…and I feel fine.
Six o'clock - TV hour. Don't get caught in foreign tower. Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn. Lock him in uniform and book burning, blood letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate. Light a candle, light a motive. Step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh, this means no fear - cavalier. Renegade and steer clear! A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline. It's the end of the world as we know it. It's the end of the world as we know it. It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
If you knew anything about music in the late 80s you recognized the second verse and chorus of REM’s song, It’s the End of the World as We Know It. Okay maybe you didn’t realize the actual words but I guarantee you have the tune in your head now. That is where I got the title of my sermon today. It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
The movie 2012 came out this weekend. The plot line: it is Dec. 21st 2012, the day the Mayan calendar says the world will come to an end. It sounds so original. According to National Geographic a new cycle of the Mayan Calendar happens every 1,872,000 days and on the winter solstice of 2012, Dec. 21st, that cycle will end. Some doomsayers suggest that the end of the world will happen that day. So it is time to dust off your water bottles and canned food items you stored up 10 years ago when the solar calendar went from 1999 to 2000. I think we all know how that ended up!
I hate the fact that for the next three years we will be hearing about this. I am sure the Discovery, Science, National Geographic, and all the other cable channels will have at least 17 special reports each on this looming disaster. These stations always have programs on about how the world will end because of a comet or a meteor hitting the earth. Then there is the story line of a disease that will take out the earth’s population like in I Am Legend. As long as there were movies there have been disaster movies, like the 1933 movie Deluge. But we saw a huge influx in the last couple of years in the 90s. You had asteroids coming in Deep Impact and Armageddon. Dante’s Peak and Volcano were about, well volcanoes. The list can go on and on.
You can go to any time period of any nation and find predictions and stories of the end of the world. Some of you might think this was a modern phenomenon but if you turn to Genesis 6 you will learn of God saving humanity through Noah and the world being swallowed up in water. There is something engrained in our DNA that is fascinated about the end of the world. We want to speculate on how it will happen but we hope we are not around when it does.
It is all in fun when we see them in the movies but there have been times when we thought we were living through it. World War I was called the “War to end all wars.” In the dirt, gas and rot of the trenches almost 10 million soldiers died. The casualties of this war, military and civilian, are thought to be 37 million. Yet, we know that this was not the war to end all wars. World War II came along only two decades later.
The place Alycia and I lived in England was called Mossley and one of the past times was watching the planes circle around to land in Manchester. As we got to know the church members we learned that they would stand at the edge of the hills which over looked Manchester and watch the Nazi bomb the city. The planes would fly right over, drop their bombs and then fly right back. I have never stood in a place that saw war that recent. North Carolina last saw war during the Civil War in mid 1800s. Since then it has been peaceful. War seemed too far away and something that happened somewhere else.
When we have these moments of peace we think nothing will ever happen to change it. Nothing can really break up the way we live life. This sanctuary has been here for 48 years, it seems like it will always be here. That is what the disciples were thinking when they walked out of the temple with Jesus that day. Jesus had been in the temple teaching and had just got done comparing what a widow gave to God over a rich person. Now he and his disciples were heading out to the Mount of Olives. An unnamed disciple says to Jesus, “Jesus, what large stones and what a large building.” It was true, the second Temple was a spectacle to behold. The stones the disciple was referring to weighed about 40 tons. And if needed the temple could hold a million people within its walls. Not only was this place massive but it was also holy. It was were the presence of God lived, behind the curtain, in the holy of holies. The disciples were walking with the Son of God, in the temple, it must have been a moment to soak in and that is why the disciple mentions it.
Yet I don’t think they were ready for the answer. Jesus looks at him and says, Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down. Now this is pretty unbelievable. 40 ton stones will be toppled? A place large enough to hold a million people would be so destroyed that not one stone would be left on another? This seemed farfetched…yet in 70 AD the Romans took the temple apart and completely destroyed it, just as Jesus said.
I don’t like watching the disaster movies anymore because they use to be fun. It used to be fun thinking about a meteor coming down and cutting through buildings and people running in fear. It use to be fun because the thought was so out there. I am sure that the disciples had the same thought, “ha, that’s a good one Jesus. That will be a site to see!” Yet after watching two buildings that people thought would stand forever come crashing down, it isn’t funny anymore. When people go through tragedy, or war, their innocence is lost and reality is much scarier. I am not interested in seeing a plane fly under two skyscrapers as they collapse. I have already seen planes cause two skyscrapers to fall. We all witnessed the impossible become possible and it is not something we like to relive because in that moment our world became unstable, chaotic, and filled with fear.
The author of Mark’s gospel, the earliest gospel, is said to have written this around 70 AD. It was written in and around the Jewish-Roman war. There were plenty of people who wanted to get rid of the Romans, we see this all over the gospels. During this time there was a huge push for nationalistic loyalty and passion. The Jews were seeking willing fighters against the Romans. They claimed that this was the moment when God was returning, the was the battle of Armageddon. I have already told you how it ended because it was around this time that the temple was destroyed. In this time of uncertainty, anger, and angst we get Jesus’ message, one that is the opposite of a call to military arms. Mark wrote his gospel in the other light that this was not the moment of the end of the world. God was not moving, God had already moved in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his Son.
It happens in every lifetime. There is an event or a war or a moment that people think the world is coming to an end. During these times the calls go out, just as they did during the Jewish-Roman war. There is a call to arms and a buildup of nationalistic pride and passion. This is it, they tell us. This is the moment we have been waiting for, it all ends here. For some, those directly involved, their individual worlds just might. But for others life still goes on. There has yet to be a worldwide event that affects every single person on earth. Life simply continues to go on.
There is a moment when that change will happen. God promises that it is coming yet we still don’t know when. We want to though. Our human nature really hopes it is as easy as a date on the calendar. Peter, James, John and Andrew are intrigued by what Jesus told them and so they go to him and ask him for how they can tell the end is near. "Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”
Jesus is telling them that there will be many times in our lives when things look like they are coming to an end but those are just deceptions. I took a Bible Survey course in High School, yes public High School, and when we got the book of Revelation the teacher unfolded this huge map of how this book predicts the end of the world. I heard about bar codes being linked to the sign of the beast. The fact that there is a road being built right now from China to the middle east and this means the war is about to begin. The list went on and on. Then I just learned about something called the Rapture Index. This a website that places a numeric value on how close the rapture is to coming. On Nov. 9th it was 167 which means that there is an imminent threat that the rapture will happen at any moment. The website tells us to “fasten our seatbelts.”
We dive into works of fiction like the Left Behind series or listen to TV preachers say that they have the keys to understanding when this event will take place. But if you tune all that out, what does Jesus say? Jesus says to the disciples who were asking the exact same question we all ask, he says, “These are the beginning of birth pains.”
With all the kids that have been born in this place I am sure you all can tell me what the first signs are that a person is going into labor? They might start to nest, clean up around the house getting ready for the new arrival. Contacts might start but many times these are just Braxton Hicks contractions, or practice contractions. Then there is the thousand other signs that it might happen. I can’t tell how annoying it is to listen to everyone and their grandmother gives their thoughts on when your wife will have her baby. “Oh sweetie, she has dropped, it definitely will be this week!” “I can see that your nose is getting bigger, that means any day now.” “Have you lost your mucus plug?” “How effaced or dilated are you?” I means I remember standing there sometimes and hearing these questions and wondering…these people know what body part they are asking about right? This is starting to make me uncomfortable.
A baby comes when a baby comes. We can guess and guess but unless we have a C-section planned, we do not know the day or the hour. Jesus tells us, all these signs that people point to and tell us the end is near, don’t really know. He tells us we should not be focused on that. We should focus on what we can do for God today and not worry about tomorrow. Although we would love our focus to be on that great event when the New Heavens and New Earth will come into being, we really should stop focusing on when and focus on who is coming. Jesus Christ will come again. Instead of trying to center on when that will be we should focus on what he is calling us to do now. That way when it’s the end of the world as we know it…we’ll all feel fine.
And all God’s people said…Amen.