I would usually write about the lectionary readings for the Sunday coming up, but I went off lectionary for our final service in Mirror last week. So this week’s post reflects the passages from Luke for last week and this week. Besides ... it seems appropriate.
“He is God not of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:38).
It’s usually about this time of year that I get two or three letters telling me that the end of the world is imminent and I’m going to burn in the very fires of hell.
I should clarify that a bit: the letters - they’re often pamphlets really - aren’t addressed to me personally, although the “you” they address feels pretty personal. They also tell me that my safety during the coming armageddon and protection from the subsequent judgement can be easily assured by me supporting their very important ministry with a donation.
Sometimes I read them just to see what new and novel ways indicate that the end is near: the writer had a vision of a great beast devouring the earth; nature is fighting back and trying to destroy us; terrorists could get their hands on advanced weapons of mass destruction; the various conflicts around the world are getting progressively out of hand; the right is killing the country, or the left, take your pick; the Oilers are winning, for real this time. All signs of the impending end of the world.
Okay, I’m making light of something that’s pretty serious. In fact, some of those scenarios are very current and very real. But are they signs of “the end?” Or are they being used to make you afraid so you’ll believe in something? Fear is a pretty powerful motivator.
Jesus talks about there being an “end time,” as do prophets in the Bible, and there’s the whole book of Revelation. But Jesus also has a warning, that we should be wary of false prophets and those that would use fear to control and hurt the world. Jesus has another message, too.
Really. Don’t panic. Don’t be afraid, first of all, because God is with us in this life and in the next: the end of this life is the beginning of a new life with God. Secondly, God calls us to living in this life, to love boldly, to engage this life with all the enthusiasm, creativity and wisdom we possess - to use our capacity to make change happen. Fear is death, not life. Love is life. Fear doesn’t empower us to learn and grow and change. Love does that. Fear holds us back from living boldly into the next moment. Love moves us to embrace the world and step fearlessly forward. And Jesus reminds us that our God “is God not of the dead, but of the living,” in living out this life and living into the next.
I suspect that the reason we see more of this kind of “literature” at this time of year, and hear bible stories about it, is because we’re coming to some endings. The church calendar begins with Advent, so the end of the church year is this coming week. The calendar year ends soon, too. Oh, and it’s often election time. How’d that go recently?
But those endings are also beginnings of something new, aren’t they? They’re signs that something is coming, Christmas for one thing. That, too, is a beginning. The birth of Jesus shouldn’t be something that we acknowledge every year just because it’s marked on the calendar from last year. We celebrate it because it reminds us of new life, shows us the wonder of our selves and our relationships with each other and God, and inspires us to live better in those relationships.
Even when it seems like the new beginning brings an even greater struggle, a setback or a defeat, Jesus reminds us that God goes with us and love is still the heart of life. Choose to love. With all due respect to George R.R. Martin, it’s not winter that’s coming, it’s summer.
And by the way, what made me think of this wasn’t elections or conflicts or change and upheaval, it was that I didn’t get any of those “letters” this year. Not one. Maybe that’s a good sign.
So don’t panic, Jesus says. Stuff happens and, with God, we’ll live into those challenges as they come. I certainly don’t want to be worried that the Oilers have started winning again. For now.