I went on Wikipedia this week to find out how many times someone has predicted the end of the world since the turn of this century. To date, there have been thirty different predictions. The most well-known was last year. The Mayan Calendar predicted the world would come to an end on December 21, 2012.
Needless to say, it did not happen, nor did the world enter a technological apocalypse at midnight January 1, 2000, as had been predicted by computer programmers. They were concerned our computers could not handle the transition to the new millennium as most calendars only took into consideration the last two digits of the year. So they feared as these clocks turned over from 99 to 00 there would be a technological breakdown that would literally shutdown the world’s infrastructure.
Once again, our fears were not realized and here we sit, waiting for Armageddon to come, assuming with every diplomatic twist and turn in the Middle East, the end of the world is near.
Why are we so preoccupied with the end of the world? This preoccupation is nothing new. As I reviewed the list of apocalyptic dates, I noticed that there have been hundreds of different predictions since biblical times. So this is nothing new. This fascination seems to be part of the human condition.
In this morning’s letter from Thessalonians, it appears St. Paul is arguing against one of these very predictions as he writes, “As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him. . . . .Let no one deceive you in any way.”
One of the challenges the early church faced was the lack of consistent teaching. As Paul writes this letter, the faith of the church is mostly dependent on oral communication and on the oral transmission of the story. There were no checks and balances to keep the story and the teaching of the church consistent. This produced false teachers, who, like Paul, would travel city to city, teaching their version of the Gospel. It would be another 300 years before the leaders of the church could gather and figure what writings and understandings of Christian faith were consistent with the core of our understanding of Jesus.
The second challenge the early church faced was, why the second coming was taking so long. As we read the Gospels and Acts, there is an emphasis on the Kingdom being near. We have Jesus to blame for this. Several times the Gospels record him saying, the Kingdom is either near or at hand. And to add to the expectation that Jesus will return soon, in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples, “ And if I go to prepare a place for
you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3)
With statements like these, it makes sense the first Christians would be asking when the second coming was to occur. And the answer is, as it is today, we don’t know and we cannot predict it. This is what Paul is conveying in his letter to the Thessalonians. Our reading this morning literally begins with him telling the congregation not to be fooled by those who claim to know when the end will come. The only thing we know is the Kingdom cannot come until after Satan, “the lawless one,” is revealed.
Paul then shifts the focus from when the second coming will be to what we as Christians should be concerned with. . .to live in the glory of Christ, as if the Kingdom is already here.
Live as if the Kingdom is here. How differently would you live your life if you stopped worrying about tomorrow and lived as if the Kingdom were already here?
St. Claire dismissed her followers by telling them to live without fear. If we truly lived as if the Kingdom were here, would we be able to live without fear? According to St. Paul, through Christ there is nothing to fear. There is no need to fear death, because Christ has overcome death for us. There is no need to fear or worry about tomorrow for as Christ taught, God will care for us in a way greater than God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.
When the fear of death is removed, what do we have to fear?
One of my colleagues, at the Department of Children and Families in Connecticut, would always say, “What is the worst they can do to me? They have already cut my hair.” I won’t deny that it is an odd comment out of context. What my colleague was saying is, “after having served in the Army and having served on the front lines with the militia, there was nothing else in life to be afraid of.” And he lived his life with great confidence, without fear and with a sense of being able to live with total freedom.
This is the direction Paul guides the Thessalonians towards. A sense of total spiritual freedom that can only come when we are able to stop worrying about when or how the end will come and live beyond it by immersing ourselves in the glory and comfort of Christ. We cannot live in the glory of Christ if we are distracted with when the end will come as we try to figure how much time we have left or when we need to begin to prepare. We cannot live in the glory and comfort of Christ if we choose to live in fear of what tomorrow or next week will bring as we continue to hedge our bets for the future.
During the time of preparation for the Ignation exercises, retreatants are asked to reflect on what gets in their way of spiritual freedom. Most often we find what holds us back are issues of control and fear. Many of us put our own brakes on God, we determine how far we are willing to travel with God by placing road blocks in our path that limit God’s access to our lives. Out of fear we tell God what we are willing and not willing to do in our walk with God. Most often these self-imposed road blocks prevent us from realizing the fullness of God’s dream for us and keep us from experiencing the joy and freedom of being able to fully trust in God’s ability to care for us. When we break through our road blocks with God, we are also able to allow ourselves to move more fully into God’s dream for us.
As we break through these road blocks we have the opportunity to experience or witness what living in the glory of Christ can be like. It is like that moment when the members of a high school basketball team lets go of the end result and allows a special-needs youth to have his moment of glory by making way for him to score. It is that middle-aged business executive, who after years of working his way up the corporate ladder, decides to stop worrying about financial success and seek contentment by going into teaching or going to work at a non-profit.
Living in the glory of Christ is letting go of worrying about the future and living as if the Kingdom is already here by fully trusting in the love and the care of God.