Friday, December 3, 2010

What About the End of the World? - Richard R. Crocker

What about the end of the world?
Richard R. Crocker
November 30, 2010
Mark 13:24-31

What about the end of the world? Is it something we think about? Is it something we should think about?

I seem to spend a lot of time telling students, that it’s not the end of the world. To a student in my writing 5 class who gets a B on her first paper and is absolutely distraught, I say “It’s not the end of the world.” After a student breaks up with a romantic partner, I say “It’s not the end of the world.” When someone has been found “responsible” for a violation of college policy and is suspended from the college for four terms, I say “it’s not the end of the world.” I know, in all of these cases, that it may seem as if the world they have known has suddenly and irrevocably collapsed, but it hasn’t. All of them will live and incorporate this experience into their growth and will have new opportunities for life and love.

But then, in other pastoral and personal situations, it gets harder. When someone has committed a crime and is sentenced to prison, it seems like the end of the world. When a person receives a medical diagnosis for a serious illness, it seems like the end of the world. When a child hears from her parents that they are divorcing, it can seem like the end of the world.

But then, it can be even harder. When you sit with a family whose child has died, it really seems like the end of the world. When you are in a car accident and, through your negligence, have killed another person, it sure seems like the end of the world. These are events form which there is no recovery. Sure, life continues, but the world has, in a sense, ended.

We can say as a people that our collective world sometimes ends. The world for my parents’ generation ended, apparently, on Dec 7, 1941. For this generation of Americans, things changed irrevocably on Sept 11, 2001. Life goes on; the world did not literally end, but something of infinite value was lost.

In Advent, we think about the coming of Christ, the return of Christ, the end of the world. Mark chapter 13 is called the little apocalypse, in which we commonly understand Jesus to be talking about the end of the world. Is he talking metaphorically or literally? Does it matter?

Yes. We know that this world will literally end, eventually, in fire or ice. It can go on for many generations, if we conserve it and act wisely. It could end in a much shorter time if we act stupidly.

But I think the metaphorical interpretation of the end is just as sobering. Our life in this world will end, both literally, when we die, and metaphorically, when we feel as if we have died.

In the season of Advent, we are encouraged to think about the end of the world. It is important. The teaching of Christ leads us to believe in judgment: who we truly are, apart from all our pretention, will stand revealed. It also leads us to believe in a mercy and love that transcend our finitude. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” And those words are the words of eternal life. Amen.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What about the end of the world? - Kurt Nelson

Kurt Nelson
Mark 13: 28-37
Rollins Chapel, 12.01.10
"What about the end of the world?"

Richard and I each wrote a brief reflection on the end of the world.
His will come soon.

We’ve entered, for the next four weeks,
the season of advent.
And at least for those of us who care to think about such things,
it’s a liturgical season which calls us to wait,
to watch,
to keep awake.

But in real life,
it’s a season too full of too many important things to spend much time waiting
and watching.
We have finals, of course.
And year-end paper work.
We have plans to make,
gifts to buy,
economies to bolster.
Many of us will travel,
see family,
and, I hope, get some much-deserved rest.

Besides, we know this Christmas story by heart.
So what do we have to keep awake for?
A baby is born.
He turns out to be a great guy,
and a great ethical teacher, and spiritual leader.
And, for some reason,
he wanted us to give gifts to each other,
and cut down evergreen trees,
and put colorful lights on them,
and stand around in the cold sipping hot chocolate,
listening to the Glee Club sing about reindeer and snowmen.

But advent points us not only to Christmas,
and all the weird stuff that now surrounds us,
but also points to the end.
Because though it may be embarrassing,
or confusing,
we simply can’t ignore the fact,
that a significant portion of Jesus’ message,
was about the coming Kingdom of God,
about the end of the world.
He reminded anyone who cared to listen,
and probably more than a few who didn’t,
that we are living toward something.
Something big and important, and world-changing.
And so each advent season,
we are encourage to ponder,
how we are still in a state of waiting.
To ponder the simple,
and perhaps terrifying notion,
that the world will not always be the way it is.
And that we know not the day nor the hour.
Indeed, even Jesus himself seemed a bit confused,
suggesting the world would end before the passing of a generation.
He may have been misunderstood,
or mistranslated,
but there it is.
Important, and confusing.
A time of, "Already, but not yet."

Now most often,
I think,
this notion of the end of the world,
is used to frighten.
There's a whole sub-genre of Christian literature and film,
depicting in terrifying detail those who are left behind,
when the judgment comes.
Seeking to effect, it would seem, some kind of conversion.
But we are smart around here.
We know, I hope,
that we are not ready.
And that nothing we can do,
no prayer we can pray,
or tithe we can tithe will make us ready,
save for grace.
The point is not fear,
the point is to live.
And to live as if we're living toward something.
Because whether it's our own lives,
or indeed the end of the world itself.
It will not always be this way.
And rather than fear,
I suspect that's meant to leave us with purpose and clarity.
Life and the world aren’t endless.
And so our call isn’t to make plans,
for the right connections, for the lucrative job,
and the big house, car, and mortgage,
so that one day we might retire happy.
Rather, I think,
we’re meant to do what we believe is good, and right and important.
Guided always by love of God and love of neighbor.
Living toward an end,
which I hope, and pray, and have faith,
will be far more full of grace and love and mercy,
than of fear, and despair.