My friends in Christ, an online, totally unscientific poll this past week in the Independence Examiner, offered this statement: “Scientists said this week that it appears likely that small but destructive meteors like the one that hit in Russia this year could hit Earth far more frequently than previously believed.” Then came the question for the poll: “What do you think?” The poll offered four responses: A) We should be doing more to develop the ability to destroy or deflect them in space. B) If it’s a big enough meteor, we’re all toast anyway. (My choice) C) Let’s focus on problems here on earth. or D) Cross your fingers and hope it hits the other side of the planet. As of this writing A has 38%, B and C are tied at 28%, and D had 6%.
Two things disturb me about this survey: That 6% of the respondents were so selfish and Western-world thinking, and scientifically ignorant to choose D, and more disturbing, that so many people thought that the first choice, ‘We should be doing more to develop the ability to destroy them or deflect them in space,” came in first place.
Keep that in mind, my brothers and sisters, as we look at today’s Gospel lesson. At a casual reading, I’m sure that many people look at this lesson and think “end times or “rapture.”
Some theology: The word rapture isn’t even in the Bible. One verse from Matthew – one verse – has been used since American Puritan times to develop a theory of the rapture. The rapture is a totally American theology, founded by the likes of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards, who is remembered most for his sermon “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.” The theology of the rapture is divided into probably four different types (millenial, dispensationalist, post-millenialist, and so on…) all hard, all full of fear and damnation. The word rapture is synonymous with the word rape and, please remember, my friends, that the American Puritans gave us the Salem witch trials and were part of a wave of European settlement in this country that began a cultural genocide of our Indigenous People that continues to this day.
Some theology: The rapture is NOT part of early Christian theology, or modern Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox theology. We are an amillennial people in our view of these so-called end times. Amillennialism teaches that there will not be a future millennium in which Christ will reign on earth prior to the Second Coming but rather, we believe: that Jesus is presently reigning from heaven seated at the right hand of God the Father, that Jesus also is and will remain with the church until the end of the world as he promised at the Ascension, that at Pentecost the millennium began as is shown by perusing the prophecies of Joel about the coming of the kingdom in Acts of the Apostles to explain what was happening, and that, therefore the Church – its spread of the good news – is Christ’s Kingdom and will be forever.
Quite simply, I like to view these two theologies – rapture vs what we believe – as fear based or Good News based. An example: When I was working in the ICU I had a friend named Doug. Doug was Jewish. One night I was working with Debbie and Cheryl. Debbie was a fundamentalist rapture person; harsh and judgmental. Cheryl was raised in a totally secular home and was one of the kindest, thoughtful people I’d ever worked with. Cheryl was also a lesbian. Debbie felt it was her “christian duty” to talk with Cheryl about what she called “Cheryl’s chosen lifestyle”, but that’s a whole different sermon.
One night we were chatting. This ornery deacon was telling one of his famous “I remember one night when Doug and I were working” stories and Debbie interrupted me to ask how Doug was doing, as he had moved away. I filled her in, as Cheryl sat by listening. Debbie said “Doug is such a nice man…I wish he were saved,” and left to tend to a patient. I shook my head and began telling Cheryl the rest of the story when she interrupted me. “Jon,” she asked, “You’re some sort of minister in your church aren’t you?” I nodded and she continued. “I don’t understand this God stuff, but I’ve seen how you and Debbie disagree on so many things and I have a question: What are we saved from?” For one of the few times in my life I was speechless. I thought for a moment and said, “Cheryl, Debbie’s beliefs are fear based, that Jesus died for us to save us from something awful. I believe that Jesus died for us…and He also rose for us. I believe that we our saved from ourselves and I express that in the joys and demands of Gospel living.”
In that sense, my friends, look at the poll again. Building a shield or a weapon to protect us is fear based…much like those who believe in their rapture. Remember, instead, the gospel today. This Gospel has also been twisted by countless evangelists and rapturists to describe what life will be like “when Jesus comes back.” In this lesson, I feel the emphasis is not so much on what will happen when Jesus returns, as it is on what we (the church) are supposed to be doing until he does come back.
Jesus is not preaching doom and gloom. Jesus is speaking to his people in his time, and he also speaks through time to us. After all, things really haven’t changed much. We still have wars, we still have tough times full of anxiety and instability, we still have our human condition and we are all terribly broken. Our Gospel lesson today is a hopeful one – a call to faithful living, to endurance, to hanging in through tough times, to have faith in the God who has faith in us a place where God rules in every heart, where Christ’s love motivates all actions, where we remember it’s about God and not about us.
There are two lines in this Gospel that we must hear and understand and inwardly digest AND live into: “Before all this occurs…,” Jesus says, “you will be given an opportunity to testify,” and “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” The profession of our faith – daily – how we live, how we act, how we treat others, is what matters most to Christ; by our actions and voices we are Christ to those who need his love most.
To that, dear souls, let the church say AMEN!