“2012 and the Apocalypse,” a Sermon for Pentecost XXIV – November 15th 2009
Pentecost XXIV – November 15th 2009
Daniel 12: 1-3 Psalm 16 Hebrews 10: 11-25 Mark 13: 1-8
2012 and the Apocalypse
Sometimes the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark is known as the “Little Apocalypse.” “Apocalypse” as a word, derives from the Greek and means uncovering, revealing, or revelation. Thus the last book of the Bible, “Revelations” is sometimes called the “Apocalypse.” Luther complained, however, that Revelations concealed more than it revealed; but it is typical apocalyptic literature.
In a time of untold suffering and crisis, apocalyptic writers want to assure us that the Kingdom of Heaven will come and God’s will, will be done through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. All the signs in the heavens, the disturbances in our climate, our failing environment, not- with-standing; the collapse of our economy, earthquakes, wind, and fire; or the fact that someone can stand up in a heavily guarded military fort and shoot our soldiers down, or that suicide bombers kill below while drones fire missiles and kill from above, that wars go on like quagmires and threaten to sink us; yet and still, God is in heaven and the Kingdom of Heaven will come, in God’s dear Son, Jesus Christ, who on the cross died for us.
Even if we should see the same turmoil in heaven as we see on earth, it will not be the end of the world, but the birth-pangs, the contractions for the birth of salvation, as our prayer said. And the Prayer of the Day is oicking up the words of Jesus.
I have a critical mind and I’m sure that you do too. Some arguments are convincing and some are not. A friend of mine is convinced that because of prophesies from the Mayan Calendar, the world will end in 2012. Now I really don’t place any stock in the Mayan Calendar; you can’t buy one in Office Depot – and I put less stock in astrology, your star signs and such. I do want to be a bright and shining star of heaven that Daniel writes about, but I don’t feel that the stars determine the course of my life. Even Shakespeare said, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in ourselves that we are underlings” (That’s from Julius Caesar).
Now a churchman told me that all the planets were going to form a straight line before the sun and all the gravity from the planets could affect the sun and pull the earth off course or tip our axis, meaning the end for us.
I confess: that worried me. I became frightened, because that was not astrology but astronomy and gravity is very real. So what do we do now-a-days? We go to the Google search engine. There they have an encyclopedia called Wikipedia and that sent me to a site where you can enter a date and it will position the planets around the sun. As one scientist said, this February past, the planets were more aligned with the sun than they will be on December 21st 2012. And when they were aligned that way, nothing happened! I didn’t notice that the axis of the earth tipped or that our planet went flying off into space. Did you?
So it is good to have a critical mind and I don’t know how some people can think we will be invaded by aliens from space or that the sun, moon, and earth will drop into a black hole. I looked that up too and found that that’s also impossible. Our Milky Way, like all galaxies, does swirl around a black hole, but our solar system never gets near it. We are out on the edge of our galaxy, light years away from the black hole.
When people tell you about 2012 and how the world will end, especially after seeing the movie 2012 that will come out, then remember that Jesus did not even know when the world would end. He said that only his Father in heaven knew that time.
But like the times of the apocalyptic writers, our times could also become very hard. Those are still two very nasty wars we have on our hands and we are up against the violence of evil spirits, where suicidal believers, sacrificing their own lives, slip in and keep taking a toll. More and more serial killers do that too. They factor their own death into the equation of their crime. How is capital punishment a deterrent? They believe in it and inflict it on themselves by exploding with their bombs or they count on being killed while they are shooting others. The most recent fellow was wounded before he could do himself in and now he probably wishes he were dead. But now he has to face his life after the murderous crime he has committed. I like the way President Obama said, “He will face judgment in this world and the next.”
In our pastors’ bible study someone said that we could not understand apocalyptic times. But I think that our situation is beginning to resemble those kinds of times, just a little, because, believe me, times can be far worse. If you had been in Hamburg when it was bombed, then just imagine coming out of your door, seeing fires everywhere, and the city of Oakland nothing but a pile of rubble. Times can be worse.
We have 10.2% unemployment and far more when the long term unemployed are counted. That problem threatens another huge wave of foreclosures, so that millions of Americans again stand to lose their houses. The whole city of New Orleans went under with Katrina. We saw the Twin Towers, the highest buildings in America crumble, collapse, and fall, over three thousand people were killed and over 4,500 soldiers have been killed in the wars that have been the aftermath. We never talk about how many Iraqis were killed. We also do not fathom the tens of thousands of soldiers who are wounded and sometimes worse, the psychological casualties that sometimes take a life time to heal or never do.
When the former Soviet Union was mired in its war in Afghanistan, we helped train Osama Bin Laden and what Pres. Reagan at the time called the “Freedom Fighters” to fight the Russians, hoping that the war would become the Soviet Union’s Vietnam. And lo and behold, the Soviet Union did collapse. And here we are seven years later, mired and stuck in Afghanistan in a war where even Obama can’t find a hopeful way to proceed.
But enough about wars and rumors of wars; enough about our earthly powers and principalities: it’s the Kingdom of Heaven that we are all about and it will come. The Daniel text is usually used for St. Michael’s Day, September 29th, where the archangel, the great prince of heaven guards and protects God’s people, even through times of anguish, the likes of which we have not seen before.
Ah, but Jesus says that these times are the beginning of our birth pangs. And the people of God will be delivered, like a baby delivered from the birth trauma, through the squeeze and the pushes and pulls, the life and death contractions, when a mother is giving birth to her child. Ah, but thereafter, as tired as if she had just climbed a mountain, she can hold the baby to her breast and feel the elation, that she has brought a new child into the world! So through untold anguish and suffering, the new kingdom will come, because the old creation, which God has made, is pregnant with the new one, but we have to continue to fix our faith on God, trusting that God will deliver us through these times.
A commentary said that Jesus was wrong about the destruction of the temple: that it was burned by the Roman armies and the stones were not thrown down. We can know a little. We have to know a lot. A geography professor in Jerusalem, that we visited on our Israel travels, explained how a whole series of Jesus’ prophesies came true. When the temple burned, all the gold melted and went in between the rocks, and the soldiers and the people quarried and mined for gold in between the rocks, not leaving one stone on top of the other.
Now we have a temple not made with human hands. The Babylonians destroyed the first temple and the Romans destroyed the second, Herod’s temple; but now the body of Christ is the third temple, and all who worship in Christ worship in spirit and in truth. One rabbi said that when the temple was destroyed, the glory of God moved from the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives, and that glory is now resting in Jesus. (Here in our lesson, Jesus is teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives.) As Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it back up in three days!” He was talking about his own body. He was talking about us, we who are in the body of Christ. And Jesus is raising us up!
Next Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Pentecost Season and then we’ll enter Advent and the new church year.
Ah, Christ our King – but what happens to our king? The head with the wisdom of God gets a crown of thorns. The Christ, the Anointed One, becomes anointed because of the love and devotion of one woman, the woman with that alabaster jar full of perfumed ointment, while the disciples try to prevent her from anointing him. That’s the Christ, the Messiah, whose titles mean the anointed one!
He had no great ceremony to anoint him like for a king or queen or the Archbishop of Canterbury, for example.
Christ our king is a friend of the common people. So even in the worst crises, we hear the Gospel; we hear the friendly voice of the living God, who was right there in the human being Jesus, suffering before us so that God continues to be with us. God is with us, no matter the severity of the crisis we go through. He went through it all before us. But Christ is King, no matter that he will be betrayed by one of his own, arrested by religious leaders, brought before alien governors, scourged and crucified for you and me. God vindicated him, you see, and raised him from the dead, and we can pray to God that we too might become bright and shining stars. Christ, however, shines brighter than the sun in the sky, because he is the real Son of Heaven.
So as we continue our life’s journey, let us have our eyes fixed on his coming kingdom, knowing that God is with us even now and continues to keep the promises he has made to our hearts, fulfilling them even in the here-and-now, despite appearances to the contrary.
Like the great theologian Karl Barth said, “Jesus lives and with him, so will I, and the whole world of humanity with him. And there are no ifs or buts about it.”
I don’t know of another theologian who has had a transit system named after him: the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Think of the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth, when you ride the BART. He said that eternity could be described as the crisis of time, breaking in when all our time is engulfed in crisis. The cross should not be seen as a decoration; it’s not a harmless cross. From heaven it descends like the wrath of God, crossing up all our human purposes. But Christ remains our friend and Christ routes for you and me, to cross the finish line of the race that represents the righteous life lived by grace, the grace of God. It’s the race that makes us the shining stars of righteousness. Be assured though, Karl Barth says, that we live in God’s unconditional love and with access to God’s divine and boundless grace. Under the assault of all the “no’s” that life hands us, God plants a deep “yes,” affirming us through it all with an acceptance that overcomes the world’s rejections. And all of that boundless love of God is ours, because we have come to believe in God’s Word and trust God to keep his promises.
So like Hebrews says, let’s provoke one another, not to anger, but to good works. Let’s provoke one another to random acts of kindness and senseless acts of love. “Senseless acts of beauty” is how the saying goes, and they are all right too, but I like to say, senseless acts of love.
Let us enter the sanctuary of Christ with confidence and make the true confession, encouraging one another again and again through these hard times. Amen.
Communion Blessing: “Through it all, through it all, I‘ve learned to depend upon God’s Word. Through it all, I’ve come to know that I’m God’s child” (From the song).
 Almighty God, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to remain steadfast amid the tumults of this world trusting that your kingdom will come and your will be done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, whom with you and the Holy Spirit we worship and praise, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 From Helmut Gollwitzer, “Words at the Memorial Ceebration for Karl Barth on December 14th 1968 at Basel,” (A Separate Printing from “Karl Barth, 1886-1968,” EVZ-Verlag Zürich), page 2. I put “Wenn and aber,” that is, ifs and buts, after, while it comes before the passage. I’m working to translate this speech by Gollwitzer and to get it into this website.
 Ibid. These passages in my sermon are inspired by Gollwitzer’s words.