“The world is going to end.”
We’ve heard those words numerous times in our lives and from every possible source from scientists, to saints, to rogue priests and crackpot astrologists and psychics.
Whole mainstream church congregations have sold everything they owned because they were certain their pastor’s prediction was spot on — this time.
Forget about all the doomsday predictions since the beginning of doomsday predictions;
in the 20th century alone, there were about 50 predictions that the world would end —
— it seems everyone from Pat Robertson to Louis Farrakhan to the Jehovah’s Witnesses (who were responsible for the majority of the predictions) to Jim Jones, Harold Camping, and Hal Lindsey — predicted the world’s end.
And we’re still here.
And in the 21st century —
and mind you, we’re only 18 years into this century —
there have been about 45 predictions,
many by the same folks named above, but even Sarah Palin (who says when she dies, she will be the last generations — not making this stuff up —), Cornerstone megachurch pastor John Hagee with 20,000 members and Scientist Nora Roth, among many others.
All of them wrong. Some of them for multiple times now.
And in case you’re wondering, the next date predicted is June 9, 2019, by serial doomsdayist Ronald Weinland, who predicted the world’s end in 2011, 2012, and then 2013…
… and if he’s wrong (again), it will definitely be by the end of 2020, says psychic Jeane Dixon, who was dead-wrong in her first prediction in 1962, four before yours truly was born.
Will the world end?
No one knows, not even Jesus.
The Bible even tells us so in Matthew 24:36:
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only…”
Well then, why talk about the end at all today?
The Little Apocalypse
Many of us have read or heard some of Jesus’s words in our reading today in Mark 13 —
— what we like to call “the Little Apocalypse…”
Here, Jesus and the disciples have just left the Temple in Jerusalem —
— this is the only Temple in all of Israel —
and one of the disciples looks up and tells Jesus, “what large stones and what large buildings!”
You see, King Herod had went ahead and expanded the Temple to make it even more grand over the past few decades.
And Jesus gets a bit prophetic and tells him, “Not one stone will be left here on another; all will be thrown down.”
And of course, about 35 years after Jesus’s death on the cross, the Roman Empire destroyed the Temple.
Today, if you visit Jerusalem, you can see the stones from the temple — not one left on another.
Well, the end of the Temple wasn’t the end of the world was it?
No. But Jesus looks a bit further out in the next verses;
A few of the disciples are hanging out with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, and they ask “When will this happen?”
What’s interesting here is that Jesus doesn’t really answer the question here.
And I love this.
Instead, he widens the scope a bit to what’s most important:
“Watch out that no one deceives you… Many will come in my name saying, ‘I’m the one.’ They will deceive people.’”
Then he says bad things are gonna happen — then lights out. It’s over.
But let’s focus on that whole deceiving part…
The people I named above who predicted the world’s end:
Were they deceiving people?
But were they malicious in doing so?
I mean, did they want people to panic and sell everything and be all stressed out, saying their good-byes and giving all their money and homes away?
Probably not. Maybe a couple.
Most are just in it for the fame.
Some are insane — not naming names…
And some are grossly mislead.
But Jesus isn’t saying “look out for Satan”;
simply that people — for whatever reason — will try to mislead you.
And others will try to take advantage of you.
Some will do it to hurt you; others because they really believe the math worked this time; and still others because they want their moment in the spotlight or some personal gain.
The point is, it’s deception.
But does that mean THE END is near?
Then why care?
Well, there’s something bigger going on here as well.
And that’s why I love this passage so much…
When I was a kid, this passage — the Little Apocalypse — scared the heck out of me.
“How would I know? I’m just a kid!”
But the point is to learn how to not be deceived.
To be led astray…
So let’s talk about that in our world today.
…and I feel fine…
So we see this double horizon that Jesus is speaking of:
The end of the Temple, and the end of the world.
One happened, and the next is when Jesus will come again and will create the world anew, as we read in Daniel and Mark and Revelation…
But these are great examples, allusions and metaphors of other ends in our lives and in our world today.
Simply put, when times are hard, when the world seems to be in upheaval, and when all things seem uncertain, that is when the false prophets move into action;
when opportunists look for a quick advantage;
and when evil leads people astray.
Why? Because it’s easy when we’re vulnerable.
The best-known example is probably the rise of Nazi party in Germany and the subsequent murders of more than 6 million Jews.
Let’s not mince words here.
Hitler and his party took advantage of an uncertain time in Germany and through marginal effort convinced the good people that they’re status, well-being, health and lives are being threatened by those who were not the same as them.
Again, back to today, when things are good, we don’t worry too much about that stuff.
But when things become uncertain, and there are plenty of disagreements…
…when those disagreements lead to violence born from an irrational fear…
there are always people to come in and say that they have the way out.
We see it in our churches, in our schools and universities, in our public forums and in our government.
False prophets. People with agendas. Folks who want to lead us astray.
Jesus says this: “Watch out that no one deceives you!”
And, listen, here’s the danger:
Sometimes we WANT to be led astray.
My mom used to say “If it sounds too good to be true…”
We don’t want the hard way out; we want the easy way out.
And sometimes we let down our guard to have the path of least resistance.
So how do we know the real from the false?
Friends, this is the easiest thing.
It’s spiritual maturity.
Like I said, as a child, that passage used to scare me!
I was spiritually insecure…
(And I wish someone would have just told me that as a child, I was covered anyway… I could have maybe slept a bit better…).
Spiritual maturity is the answer.
Just a fancy word for knowing God.
Anyone freaked out about that this morning?
I said this is easy.
Let’s take a short pop-quiz.
1. If you see someone freezing to death in a snowbank outside, do you:
2. A friend calls and says he’s very sick, do you:
3. A family member did something that hurt your feelings. They apologize, do you:
If you answered “A” to the three questions, you passed.
If you answered “B” to any of the questions, please come and see me after the service.
It sounds really simple, doesn’t it?
Almost that whole WWJD thing — What Would Jesus Do?
It’s really that easy.
And I told you it was really easy, didn’t I?
Then why do we have such a hard time with it?
Not just us here at Trinity, but at churches throughout our country.
Here’s another quiz to put a finer point on it (it’s harder)
1. When we round up illegal (and some legal) immigrants and separate the kids from their moms and dads and some 75 or more days after they were supposed to be reunited with their families but aren’t, do we:
Work for awareness and to make more humane practices?
2. When 50,000 little children in Yemen are literally starving to death from a famine caused by the 2016 civil war in that country, do we:
Donate money and work to change federal aid policy to help them?
3. When the church makes a new effort to reach more people for the goal of transforming the world as Jesus calls us to, do you:
Join in the mission?
When we get outside of the easy hypotheticals, it gets much harder, doesn’t it?
Because it costs us something.
It’s easier and cheaper to be misled.
It’s easier to justify not following Christ in these instances.
And in that way, and make no mistake about it, we are being deceived.
If someone tells us that it’s OK to ignore any of that stuff, we are being deceived.
We are allowing ourselves to be deceived.
And that — whether it’s Mexico, Yemen, or in our own back yard — it’s not transformative.
Another phrase for that is bringing to an end.
Not bringing life, but bringing death.
Those ends are always near.
Those decepticons — deceivers — are always waiting for us at every turn.
Now, I promised it was easy.
Here it is: It’s easy to know what choosing life looks like;
It’s hard to choose life sometimes.
Especially, in hard times.
We get protective. Territorial. And we’re easily misled.
Jesus said I am the bread of life. I am the living water.
We are always sustained fully in Christ.
And if we believe that and have our faith in Christ, then we really have nothing to lose.
We can believe Jesus, or we can believe the deceivers.
But let’s not ever make the mistake that we didn’t have some part in being deceived.
See, Jesus tells us here that we have to watch out for that.
Keep our guard up.
Know Christ. Depend on Christ. Be in Christ.
When those decisions come up, ask yourself: Is this Christ or is this deception?
In our easy quiz, choosing Christ — giving life — was the simple and obvious choice.
Acting on that choice sometimes isn’t.
But that’s not because we don’t know Christ;
it’s because we don’t choose Christ, plain and simple.
You read one of the four Gospels in the Bible — any version you want — and you will understand that Jesus is a life-giver.
Jesus speaks life, and tells us we must do the same.
More, he will help us as the Holy Spirit dwells within us.
Doing the right thing is bringing life.
It’s creating a beginning.
But the opposite is bringing an end.
These are easy choices for us.
We’re here today because we choose to bring life.
When we leave this space today, let us always remember we are not on our own;
we will not be left in the cold;
God is with us eternally;
and because of that, we are to bring life into the world.
And to quote Jesus himself, “Don’t be deceived.”