Homily, When it Feels Like the End of the World
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28C, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the middle of the 5th century a bishop named Hydatius predicted the world would end on May 27, 482. Observing the violence and waring factions around him on the western edge of the Roman Empire, along with some earthquakes and famines, he thought he must be seeing biblical signs of the end times. But while it may have felt like the end of the world, it wasn’t the end of the world.
In the middle of the 17th century a puritan group called the Fifth Monarchists predicted the world would end in the year 1666. Having lived through the bubonic plague and the Great Fire of London, they thought they must be witnessing signs of the end times. But while it may have felt like the end of the world, it wasn’t the end of the world.
At the end of the 20th century many Christians like Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the authors of the famous Left Behind book series, predicted the world would end in the year 2000. Watching the world grow more and more connected through the internet and anticipating a global crash of the economy, they thought they must be living in the end times. But while it may have felt like the end of the world, it wasn’t the end of the world.
We humans love a good end of the world prediction don’t we? We make movies about the end of the world, we read books about the end of the world, we write songs about the end of the world. There’s something in us captivated by the idea that the world will someday end.
And when things aren’t going so well in life and it feels like the world around us is falling apart, we’re all the most susceptible to resigning ourselves to its end. But the world keeps moving on.
Our gospel passage today sure seems like it’s about the end of the world. Jesus starts talking about temples falling down, wars and insurrections, plagues and famines, earthquakes and signs in the skies. He talks about his followers being arrested and persecuted, families betraying one another, and people being put to death. And for centuries whenever some of those things came to pass, Christians would read this passage as evidence that the end was near.
But what if this passage is not about the end of the world? What if this passage is about God’s presence when it feels like the end of the world?
It’s important to keep in mind when we read these stories that the gospels were not written during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but decades later. As time passed and the first generation of Christians began to die, they were written so that the Christian community would not forget. And in those decades between Jesus’ ministry and the writing of the gospels a lot happened.
All through the stories of Jesus we can feel the tension between the Jewish community in Israel and the Roman Empire. And decades later in the year 70 CE it all came to a head with the Great Jewish Revolt. Thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem to fight and take back their homeland, but the revolution was short lived, and the empire utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and exiled the Jewish people.
The Gospel of Luke was written just 10-20 years after the temple was destroyed. So the first audience of this passage were those that were living in the reality of a destroyed temple, persecutions, and great adversity. The first audience of this passage felt like their very world was ending.
And so Luke tells this story about Jesus and his disciples to encourage and inspire those communities to keep going. He tells them to not be afraid in the midst of their struggle. He tells them to not get caught up in doomsday predictions. He tells them Christ will give them words and wisdom in their weakness. He tells them that with endurance and patience come victory. And he tells them that this is not the end.
This passage is not about the end of the world, this passage is about God’s presence when it feels like the end of the world.
We as a society have certainly lived through some times like that, haven’t we? From depressions and recessions, to wars and terrorism, to pandemics and white supremacy, we’ve certainly had times when it felt like the world was ending.
Or perhaps there were times like that in your personal life. An important relationship fell apart, hopes and dreams were lost, a sickness held sway. It felt like the world was ending.
This passage is written for times like that. To remind us that while it feels like the world is ending, by the grace of God we will get through our struggles. That if we open ourselves to God’s presence, God will give us the strength—or whatever we need—to keep going, even in the midst of great adversity. This too shall pass. The end is not yet here. All shall be well.
Thankfully, while we certainly have challenges in our own social context, our locally reality is not filled with the trials and tribulations mentioned here in this passage. But it’s important to remember our siblings in Christ around the world who are living the reality of these challenges. I’m thinking about Haiti in particular.
In recent years the people of Haiti have lived through earthquakes, hurricanes, epidemics, hunger, violence, and governmental instability. The passage we read today feels like it could have been written for the situation in Haiti today.
And so like Luke who told this story of Jesus to encourage a fellow suffering people in the midst of their adversity, we too are called to offer love, care, and support to our siblings when it feels like their world is ending. At our recent convention the diocese passed a resolution expressing solidarity for the church in Haiti, calling on all our members to pray for the situation there. Teresa Grashof, a member of our own community, has been in touch with our brother in Bondeau, Father Pere, who has asked us to pray in particular for peace and the end of violence in Haiti. (And of course there are many other ways to support our siblings through financial and food assistance, which we do regularly here at Good Shepherd.) But it’s so important to hold those in prayer when the world around them is caving in.
And it’s so important to remember that God is present in the midst of struggle. Giving strength, wisdom, and endurance to those who face it. So let us remember God’s presence when it feels like our world is ending, and let us stand alongside our siblings in Christ when it feels like their world is ending. This too shall pass. The end is not yet here. All shall be well. Amen.