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Sermon: Hearts Weighed Down

November 28, 2009

Luke 21:25-36

In the year 365, a man named Hilary of Poitiers said that Jesus would come and the world would end by the end of the year.  Jesus did not come, and the world did not end.

Undeterred, a student of Hilary, Martin of Tours, said that Jesus would return and the world would undoubtedly end between the years 375 and 400.  It did not happen.

As the year 500 approached several so-called scholars determined that surely, this would be the year for Jesus’ return and the apocalypse.  Didn’t happen.

In 968, the army of German emperor Otto III saw an eclipse and decided this must be a signal that the end of the world was imminent.  It wasn’t.

In 992, Good Friday and the Feast of the Annunciation fell on the same day.  Many people believed that the antichrist would appear on that day, thus signaling the beginning of the end of the world.  They were wrong.

There was widespread panic in Europe as January 1, 1000 approached.  Some Christians sold all their possessions because, of course, Jesus would return and bring about the end of the present world on that date.  Jesus did not return on January 1, 1000.

In the years of 1005 and 1006, there was a terrible famine in Europe.  Many people naturally assumed that this was a sign of the end of the world.  Nope.

There were similar predictions about the years of 1033, 1147, 1179, 1205, 1284, 1346, 1496, 1524, 1533, 1669, 1689, 1736, 1792, 1794, 1830, 1832 and numerous other dates.  Not one of those predictions was correct.  Some people made multiple predictions and were wrong every single time.  One of the more interesting—and that makes me think of the new movie 2012—was from meteorologist Albert Porta.  He said that the conjunction of 6 planets on December 17, 1919 would generate a magnetic field that would cause the sun to explode.  Guess what.  It didn’t happen.  (“Failed end of the world predictions.”)

Jesus warned us—and warns us still—that there will be a lot of foolish predictions about his return and the end.  He said, “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”  Earlier in the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus said, “Many will come in my name and say…‘The time is near!’  Do not go after them” (Luke 21:8).

Instead, Jesus explained that the approach of the end would be like the leaves coming out on a fig tree as summer comes near.  Everyone will be able to see and understand.  You won’t need a self-proclaimed prophet to tell you what to believe.  You don’t need the weatherman to tell you that summer is on its way, and you don’t need a crackpot to tell you that the end is coming near.

Even though Jesus has already instructed us not to pay too much attention to the so-called end times, everybody seems interested.  If you hold a Bible study on Romans, you’re likely to be sitting in a room all by yourself, but if you hold a study on Revelation, it will be standing room only.  Why?

I think I know why.  Forgiveness is boring.  Love of neighbor is dull.  Nobody is interested in redemption or sanctification or justification.  But apocalypse is interesting.  Apocalypse and the end of the world and strange creatures with eyes all over their bodies are fascinating.  And because Revelation is there at the end of the book, it feels like it’s the dessert you get after you’ve eaten your vegetables.  So everybody is curious about Revelation, but the rest?  Not so much.

Jesus, though, said that we shouldn’t really spend too much time thinking about all that.  It’s coming, he said, but we don’t know when, and if anyone tells you they do, they are mistaken.  It will surprise us all, even Jesus.

Jesus taught us that what is more important is what we do in the meantime and whether or not we are ready when the time does come.  He said, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap…Be alert at all times.”

I think I know what Jesus meant when he spoke about hearts that are weighed down with dissipation and the worries of this life.  Mary walks through the front door after a long day at work.  Her head is pounding, her feet are sore, and a bone-deep weariness has followed her home.  She would like nothing more than to put her feet up and watch Jeopardy, but the kids need to eat, and her husband is working late.  And then her son needs help with his algebra homework and her daughter needs help with an English paper.  All the while, there are a stack of bills in the bedroom, and they are calling her name.

Mary slogs through her evening, welcomes her husband home, and they both crash into bed like Sequoias falling to the forest floor.  Her sleep is fitful because she knows that alarm clock will go off early, and she’ll get to start the whole thing over again tomorrow.  Her heart is weighed down.  She is not even ready for Thanksgiving, let alone the return of Jesus and the end of the world.

That’s just life, and apparently, it was the same for people of Jesus’ time.  Each day can become a weary repetition of the day before.  Most of us don’t even have time to make crazy speculations about the end of the world.  We’re too busy attending meetings.  The end will fall among us as we’re worrying about other things, and let’s face it, we’re always worrying about something.

Robert Capon says that it is something of a misnomer to speak about the “return” of Christ or the “second coming.”  Christ was already present in the beginning, as the Eternal Word, with God and active in creating the heavens and the earth, and every creature.  That Word continues to be present with us now.  Jesus never really “went away.”  “Therefore, Jesus is not coming at all; he is here.”  (Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 479-83.)  He is here.  Now.

We could combat the dissipation of our energies by imagining fanciful scenarios about the end of the world, or we could look for signs of the Christ who is already here.  Mary does that, even though much of her existence is weighed down by responsibility and worry.  She attends worship each week, and there, she is reminded of the grace of Jesus Christ and the love of God.  She see hope made visible when her church helps young women from India escape crushing poverty, or when food is shared with someone who is hungry right here at home.  She also carves out time to cherish her husband and children.  She knows they are growing up fast—even her husband—and she wants to enjoy the wonder of discovery on their faces and to savor each hug, each smile, each laugh.  She gardens, because gardening forces her to slow down.  You cannot hurry the growth of a seed.

Mary knows that Jesus is hidden in those simple joys, that if she looks closely enough, she will see grace and love, healing and forgiveness, even salvation.  Rather than looking up over the rooftops to try to catch a glimpse of Jesus descending in a cloud like Santa Claus, Mary knows that it is better to look for the kingdom of God all around her.  It’s there.  It has come near to us.

So look for it, and as surely as you can see the new leaves of the fig tree that betray the presence of summer, you will be able to see the signs that Jesus is already here.

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