Today is one of those days. A day when you look at the gospel reading you have been given in the Lectionary and wish that you weren’t preaching, or that you could roll over in bed, bury your head, and go back to sleep. There is a story I have to share with you this morning that someone special gave me earlier in the month….you see there was a mother went to wake her son for church one Sunday morning. When she knocked on his door, he said, "I'm not going!" "Why not?" asked his mother. "I'll give you two good reasons," he said. "One, they don't like me. Two, I don't like them." His mother replied, "I'll give you two good reasons why YOU WILL go to church. One, you're 47 years old. Two, you're the pastor!" My scripture lesson today is about the end times. It’s quite frightening stuff really with those images of nation against nation, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, fearful events, persecution. The lesson came from Luke 21:5-19- "5 Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?” 8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.” 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives."You know there have always been prophets of doom. I can well remember going to see the Braves or Expos play during their Spring Training in West Palm Beach with my dad and laughing at a man who walked up and down in the stadium wearing a sandwich board with phrases on it like ’prepare to meet your doom’ and ’the end is nigh.’ As a child I was never sure exactly what his boards meant. I just thought he was funny looking with that silly board strapped on him. My mom’s first cousin used to drive through Walmarts parking lot with a speaker system hooked up to his car telling the shoppers that the world was coming to an end. I remember as a child and teenager how embarrassed I was by this action. My mom, on the other hand, would always stop him and give him a huge hug. There is nothing new in predictions of great catastrophe. From way before the time of Jesus right up to the present day predictions of the end of the world have come and gone and have often left people with egg on their faces. Our latest was the Mayan calendar fiasco which told that the world would end in December of 2012. If I’m honest I have to say that today these kinds of predictions don’t get me excited at all – whether they are the prophecies of Isaiah about a new heaven and a new earth from our first reading; or the words of Jesus about the passing of the old earth in our gospel reading; or predicted dates of the end that come today. No one knows when it will happen. I see Jesus sitting beside God and one day God looking at Jesus and telling Him to "go get your bride." Perhaps what is more important to us today is not the end of the world as we know it, but endings in our own lives, times when our world collapses and seems to end, times when our world is shaken to its foundation and almost falls apart.
It may well be that your world has collapsed; it could possibly be you who is suffering and sees no hope for the future. You may have lost a loved one – husband, wife, brother, sister, parent, child, friend. The well-loved voice is silent, the house empty, an aching heart and a hollowness within, your world seems to have ended. You might be involved in the breakdown of a relationship, facing a divorce, going through a messy break up. What seemed like a great future suddenly disappears as your world seems to fall apart. Hardly a week goes by without news of job losses; it may be you that has found yourself unemployed, as some companies with long traditions move their jobs elsewhere chasing after cheap labor but leaving behind broken lives and people with no job and seemingly little hope for the future. Your world seemingly has collapsed. You may have received bad news of an illness and be struggling to come to terms with it and to cope with what is happening and may happen in the future. This may seem like the end of your world. Whenever these kinds of things happen, our world falls apart. Those people we have relied on; those things we have trusted; those events we have put faith in, have gone. These can be times of great testing – testing of our faith, testing of our belief in God, wondering whether there is a God. Times like this can shake our faith to its core. My mom used to tell me that these times God uses to build character in us. After the death of both of my parents and some other much loved family members in a 15 month period I remember crying out to God asking him how much more character he needed from me and to pick on someone else. One of my dearest friends told me repeatedly that God never put more on us than we could handle….when she died six months later it was the straw that broke my spiritual back and God and I sat down and had a “come to Jesus” talk.In the reading from Luke’s gospel when Jesus was talking about the shaking and collapse that will take place at the end of the world he gave his listeners some hope. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. At the end of the passage Jesus told people to stand firm and not to give in. He said that not a hair on your head will perish. By standing firm you will receive life. Stand firm, hold on. God has not deserted them. And the same is true for us. In the midst of the turmoil of our lives, when our world seems to have collapsed, God who has been with us is still there. God who has been faithful in the past remains faithful today. God who has lavished his love on us hasn’t deserted us now in the time of need. The times when we feel our faith tested, the times when we feel we are crawling along the valley floor, crushed by life, are the very times when God is closest to us, even though we often don’t realize it. When our world seems to be collapsing around us God stands firmly in the midst of the rubble.
In Jesus, God came into the world. He came to share in all the joys and sorrows of life, he came to know what life is like and to show us what God was like. And because he came , because he lived, because he died and rose again, he stands firmly and squarely with us in this life and reaches out to us, to you and to me when our world seems to be collapsing and falling apart. His love comes close where stands an open door, his peace comes to those caught in a storm; his joy comes where faith encounters fear; his grace comes to those whose grace is spent. Stand firm, don’t lose hope. God is with you. I can promise you this….because He was there for me.