These are the end times. I said that to be provocative, though for some people, today, it may hit a little too close to home;[i] but it really is an end time. It’s the end of the liturgical year. In two weeks it will be Advent. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year – a time of expectant waiting for the Savior to come into the world for the first time. But that’s in two weeks. Now, it’s the end of the liturgical year, and so our readings are apocalyptic in tone in anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming. When will the Second Coming take place? Jesus said, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first….Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”[ii]
Jesus said this in the first century to his disciples – a company of outcasts and sinners – people rejected by society because they didn’t measure up in some way; Jesus said this to people living in a country governed by an oppressive and imperialistic regime. Some things never change, and probably every “generation” since Jesus came into the world for the first time has thought the world would end (and that Jesus would return) in their lifetime. But that’s not our concern. When the end will come is not our concern, and it wasn’t Jesus’s concern.
The end will come like a thief in the night – no one knows the hour.[iii] In another place, Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”[iv] Indeed. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
What matters to Jesus is how we respond to trouble, and Jesus is clear on this point: “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first….”[v]
“Do not be terrified.” That’s not always easy. Many of us are afraid; perhaps have good reason to be afraid. Jesus’s disciples had something to be afraid of.
Jesus goes on to tell this band of sinners, “[T]hey will arrest you and persecute you… because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends;and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.”[vi]
Jesus never said it would be easy. One good look at the cross easily confirms this. When we are judged and oppressed, hated and persecuted, this, Jesus says, will give us an opportunity to testify. In times of trouble (indeed, at all times) we are called to be witnesses to the Gospel. But what does that mean? When we are oppressed and persecuted, when all around us we hear of wars and insurrections, what is the good news we have to testify to?
It’s one word. It’s something we talk a lot about here. Any guesses? It’s love. It’s almost trite and cliché these days, but love is the centerpiece of the Christian religion. Difficult though it may be to understand, love is what motivated Jesus’s death on the cross. Love is what enabled the disciples to overcome fear and withstand persecution for the sake of the message. The message is love.
The disciples were outcasts and sinners – people rejected by society because they didn’t measure up in some way; they were people living in a country governed by an oppressive and imperialistic regime – and Jesus loved them. It can be difficult to comprehend just what this love meant to them unless we have been there ourselves. It is a love rooted in an encounter with Jesus in the places of our brokenness, poverty, and powerlessness. It is a love rooted in an encounter with Jesus in the places where we feel most despised, most rejected, and most unlovable. We are encouraged to go there. This is not an overnight matter. More and more as we live into the reality of our deep need for love can we allow Christ to bind up our wounds and set us on our feet. We say in the SSJE Rule of Life,that, “Sinfulness originates in a deep wound to our humanity that hinders us all from accepting love. As the Spirit exposes it to Christ’s healing touch in prayer, we shall often have to struggle with our reluctance to be loved so deeply by God. The nearer we draw to God, the more we will sense our vulnerability to the “cosmic powers of this present darkness” that seek to isolate us from God and one another.”[vii]
We must resist the powers of darkness that seek to isolate us from God and one another. We talk a lot about love here because it is so difficult. It is difficult to receive love, and it is difficult to give love. On our own we haven’t the power to do this. “We love because he first loved us.”[viii] And so we must strive, first of all, to experience Christ’s love by entering more and more into the reality of our poverty, brokenness, and our deep need for love. It is from this place that we tap into the power to love other people. This does not mean we will always like those people, or the things they say and do, but the experience of being loved so deeply by God empowers us to “not be terrified,” and to love even our enemies, which is what Christ commanded: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”[ix] That is our testimony. That is what we as Christians have to communicate to the world. Not so much by what we say, but by what we do, and by how we live. We are commanded to love one another.[x]
In two weeks it will be Advent – a time of expectant waiting for the Savior to come into the world for the first time. It is because Christ came into the world for the first time that we are loved so deeply by God. It is that love that enables us to “not be terrified” when we hear of wars of insurrections, and to love our enemies when we are hated and persecuted. That is our testimony. I will close with this passage from The First Letter of John: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God…” (and I’ll paraphrase, no one knows when the end will come and when Christ will return, but John continues)“if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”[xi] Advent is in two weeks, but we don’t have to wait for the Savior to come. Christ is always already with us when we love one another.
[i] Preached on the Sunday following the Presidential election of 2016.
[iii] Matthew 24:43-44
[iv] Matthew 6:34
[v] Luke 21:9
[vi] Luke 21:12-13,16-17
[vii] SSJE Rule of Life. Chapter 21. “The Mystery of Prayer.”
[viii] 1 John 4:19
[ix] Luke 6:27
[x] John 15:12
[xi] I John 4:7-12
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