Monday, November 19, 2007

The End of the World As We Know It – A Sermon

My kids love to listen to music, as most do. And as most parents, I'm interested in what they're listening to. Sometimes we listen together and discuss the songs. One song I've kind of liked because it has a catchy refrain is, "It's the end of the world as we know it," by REM. I know, it's an oldie, but it's getting a lot of air time these days, and my son's friends listen to it.

The other day I listened to it and was taken aback by the lyrics. Not that they are obscene – they're not – but that they make no sense. Here's a sample:


The other night I dreamt of knives, continental drift divide. Mountains sit in a line

Leonard Bernstein. Leonid Brezhnev. Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs.

Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom!

You symbiotic, patriotic, slam book neck, right? Right.


I turned to my son and said, "It makes no sense."

He said, "Well, duh, Dad. It's the end of the world. It's all chaos."


In reality, that's what we think of when we think of the end of the world – floods, earthquakes, armies of angels descending upon us. With global warming and the middle east and nuclear grade material missing and unaccounted for, it does often feel like the end is near.

On the other hand, most of these things are things that WE do – things that we have some control over and can mitigate at least. They are also things the earth can withstand even if humanity does itself in someday.

But when we think of the end of the world as we know it, most of us don't really want something we can fix. We want the big disaster. We want the chaos. We MUST because every time somebody shows up on television to tell us that Nostradamus has predicted the end of the earth for 2012, we eat it up. We buy the tabloids that tell us the end is near. We heed the words of preachers who give us dates for the apocalypse and ask us to send them the money we're not going to need anyway.

Why do we buzz with excitement for this chaos? Just guessing here, but I'd say it's because people want to feel they're in the middle of a huge thing – they are part of history even if nobody will be around to tell about it. We want to feel important – I've said it before.

It's nothing new. Prophets have been predicting the end of civilization or the end of the world for ever. And our lessons today address those very issues. Not that all ends are considered bad in the bible – or are they the end of life. In the Old Testament reading, there is a definite end to the world as they know it – but the world the prophet sees ending is not so great. In the NEW WORLD coming, the good guys (Israel) will be on top and in peace while the bad guys will be stubble.

It's like the LEFT BEHIND SERIES in reverse: The good stay and the bad are blown away.

On the other hand, the reality Paul was addressing in his letter to the Thessalonians was very different. He was talking about the actual end of the world – Jesus coming to take his elect home and to destroy the rest. But Paul had a problem with a lot of those Thessalonians. They thought, "Hey, if the world's ending anyway, why bother working? Why bother taking care of each other? Why bother helping anyone?" It's like a farmer who was interviewed several years ago and was asked why he used so many harmful chemicals. He said, "It's all going to burn in the second coming anyway, so what does it matter?"

Paul said it mattered a great deal. As long as God keeps us here on this earth, Paul says, we have work to do. Not only do we still need to work to feed ourselves, but we have the work of the Gospel to do. As long as we have one breath in us, we have a ministry to complete. Our lives matter and will continue to matter until either our very last breath or until humanity really does become extinct.

Jesus told his disciples pretty much the same thing. He told them to ignore all those who love to give specific dates about the end of the world or the second coming. They are merely sowing fear and chaos, inciting panic over things about which nobody can do anything. Actually, what he hinted to the disciples was that they would not be around long enough to witness the apocalypse – they would probably all have been killed by then. Yet, in serving the Gospel – in sharing the good news of God's endless love for us – they would find their purpose and their joy.

The reality is, whatever you believe about global warming – and I believe it is real and that we have a responsibility to become better stewards of the earth – we are all probably going to meet our own personal ends before the mass extinction. Either way, however, as long as we are on this earth, we have work to do – love God and love our neighbors, care for each other and for the earth over which God has given us stewardship. It is a lot to do, and no rumors of wars or death can put us off.

But whether we die one at a time or in "the big one," Christ assures us that our end goal is the same – eternal life in God's loving presence. It overcomes fear and chaos. And therein lies our hope and our joy.