Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
We all know the tale of Chicken Little. An acorn fell on the chicken’s head and he concluded that “the Sky is Falling”. So, the question is was Jesus being a chicken little of his day? The answer is a resounding “no”. Jesus was saying to all the Chicken Littles of that day and this that the sky is not falling. Terrible times do not mean that we are in the end times. This is the normal condition of human life in the in-between time. There will be nothing normal and things will always be in change. We can expect political and social turmoil. We can expect wars and rumors of war. We can expect earthquakes; tornadoes and every sort of disaster Mother Nature can come up with. We can expect poverty and hunger. We can continue expect epidemics like the Zika virus to the Ebola virus. As soon as one disease is conquered another will pop up. On the personal side, Jesus' words are all about the metamorphic troubles of daily life: disease, loneliness, depression, economic worries, arthritis, soured relationships, difficult job situations, or no job. Life does feel as if we are living in the off-balance cycle of the washing machine, and we can feel as if everything we ever trusted or believed in or dreamed of, is crumbled like the stones of the temple so long ago.
The newest crisis which has actually been around a very long time is the environmental crisis. This crisis includes both political and scientific elements that show the impact that human beings have upon the planet. This is a great example of a modern-day crisis which makes us feel like our whole world is out of balance like an out of balance spin dryer. But, the whole environmental crisis is an off shoot of our concerns about over population which was first noted in the works of Robert Malthus an English clergyman in the 1798. There is nothing new about the environmental crisis except maybe we have rediscovered it again in the 1970’s.
So, no matter what the crisis the issue remains the same. The issue at stake is how we respond to the turmoil and difficulties of life. In the face of such chaos, believers down through history have sometimes become preoccupied with the future. Some have faced down frustration, depression, hopelessness and despair. Some have lived paralyzed by fear. Others have struck out in revenge and hate. Still others have sought to escape the problems of life by running to a "better" situation or to alcohol or drug abuse. Many have lived lives with a chronic case of the spiritual blahs, growing stagnant and never growing up into Christ.
The letter to the Hebrews was written to people who struggled with how to respond to their situation. The recipients of the letter were probably Jewish Christians who did not know Jesus but had learned of him through others. Living perhaps in the years 63-64 AD, they faced persecution. Probably they had seen many of their community losing their lives for their faith. They hoped for the early return of Christ, and realizing that the Parousia was not imminent, their faith was crumbling.
The author wrote to encourage them, and us, in times of difficulty. He or she reminded readers to look to Christ and what Christ has done, rather than focusing on the problems of life. Because of the work of Christ, we live always in the presence of God. The temple was a place that distanced God kept God behind a curtain. Now the holy of holies is open to all. Just as the temple was the center of worship in the old covenant, God in Jesus Christ is the center of our lives in the new covenant. We live continually in the presence of God.
The problem is that we don't feel God's presence continually. That's why the writer reminds us to "draw near to God." We must live intentionally in God's presence, paying attention to what God is doing in our lives. We do that by making use of the spiritual disciplines participating in worship, reading Scripture, verbal prayer, contemplation, Lectio Divina (Latin for "Divine Reading" is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's word. It does not treat scripture as texts to be studied, but as the living word.), journaling whatever it takes to help us experience living our lives in the holy of holies.
Only when we live daily in God's presence are we centered in Jesus Christ. Then, when it seems as if the sky is falling, we are able to see beyond the sky and see the hope that Jesus gives. Instead of our lives crumbling under the load of personal problems, or troubles in the world around us, we will be able to hold fast to hope. No matter how off-balance our lives become, there is always the center around which we live. Centered in Christ, we will be able to reach out to others, encouraging them in this difficult life we share. In some mysterious way, we will become Christ to each other when the going gets tough.
It's common to understand these first verses of Mark 13 as Jesus' prediction of the sack of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Another way to look at the passage is a bit like a CAT scan. As the machine passes over the human body, it takes a photo of a slice of the body, and moving along, snaps photos slice after slice. When it is complete, the doctor can view the organs in slices, and give a diagnosis.
If we were to view this passage like a CAT scan, the first slice would give us an understanding of what the words meant for Jesus' disciples. They were like children in Disneyland, gaping at the beauty of the temple certainly one of the architectural wonders of the world, built of stones that no one thought could be brought down. The disciples knew the temple to be the center of worship, the place where God resided. No temple, to the disciples, meant no God. Beyond that, the disciples, like all good Jewish believers, looked forward to the Day of the Lord, when the Messiah would come to rule the world from the temple in Jerusalem. They were pretty sure that Jesus was Messiah. How could he rule the world if the temple were crumbled to pieces? The disciples feared that Jesus' words meant the end of their faith, the crumbling of dreams.
At another slice of our human history, we would view the Markan community those to whom Mark wrote. If Mark wrote early, around 64-67 AD, as some scholars hold, the band of believers would be experiencing persecution and perhaps even facing death. This was the period when Nero burned Rome and blamed the Christians. It was the time when being a Christian was far from popular. The first readers of Mark would understand Jesus' words to describe the living of their lives, in constant danger and chaos.
At a further slice along the way, the people who lived during the horrible years of 69 and 70 AD understood these words to describe the reality of their lives, as they watched the Romans under command of the General Titus destroy Jerusalem and turn the temple into ruin. For these readers, Jesus' words were a prediction of what actually came true, as their city, their temple, and theirs lives fell in ruins about their feet.
As the "CAT scan" moves along human history, we would hear a similar story from people those Christians who lived during the fall of Rome; the monks who carried the faith and preserved the Scriptures through the dark ages; Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the others who lived through the tumultuous years of the Reformation and the English Reformation; those sturdy souls who brought their faith across the stormy seas to a new country where they could enjoy freedom of religion; and, down through the years until today, when people read the words of Jesus, there is a resounding cry: "Yes, that's just like life!" Every generation could fill in the blanks with a list of tragedies, disasters, turmoil, wars, and more.
That's what Jesus was trying to say that day. The disciples, just like many people since, have interpreted these words to be a prediction of the end times. Just like many of us, they wanted to know when and where and how God's kingdom will come in all its fullness, when human history will be making complete in Jesus Christ.
That important thing is that no matter the tragedy, we can each look toward the kingdom of God.
These words of Jesus are all about helping us deal with the “Doom and Gloom” world we inhabit. However, in modern day society we get “Doom and Gloom” handed to us every day and sometimes every hour. These words of Jesus are an antidote to all the of us that constantly think that the “sky is falling.” Jesus instead said the kingdom is coming. The choice is between the over emotional Chicken Little we find in each of us and the calm and steady voice of Jesus saying my Father is in charge and the kingdom is coming.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Chicken Little, also known as Henny Penny and sometimes as Chicken Licken, is a European folk tale with a moral in the form of a cumulative tale about a chicken who believes the world is coming to an end. The phrase "The sky is falling!" featured prominently in the story and has passed into the English language as a common idiom indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. Versions of the story go back more than 25 centuries; it continues to be referred to in a variety of media.
There are several Western versions of the story, of which the best-known concerns a chick that believes the sky is falling when an acorn falls on its head. The chick decides to tell the King and, on its journey, meets other animals (mostly other fowl) which join it in the quest. After this point, there are many endings. In the most familiar, a fox invites them to its lair and then eats them all. Alternatively, the last one, usually Cocky Lockey, survives long enough to warn the chick, who escapes. In others all are rescued and finally speak to the King.
In most retellings, the animals have rhyming names, commonly Chicken Licken or Chicken Little, Henny Penny or Hen-Len, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky or Ducky Daddles, Drakey Lakey, Goosey Loosey or Goosey Poosey, Gander Lander, Turkey Lurkey and Foxy Loxy or Foxy Woxy.
The moral to be drawn changes, depending on the version. Where there is a "happy ending", the moral is not to be a "Chicken" but to have courage. In other versions where the birds are eaten by the fox, the fable is interpreted as a warning not to believe everything one is told.
In the United States, the most common name for the story is "Chicken Little", as attested by illustrated books for children dating from the early 19th century. In Britain and its other former colonies, it is best known as "Henny Penny" and "Chicken Licken", titles by which it also went in the United States.
The modern-day environmental movement in the United States began in the in 1960s and 1970s. This movement was originally focused on a few prominent environmental issues and disasters. Environmentalism evolved to become a multifaceted movement in the United States.
The 5 basic causes of the environmental problems we face today are population growth, wasteful and unsustainable resource use, poverty, failure to include harmful environmental costs of goods and services in their market prices, and insufficient knowledge of how nature works.
Environmental history is the study of human interaction with the natural world over time, emphasizing the active role nature plays in influencing human affairs and vice versa.
Environmental history emerged in the United States out of the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and much of its impetus still stems from present-day global environmental concerns. The field was founded on conservation issues but has broadened in scope to include more general social and scientific history and may deal with cities, population or sustainable development. As all history occurs in the natural world, environmental history tends to focus on particular time-scales, geographic regions, or key themes. It is also a strongly multidisciplinary subject that draws widely on both the humanities and natural science.
The subject matter of environmental history can be divided into three main components. The first, nature itself and its change over time, includes the physical impact of humans on the Earth's land, water, atmosphere and biosphere. The second category, how humans use nature, includes the environmental consequences of increasing population, more effective technology and changing patterns of production and consumption. Other key themes are the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer communities to settled agriculture in the Neolithic revolution, the effects of colonial expansion and settlements, and the environmental and human consequences of the industrial and technological revolutions. Finally, environmental historians study how people think about nature – the way attitudes, beliefs and values influence interaction with nature, especially in the form of myths, religion and science.
The questions of environmental history date back to antiquity, including Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who asserted that different cultures and human temperaments could be related to the surroundings in which peoples lived in Airs, Waters, Places. Scholars as varied as Ibn Khaldun and Montesquieu found climate to be a key determinant of human behavior. During the Enlightenment, there was a rising awareness of the environment and scientists addressed themes of sustainability via natural history and medicine. However, the origins of the subject in its present form are generally traced to the 20th century. The most influential empirical and theoretical work in the subject has been done in the United States where teaching programs first emerged, and a generation of trained environmental historians is now active. In the United States environmental history as an independent field of study emerged in the general cultural reassessment and reform of the 1960s and 1970s along with environmentalism, "conservation history", and a gathering awareness of the global scale of some environmental issues.
In response to a Vox column of mine suggesting that the United States needed a pro–population growth agenda, many readers from across the political spectrum responded by raising fears about overpopulation.
Clearly, fear of overpopulation is widespread.
But the truth is that overpopulation in the United States is not even close to a serious problem. Even globally, overpopulation is an overstated problem.
It’s simplest to start with just the United States. How many people can the country support? Because I am an agricultural economist by profession, my bias is to first think about food. One simple question is how many people can the United States feed? Well, our net agricultural exports account for about 25 percent of the physical volume of agricultural production, which suggests that if we redirected those exports internally, the US could probably support approximately 25 percent more people. That’s assuming current technology and current diets and current land use.
In short, we could feed more than 400 million people, total, merely by consuming locally what we now export.
If you assume that a growing population induces more land to be shifted to food production (because farming becomes more profitable), that food imports can rise, and that agricultural innovation continues apace, it becomes clear that our land can physically support even more people than that — I estimate as much as double our current population. And given that agricultural yields are far lower in the developing world today than in the United States, thanks to the much lower level of technological advancement and managerial expertise in those countries, the truth is that the rest of the world has plenty of potential for increased food production: more than enough to feed itself and provide imports for a more populous United States. Merely tweaking foreign land use rules could unlock large gains in agricultural production.
I also approach this problem as a regional economist specializing in migration, so I also think of the American population issue through the lens of population density comparisons. Consider that the European Union has approximately 300 people per square mile, making it as dense as the ninth-densest US state (that is, similar to Pennsylvania or Florida). The continental United States on the whole has about 110 people per square mile (excluding Alaska, an outlier), making the US less than one-third as densely peopled as the EU. Yet the European Union, too, has roughly balanced or even slightly positive agricultural trade. That suggests that Europe, too, has no trouble feeding itself despite being three times as densely settled as the United States.
If the continental United States were as heavily settled as the EU, the US would have nearly a billion people living in it. Granted, the Western US is extremely dry and thus might not support an EU-density population. (Again, I assume we aren’t going to populate remote Alaska.) Nonetheless, if just the states east of the Mississippi had European-style population density, and the other states maintained current population, then the United States would still have more than 400 million people.
Every time I show Americans these calculations, they respond with surprise, but the truth is that getting European-style densities wouldn’t require technological change. It wouldn’t even require any non-voluntary lifestyle changes or new regulations: Simple deregulation of the housing industry would do the trick. Reducing parking requirements for new apartment buildings, removing height limits, altering restrictive lot sizes (namely lot minimums), and generally just allowing landowners to build freely on their property would greatly reduce the cost of living and boost population growth and density. It would prompt Americans to move to denser areas while also lowering housing prices and easing family budgets — which would itself increase fertility. (Recall that many American families wish they could afford more children.) (https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/12/12/16766872/overpopulation-exaggerated-concern-climate-change-world-population)
Thomas Robert Malthus FRS (13 February 1766 – 23 December 1834) was an English cleric and scholar, influential in the fields of political economy and demography. Malthus himself used only his middle name, Robert. In his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed that an increase in a nation's food production improved the well-being of the populace, but the improvement was temporary because it led to population growth, which in turn restored the original per capita production level. In other words, mankind had a propensity to utilize abundance for population growth rather than for maintaining a high standard of living, a view that has become known as the "Malthusian trap" or the "Malthusian specter". Populations had a tendency to grow until the lower class suffered hardship and want and greater susceptibility to famine and disease, a view that is sometimes referred to as a Malthusian catastrophe. Malthus wrote in opposition to the popular view in 18th-century Europe that saw society as improving and in principle as perfectible. He saw population growth as being inevitable whenever conditions improved, thereby precluding real progress towards a utopian society: "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man". That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and, That the superior power of population is repressed by moral restraint, vice and misery. Malthus criticized the Poor Laws for leading to inflation rather than improving the well-being of the poor. He supported taxes on grain imports (the Corn Laws), because food security was more important than maximizing wealth. His views became influential, and controversial, across economic, political, social and scientific thought. Pioneers of evolutionary biology read him, notably Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. He remains a much-debated writer.
Malthus came to prominence for his 1798 essay on population growth. In it, he argued that population multiplies geometrically and food arithmetically; therefore, whenever the food supply increases, population will rapidly grow to eliminate the abundance. Between 1798 and 1826 he published six editions of An Essay on the Principle of Population, updating each edition to incorporate new material, to address criticism, and to convey changes in his own perspectives on the subject. He wrote the original text in reaction to the optimism of his father and his father's associates (notably Rousseau) regarding the future improvement of society. Malthus also constructed his case as a specific response to writings of William Godwin (1756–1836) and of the Marquis de Condorcet (1743–1794).
The Essay gave rise to the Malthusian controversy during the next decades. The content saw an emphasis on the birth rate and marriage rates. The neo-Malthusian controversy, or related debates of many years later, has seen a similar central role assigned to the numbers of children born.
Much has been written in recent years in theoretical physics about "chaos theory." For most of history, scientists have looked at the universe in a linear fashion, assuming that a leads to b leads to c and so forth. Now they are beginning to see that the universe may function more by virtue of relationships between particles, matter, etc., and that those relationships move about more in a chaotic, non-linear fashion. Chaos is normal for the universe.
Even through difficult times, the Christian church has continued to exist and flourish in Egypt. One of the reasons that Christianity was able to persist in Egypt even after Islam swept across North Africa was because the church had adopted the native Coptic language. By about 300, at least the Gospels and the Psalms had been translated into Coptic. In other areas across North Africa, only Latin was used. As a result, evangelism in those regions often did not succeed much beyond the major urban areas, where people had been taught Latin. So, when the Muslim conquests arose, Christianity did not survive for too long in those places. In contrast, in Egypt, where a broad spectrum of the populace had been able to be exposed to the faith, Christianity continued. Even to this day, despite the predominance of Islam in Egyptian culture, Coptic Christians make up somewhere between ten and twenty percent of the total population.
Sometimes those who share our faith inflict the traumas we face. Despite not being socially accepted, Catholicism continued in Japan into the twentieth century. But what brought devastation to that church was not any abuse from the native regimes. Instead, it was Americans who almost single handedly obliterated Catholicism from Japan. That happened when the United States dropped its second atomic bomb in 1945 and destroyed the city of Nagasaki, which at the time was the country's Catholic stronghold.
It seems that there is no end to the doom and gloom predictions of the end. Britain's honorary astronomer royal predicts that the odds of an apocalyptic disaster striking the Earth in the near future are about 50-50. Rees, a university cosmologist, says that the breakneck pace of scientific advances has increased the likelihood of an utter disaster. A hundred years ago, Rees calculated that the odds of a world-ending disaster were only about 20%. He doesn't specify how the world might come to an end, but he doesn't rule out the possibility of such things as the eruption of some super-volcano causing the sun's light to be blocked, or the intentional or unintentional release of some bio-engineered pathogen that brings an end to humankind. In his opinion, though, the biggest current threats are from nuclear terrorism, deadly engineered viruses, and genetic engineering that could alter human character. By 2020, Rees predicts that some case of bio-terror or bio-error will result in the deaths of at least a million people.
Scientists at the University of Washington say that the end of the world has already begun. In The Life and Death of Planet Earth, two university astro-biologists assert that the planet has already begun the long process of decay that will eventually leave Earth as a burned-out cinder to be swallowed by the sun. By referring to Earth's history, or Earth's "day in the sun," as a 12-hour period, the scientists conclude that we are at 4:30 a.m. By 5 a.m., they figure that the one-billion-year reign of animals and plants will come to an end. At 8 a.m. the oceans will boil and vaporize. Then, at noon, at the end of a 12-billion-year history, the sun will transform into a red giant and will engulf the Earth, melting away any evidence that the planet ever existed. One of the authors, Donald Brownlee, commented, "The disappearance of our planet is still 7.5 billion years away, but people really should consider the fate of our world and have a realistic understanding of where we are going." They suggest that as the Earth begins to heat up, various life forms will seek to find ways in live in the water, where the temperature will be more moderate. The scientists don't hold out much hope of eventually evacuating the planet and taking up residence on some other planet in the universe. They propose that while it might be possible to take DNA samples from every person and rocket that material to some distant place, they do not think it is very feasible to transport humans and the needed supplies to another location in space. In their opinion, "The sun gave life and ultimately it will bring death."
The hope offered in the Lukan passage is that God is in control, so the destiny of the world is not left to mere chance. Last September a 22-year-old art student at New York's Purchase College performed a kind of experiment. He went up to sixty wandering cows in a field and painted a different randomly chosen word on each one. Then he waited to see if they would by chance line up to form some kind of poetry. Unfortunately, no new sonnets or haikus were forthcoming. A writer in England did the same kind of experiment with sheep. She wrote one word on each sheep to see if they would form themselves into a poem. An arts council gave the woman $3,400 for her project, which was designed to test the boundaries between literature and quantum mechanics.
The common wisdom is that if you take an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters, the monkeys will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. The idea is that eventually, by chance, some monkey will hit the keys in a random manner that will result in some great work of literature. Researchers at Plymouth University in England decided to put that theory to the test. What they did was they took six monkeys and gave them a computer. At the end of a month, though, they had not produced a new version of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet. Instead, the researchers said, all the monkey had produced in that time was a big mess. They mainly liked pushing the S key. After a month, the monkeys had written a five-page text, mainly composed of S's with some A's, J's, L's, and M's occasionally creeping in as well. The idea that randomly typing monkeys will in time produce some work of literature is often attributed to Thomas Huxley, the nineteenth-century scientist who supported Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. Mathematicians also have used the typing monkeys’ example to illustrate the concept of chance. The point that Jesus wants to make, however, is that our present and our future are not in the hands of chance; they are in the hands of God.
Some people look forward to disasters, and some even seek to cause upheaval so that they can profit from it in some way. A few years ago, the owner of a glass replacement company was sentenced to five years in prison for breaking more than $150,000 worth of store windows around New York City. The fellow admitted that he and his workers used hammers, rocks, and slingshots to break windows at places where they had a contract to replace windows as needed. During a two-year period, they destroyed at least 20 plate glass windows and doors around Manhattan, including on Fifth Avenue. They confessed that they broke some of the same windows more than once. The replacement cost for some of the windows was as high as $91,000.
A radical composer named John Cage composed a musical piece in 1951 titled "Landscape 4 Radio." He tuned twelve radios to twelve different stations and turned them all on at the same time. In a sense, that is the world we live in today. In the midst of a troubled world, we are bombarded with voices, messages, and warnings from almost every direction. Yet amid that cacophony we try to figure out which voice to pay attention to. With each technical advance we have more and more voices. If John Cage had done his musical piece today, he might have added 20 television channels not to mention and twitter feed and a Facebook account.
Faith in God does have a way of making life more normal. The National Study of Youth and Religion reports that early adolescents who come from families that do something religious together—such as go to worship, read the Bible, or pray—are more likely to say that their parents always express love or affection to each other. Similarly, they found that parents of young teens who pray more than once a day are more likely to express love or affection to their spouses.
Jesus speaks of how wars and rumors of war will be signs of the approaching end. Unfortunately, wars have become so commonplace in history that we tend to overlook how devastating they are. During World War II, about 405,000 Americans died. But an even more devastating conflict for America was the Civil War. If the same proportion of Americans had died during World War II as died during the Civil War, then more than two and a half million men and women would have perished.
We often want to hold on to the belief that God will shield us from being affected by disaster and upheaval. During the Battle of Manassas in July of 1861, a bullet struck a lieutenant of the 6th North Carolina Regiment. He was later carried to a field hospital, where he was pronounced mortally wounded. Yet when the doctor began to examine him more closely, he found that the bullet had struck the Bible that the officer was carrying in his breast pocket. Even though that soldier later died, the story of protection by a "holy shield" spread far and wide. That Confederate lieutenant was the first of many soldiers who eventually claimed to be saved from death by their pocket Bibles.
During the glory days of Byzantium, wars waged by the Eastern Empire tended to be defensive rather than offensive. When they went into battle, the troops firmly believed that they were fighting a war on God's behalf in order to protect God's kingdom on Earth. When the Byzantine's won victory, their cheer was not "Byzantium has triumphed!" but "The Cross has conquered!"
"Confidence in the natural world is self-reliance, in the spiritual world it is God-reliance." (Oswald Chambers)
"From barbarism to civilization requires a century; from civilization to barbarism needs but a day." (Will Durant)
"It is in the darkness that the light shines most brightly." (Charles Colson)
"Only he who can say, `The Lord is the strength of my life,' can say, `Of whom shall I be afraid?'" (Alexander Maclaren)
"Other men see only a hopeless end, but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope." (Gilbert Brenken)
"Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate." (G. K. Chesterton)
"The future belongs to those who belong to God. This is hope." (W. T. Purkiser)
"When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away your ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer." (Corrie ten Boom)
Communing with nature can help us escape the conventions of daily life…. the worlds we find so necessary…. prairie land in Minnesota, desert in Baja, the buttes of the Dakotas…. the unconventionally beautiful places. (Paul Gruchow,The Necessity Of Empty Places)
"The human is becoming larger and nature is becoming smaller…. the world is not made for man but man for the world." ( Bill McKibben, The End Of Nature)
We must develop a "path of more resistance."
Despite our pretension as humans, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. (anonymous)
The grandeur of nature is only the beginning. Beyond the grandeur is God. Abraham Joshua Heschel.
There is little risk in becoming overly proud of one's garden because gardening by its very nature is humbling. It has a way of keeping you on your knees. JoAnn R. Bartwick.
"I have discovered that the secret after climbing a great hill is that there are more hills to climb…my long walk is not ended." Nelson Mandela.
A cartoon shows a ragged, heavily bearded man with a sign that says, "The END is NEAR!" The man approaches group of men with shirts and ties. One of them says, "I miss the days when they just rang a bell at the close of the market…" (Wiley Miller, Non Sequitur, [June 5, 2003], p. E11.
For those who understand prophetic literature as predicting the future, one writer says that Old Testament prophecies are "diagnoses of the moral or spiritual health... . A prophetic word of judgment intends to promote repentance and reform, even though many of the people reject the prophet's word. Destruction occurs only because the words of warning go unheeded." This means that prophetic speech is a way to teach, not a form of fortune telling or time travel. (Pheme Perkins, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume Eight [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995], p.686).
A Google search for "prophecies, end of world" resulted in about 721,000 sites. Religious tolerance.org lists "62 failed end-of-the-world predictions before 1990." For example, in 90 CE, "Saint Clement 1 predicted that the world end would occur at any moment." 500 CE "was the first year-with-a-nice-round-number-panic." In the year 1000, many people gave their possessions to the church, in anticipation of Christ's second coming. When Jesus didn't arrive as expected, the church kept the gifts, and was criticized. (www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrl2.htm).
Library of Date Setters of the End of the World lists "over 200 predictions and counting", dating from 44 AD to September 14, 2047. The list includes 15 predictions for the year 2000, and several for "soon". For example, ""Michael Drosnin, author of "The Bible Code," found a hidden message in the Pentateuch…that predicts a comet would crash into the earth in 2012 and annihilate all life.""(www.bible.ca/pre-datesetters.htm).
It's a brand-new year, and Calvin and Hobbes have been sent outside because Calvin made resolutions for his father. Calvin is on his little soapbox, ranting about new year’s. He complains that every year is the same, with all the same problems, even though the future is supposed to be better. Hobbes responds, "The problem with the future is that it keeps turning into the present." (Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes. [The Rocky Mountain News, December 25, 1994]).
Life begins with danger. A pair of ravens has made their nest in a pine tree perhaps 200 feet in the air. The nest is clearly visible to hawks and other birds of prey. The parents have kept a careful vigil, and successfully hatched their babies. Now the fledglings can be seen greedily flinging their mouths open as the parents make countless trips back and forth to feed them. Between feedings, the fledglings bob about in the next, trying their wings, unprotected from enemies, and looking as if they might topple out of the nest at any moment. Soon they will leave the nest on their tender, young wings. To a human observer, beginning life at 200 feet in the air seems frightening. Peering down and making that first flight seems like a horrendous experience.
Calvin is shown dressing, feeling powerful and happy as he leaves for school. The day is a disaster. He sits on bubble gum, is caught copying answers, gets beat up by the bully, and falls asleep at his desk, among other things. Then he misses the bus, and is caught in a horrendous rainstorm. At bedtime, he says, "You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky Rocketship underpants don't help." (Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes. [ May 14, 1995]).
We don't grow out of life's troubles. A woman who was celebrating her 43rd birthday, met a younger friend for lunch. Over lunch, the older woman shared the difficulties of her life a miserable marriage, a child in trouble, and elderly parents come to live with her. Her young friend responded, "But I thought that by the time I am 43, I will have my life together!"
When a waiter was rude, a family left the restaurant without leaving a tip. The waiter, enraged when he discovered the expected trip, decided to take revenge. He followed the family home, threw maple syrup, raw eggs and toilet paper over the family's home and yard. Police later arrested him. (Channel 10, San Diego, June 9, 2003).
One young man felt his world had collapsed around him. He was involved in a collision with a postal vehicle a few years before and was so disabled that he was unable to return to work. The settlement offered by the postal services was disappointing.
Seeking revenge, the man armed himself and forced his way into a post office in Lakeside, CA. He took four hostages, quickly releasing two of them. He then barricaded himself into a room in the post office with his two hostages, saying that he had a bomb in his backpack. This resulted in a three-hour standoff with the sheriff's swat team, the closing of several roads, and a lock-down of a local nursery/preschool. With the help of sheriffs and firefighters, the children, some of them wheeled in cribs, were led to safety and the joyful arms of their parents. After hours of negotiation, the young man released the hostages for a six-pack of soda, and soon afterward, gave himself up.
The young man told the judge that he just wanted to die, and to tell his family to just let him alone. (From the coverage of Channel 10, San Diego, and that of The San Diego Union-Tribune).
In a family whose motto is "Look for the silver lining", Snowball the cat always looks for the dark clouds. As family members chirp truisms like "Keep your chin up", "One day at a time", Snowball, with dignity and grace, embodies the meaning of pessimism. When the baby flips a bowl of oatmeal over the tray of her highchair onto the floor, Snowball is called to lap up the mess. This results in Snowball's greatest line: "Look what I've been reduced to a handy wipe with hair."(Stuart Little 2).
""I've often been asked, "What are you most afraid of?" A lot of people will say germ warfare or nukes, cancer, AIDS, narcotics…. But what really scares me to death is a man or a woman without a sense of humor."" (Jonathan Winters, quoted in Mike Sager, He Who Laughs Last [AARP, The Magazine, July/August, 2003], p.28).
We can't go on when we aren't centered in God. Life itself gets us down. ""A group of European traders in Africa were making their way from the interior to the coast. Their…porters fell further back until one day they sat down, looking bewildered, and refused to go on. When asked why, they replied, "We are waiting for our souls to catch up to our bodies."" (Marvin Hiles, The Way Through: A Contemplative Companion, Number Eleven, Spring 2003, p.1).
In August and September 2001, the lives of over 1000 families in the towns of Gorham and Berlin, New Hampshire, crumbled, when the paper and pulp mills closed their doors. Timber and the mills had been the livelihood of the towns' people for 150 years. Even when the mills were running, life was difficult.
"Coos County, for years, has led the state in just about every social and economic misery…. And that was before. The numbers aren't in yet for what happened when the mill went down…."
The people face poverty, loss of pride and identity. Men who have worked since high school in the mills, have no other skills or means to support the families. Domestic violence and alcohol abuse are on the rise. The town itself has become a town of empty and boarded up buildings. Three of the four Catholic churches have abandoned their people and closed the doors.
Life in Berlin and Gorham could seem hopeless. Hope has come in the short term from outside help through federal and state assistance and donations of over 70,000 tons of food. Hope raised its head from the rubble when a young man who grew up in Gorham, and whose father sent him away to live another life, decided to come up with a plan for the valley. Steve Griffin, president of Isaacson Structural Steel, invited the president of the local ban, the owner of the largest car dealer to come up with a plan. They pooled their own money to hire an economic-development expert. Bill Jackson, the mayor, solicited state and federal redevelopment grants. The four men, plus others, formed AVER, Androscoggin Valley Economic Recovery. Now the townspeople are dreaming again. People are asking, "What are we here for?", and looking for ways to bring new business, renovate downtown. Fraser Papers, Inc., has reopened the old Brown mill and 450 men are reemployed. (Geoffrey Douglas, "Brokenhearted Town". [YANKEE: The Magazine of New England Living, May, 2003], pp. 48-59.)
Ken Cohen claims that he is not a religious man. He has had a good life, and he believes that has come from God and that he should give back what has been given to him. Ken has begun a handyman service, called Grandpa Cohen's Fix It Service. He works through the nonprofit Jewish Community Service, doing repairs for those who can't afford it, charging only for parts, and only then when the person has the resources to pay for them. He trains others to do the work he knows so well how to do, and he spends time with the people he serves, trying to get to know them, so he can better help. He manufactured a device to help those with arthritis to turn on a faucet.
"From the beginning in this work, Cohen recognized that it is vital. It immediately hit home that some of the things many of us might take for granted can be extremely important to those in need." (Ozzie Roberts, Making It [The San Diego Union-Tribune, May 20, 2003], p. E1, E4.).
In the novel, Crooked Little Heart, Rosie Ferguson, at age 13, and her partner, Simone Duvall, were the number one tennis players in the girls 14 and under class. As the novel begins, life is good for Rosie. She is a happy girl who loves her parents, does well in school, and lives for tennis. As the novel proceeds, Rosie's life unravels.
Simone becomes pregnant, and when Rosie sticks with her, Rosie's reputation with her peers disintegrates. In a singles tournament, Rosie cheats and calls a good shot out. Because she fears losing her status, Rosie continues to cheat through the next several matches. Keeping the secret of Simone's pregnancy and her own cheating from her mother disrupts the relationship between Rosie and her mother.
A strange character has been watching Rosie from the beginning. Luther, a big, rumpled, dirty man, who wears a San Francisco ball cap, can be seen watching Rosie at every tennis match. He never speaks or approaches Rosie, he just watches. Watches her cheat, and she knows that he knows. The parents fear Luther. They believe that he is stalking Rosie and attempt to have him removed by the officials. Luther has done nothing, however, to justify his removal, and the officials let him stay.
One day, Rosie sees Luther at the bus stop, and they go walking together. It turns out that Luther knows a lot about tennis, and he becomes a sort of Christ figure to Rosie. He shows her how to frame the ball, and how to wait just a second before hitting the ball for her serve. He both shows and tells her what framing will do for her game. At the next match, when Rosie and Simone are close to losing, the opponent's ball lands just outside the line. Rosie is afraid to call it out. Luther shows up just then, wearing a new cap, one with the letter "F" on it. He gestures wildly to Rosie, and then leaves. Finally, Rosie "gets it" and understands that Luther's cap and his strange movements are meant to remind her to frame the situation. She correctly calls the ball out, and Rosie and Simone pull their game together, to win the tournament. When someone later asked Luther why he didn't stay for the game, he replied that he wasn't needed any longer. (Anne Lamott, Crooked Little Heart [New York: Pantheon Books, 1997].)
Things get horrible pretty fast in the play, Pentecost. A museum curator, two art historians, an Eastern Orthodox and a Catholic priest, and the minister of culture in an unnamed European country, debate the future of a recently discovered fresco. While they labor to remove the fresco from the wall of the abandoned church where it was found, several of the characters are taken hostage by a group of refugees who break into the church, demanding sanctuary. The hostages are armed and angry, and when their demand for amnesty in the countries of their various choices is not met, things get worse. The play ends in tragedy.
What lifts this drama above the horrible circumstances is what happens among the refugees and the hostages as they live together over a period of time. As characters communicate in several different languages, they begin to understand each other, much as the people in Acts, chapter two, did on the day of Pentecost. A gypsy tells his story in dance. A man tells a joke, and someone from another country stands to say that in his language, the joke ends another way. The British art historian tells his story in English. Two women from different countries comfort a baby by joining in a lullaby. A mid-eastern woman dances her story. The play is a witness to the power of love and hopes to rise above horror and even death. (David Edgar, Pentecost. Presented by The Old Globe Theater, San Diego, California, May 25-June 29, 2003).
Rapid change is now normal for most of the technologically advanced world. I grew up in a suburban area of Los Angeles, and several years ago I returned and drove down the street where I lived the first fifteen years of my life. I drove right through the intersection I used to live near, without even recognizing it. Everything about it was different, until I looked closely at the palm trees, and oriented myself. So, in an important sense, I can never go home.
Christians are called to be a counterculture. Over against what the world considers permanent and important, are the timeless realities of God's love and justice. It is in this alternative, truly permanent home that we must live.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Preserve us, O God, for in You do we take refuge.
People: Let us say to the Lord, Thou art my Lord; I have no good apart from thee.
Leader: As for all the saints, they are the noble ones; we may delight in them.
People: Those who choose another God only multiply their sorrows.
Leader: Rejoice, for the Lord is our lot in life, the cup we must bear.
People: We rejoice, for we have inherited a good life under God!
Almighty God, we confess that we often take our Christian life for granted. We treat it as if it were a chore. We look around and see others who do not believe and we hlaf wish we were the same. We see the Christian life as a burden, rather than as a blessing. Forgive us, we pray. Grant us the eyes to see what a blessing this life is. Grant us the joy of knowing we are part of Your wondrous work in the world. Help us to take on this task with determination, a steadfast mind, and a joyful heart. Amen.
Heavenly God, we dedicate these gifts to Your care. We pray that they would be incorporated into the work of Christ's body, having been sacrificed for the atonement of Your people. We pray that You would do the same with each of us, O Lord. Bring us into Your service, that we may love and do good work. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
God of Mercy and Love, we rejoice in You. We celebrate the life You have granted to each of us, and we pray that such joy would spread like a wildfire. In Christ You accomplished the ultimate victory, delivering us from sin and placing us on the road to holy perfection.
Of course, the world is hardly perfect today. We witness famine and persecution, wars between nations and wars within households. We see others suffering under such conditions, and we weep. We experience these conditions ourselves, and we cry out.
But it is the magnitude of this suffering that makes Your victory so much sweeter. We rejoice, knowing that You have won. We celebrate, because we can see Your holy kingdom. We know what it looks like, and we can see it in our midst. But even more than seeing it, we can live it. The ongoing work of Christ, through Your Holy Spirit, can become incarnate in our lives as Christians and in the life of this congregation. Therefore, we rejoice, O God. And we pray that You through us would spread this joy over all creation. In Christ we pray, Amen.