October 20, 2013
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
I want to talk with you this morning about Apocalypse and Armageddon. These are normally terms used for the end times, and feature prominently in North American Christian fundamentalist theology as well as really bad action movies.
Vast imaginative theologies have sprung up, especially in the twentieth century, around the end times, the end of days, the day of the Lord. The first thing to note about such ideas about God and the world is that very few of them agree with each other. Each comes from a particular view of the Bible and a particular view of humanity.
This is a very important point.
Every theology, every idea about God, comes from a particular point of view of the Bible, of the church, of humanity. Those with whom I disagree most vehemently, I cannot claim they are not reading the Bible, or that they are not praying, or that they are not thinking. It is too easy to caricature those we agree with as the thoughtful, prayerful, scriptural types and those we disagree with as the opposite. In most of our current debates each side does exactly that. It is step two in the playbook and everybody seems to be using the same playbook.
Every disagreement has become Armageddon, and every debate has become the Apocalypse. It is not enough that something is important or vital or critical or determinative of our future. Each controversy is now the war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and we all know which side is which, right?
Health care, marriage equality, abortion, gun control, environmental protections, taxes, drone warfare, immigration, warrantless wiretaps and data-mining; has your blood pressure gone up yet?
Each of these issues is important; serious thinking and discussion needs to happen around each of them. Difficult decisions are necessary. But how fast does each of these topics become “God is on our side, devil take the hindmost, let’s get out there and smite somebody!”? Not just in the public sphere, where people make vast amounts of money hyping public anxiety, but even at coffee with friends and relatives it becomes difficult to talk about such things.
One problem is the moment we enter Armageddon mode, rational thought flies away, as do compassion, listening, being open to learning from those who disagree with us; basically all of the things that we need to be able to work together to find solutions to difficult problems and remember we are all in this together.
Jeremiah offers a vision of a very different “day of the Lord”:
But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,”
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD;
for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
This new covenant says that even the Torah will no longer be necessary
to read, because we will have it written on our hearts:
Compassion for the outsider,
Hospitality to the stranger,
Sitting at the table for those with whom we disagree,
Sabbath for you and me and those who work for us and foreigners in our midst,
Treating each other as children of God and not as us versus them,
Not lording it over one another.
(Now where have I heard of someone doing these things…)
Such a day is not the result of finally getting our righteousness right or our piety perfect or our politics correct. Jeremiah says that such a day comes because we were not able to get the first covenant right, and even though we were not faithful (even to the point that God calls us a cheating spouse), God is faithful: if that didn’t work, let’s try this.
In the face of our faithlessness, God does not summon up legions of angels to smite us. God tries a new way to get the message through. God starts over. Not as God did with Noah, washing out the world, but with a new message.
In light of our fascination with Armageddon, and in light of God’s pervasive love, it almost makes me wonder if the one knocking incessantly in the Gospel reading today isn’t God, hoping someday we will relent and start to love one another.
Those who follow Jesus are warned about falling asleep and following the popular ways of doing things. Those who follow Jesus are told to keep praying and not lose heart, even though the world falls in love with violence and develops amnesia that we are neighbors and not enemies. Those who follow Jesus are told to serve others, to love their enemies and pray for them, to bless those who curse, and to not return evil for evil but overcome evil with good.
There is a reason Jesus gave his followers stories of perseverance and courage and hope and, finally, justice. He gave us these examples because this is hard work.
And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones
who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?
I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.
And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Come quickly Lord, with your compassion, and pray that you will find us to be compassionate.
Thanks be to God.