be ready1

I wonder how ready we are for the return of our Lord. More importantly, I wonder how many of us are really looking forward to that day. We have become quite accustomed to the here and now. We enjoy luxurious that for centuries only the rich have known. We take for granted comfortable automobiles, spacious homes, and tantalizing meals. This past summer Americans acted as if they had the inherent right to cheap gasoline. Yet, at a moments notice, an international crisis could bring incredible change to our lifestyle and standard of living. Even the most basic food items could become nearly unaffordable. The standard of living we now enjoy could be stripped away with frightening swiftness.

Could you accept such changes? I wonder how many of us could still give thanks?

Jesus not only warned his disciples to be ready but he also cautioned them against predicting the day and time of his coming. In spite of his admonition, religious groups have tried to foretell the end times with disappointing results. In 1835, the New Apostolic Communion, an offshoot of the Catholic Church, believed that 12 apostles needed to stand ready for Christ's immanent return. A few years later the founder of the Seventh Day Adventist church predicted Christ would return between 1843-44. And not to be outdone the Jehovah Witness movement began based on its founder's predictions that Christ would return in 1874 and begin his thousand year reign in 1917.2 

Even with this poor record, modern soothsayers continue to offer their predictions. Noah Hutchings believes that he has discovered 25 Messianic Signs in Israel Today that indicate that Christ could return at any time. Hal Lindsey the author of The Late Great Planet Earth who correctly predicted retaking of Jerusalem by Israel believes that he has cracked the Apocalypse Code from the book of Daniel and can foretell the international events that that are immanent and will precede the coming of Christ. Tim LaHaye has made quite a profit off this end times fascination with his Left Behind series.

To ask the question when is to miss the entire point of our Savior's words. He wanted his disciples to be ready no matter when. We need to spend less time trying to figure out when the events will unravel and more time being faithful to our calling.

He warned them to be ready. He cautioned them about predicting the season and the day. He also advised them about the possibility for deception. Many would come with grand claims. Many would come with elegant words that had an element of truth but buried beneath the slick, glossy surface lay falsehood. 

False prophets come in many shapes and forms in our society. Some are religious charlatans who prey on the gullible. Others use different forms of communication to convey their message. The subtlest and perhaps the most dangerous are the Hollywood filmmakers. 

During the last few years, we have had a number of movies that portray a pending millennial doom to the human race. Such movies as 12 Monkeys, Waterworld, Armageddon, and The Matrix have all used religious symbolism as a backdrop to present their end of the world scenario. While each goes about it in a different way, the movies as a group all share several common themes. Each presents the notion that end of human existence "...can be averted through employing human ingenuity, scientific advancement, and heroism."3 These movies not only exclude God from the formula for salvation but also shift our attention away from the inevitable climax of human history. They present the notion that salvation comes through the preservation of this physical, material world. Nothing lies beyond our earthly reality.

Jesus told his disciples that this world was only temporary. It was not their home. There was another place. God had prepared for them, a heavenly home. Their salvation would not come through heroism but by divine intervention. One day he would return, "...coming in clouds with great power and glory" (v 26) and bring them into his eternal realm. 

The early church hung onto that promise. It compelled them to take the message of his death and resurrection out into a world that did not believe. It strengthened them during times of distress and persecution. When they stood as prisoners before tribunals, they did not look down at their chains, but they looked up and prayed, "Come Lord Jesus Come." It gave them the assurance that their life of obedience was not in vain so instead of padding their 401Ks, they sold their property and gave it to the disciples to feed the hungry and cloth the naked. The early church did not let anyone deceive them. 

This Thanksgiving when you gather around the table, I hope you can enjoy the meal with your family and give thanks for all that God has provided. I also hope that you can look beyond the pleasures of this earthly existence and affirm with the Church throughout the centuries the pray, "Come, Lord Jesus Come."

1 Barclay, (1956) p 321.
2 Pulpit Resource, "Everything you Need to Know About Apocalyptic Eschatology", 10:4,23.
3 Conrad Ostwalt, "Armageddon at the Millenial Dawn", The Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 4, No. 1 - 2000. Online:

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