December 3, 2023
After my sermon last Sunday, Tom Avalon told me, “Hey, it’s the engineer talking but you messed up the equation. You said Mass times Velocity equals Force. It’s Mass times Acceleration equals Force. F=MA.”
I strive for accuracy. This was welcome feedback. Thanks, Tom! I don’t always get everything right. I am human after all. And when I mess up, hey! We get to practice grace and forgiveness, which is the whole point of this thing called church!
Jesus today gives us unwelcome news. This whole kingdom that we’re hoping for… that the church and every follower of Christ has been yearning for some 2,000 years… when is this thing going to be completed? Jesus says, “I don’t know. About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This hasn’t stopped people from trying to make bold claims.
Skip Sipos is the head of Medina Metro Housing. He and his organization are giving up the building he helped design and build back in 1996 so it can become the Medina Emergency Shelter. We have multiple shelters for animals in Medina, but none for humans. This shelter will hopefully open in January of 2025.
Skip wanted a cool name and thought Turning Point might be a good one. And it is! Just one problem… it’s used by a whole bunch of different organizations. One of those organizations is the ministry of David Jeremiah. His latest book is how to get rapture ready. End times stuff. I just hate it. It’s what we learned in our No More Tears series, a whole section of theology called Eschatology or what happens at the end of time.
John Nelson Darby came up with the idea of the Rapture in the mid-1800s. This is the idea called pre-tribulation eschatology which states that Jesus will suddenly remove his bride, the church, from this world to heaven before the final judgment. David Jeremiah is an ancestor to that. Darby cut and pasted all sorts of bible verses from the prophets, verses like ours today, and lines from the epistles and Revelation to come up with this idea.
When I first started my ministry in Toledo, a church put up huge billboards announcing the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. No man knows the hour, Jesus says, but that hasn’t stopped many imposters from spending thousands of dollars on billboards.
Ironically, that May 21, 2011, was the day that my first senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Bill Chidester died. So that guy wasn’t all wrong, but wrong in the way he wanted to be right. I believe God is still speaking, and largely through irony. I spent my first few months as a pastor wondering when my mentor and boss was going to die. Turns out the signs were there all along. Right on the highway and around town.
I’m not a rapture guy. I hold that theology with a lot of scorn. I know it’s bad to be judgy, but GEE ZIP! For 2,000 years, people have popped up to say, “I know the day and the hour!” Well, Jesus didn’t… why would you? 2,000 years of thinking the world is going to end, and everyone has been wrong.
For me, I have a very small eschatology or view of the end times. The kingdom comes when two or three are gathered in Christ’s name. The kingdom arrived unseen in a backwater town, to an unwed couple, and was lain in a manger. The kingdom arrive today hidden from the headlines, in common people, and in humble means. Hospital visits. Bread delivered. At meals where the stories of our lives are poured out. Strangers into friends. Friends into family. Here is the mystery of faith. No rapture needed, in fact quite the opposite. The kingdom comes in times when you are fully present to the moment and your neighbor. The guy you thought was the gardener at first… Jesus. The person on the shore harassing you while you’re fishing… Jesus.
When Tom said, “Hey, you got something wrong.” I was fully in the moment. When he told me F=MA, oh man! Yeah! I was there for it. And a little of the kingdom came to be. I was bonded to this guy. Tom is scary smart. I’m thankful to know him and his family.
Many of us were present to one another during the hanging of the greens and at coffee hour. We’re present when we pass the peace. When we sang that certain hymn. We look around at our church and grant each other peace. Nothing better. That’s a little of the kingdom. Yet the next moment when you’re fully present? No one knows the hour. I couldn’t even hazard a guess. I’d be wrong if I did. Would you follow me if I made such a prediction? Why do people follow leaders who don’t care if they’re accurate? Who act like they know more than Jesus? I fail to see the appeal.
It almost feels like such predictions are an armor of sorts. They guard against having compassion for your neighbor. God is here with us. That’s the Good News! God’s plan has been made known to us: Love God with everything we have and our neighbor as ourselves. That’s the plan. When everyone does that, the kingdom will be here in its fullness. You don’t have to wait! You don’t need to prepare to get raptured up to heaven, our job is to get heaven here now!
Last Sunday, I mentioned that I don’t believe cancer is in God’s plan. I don’t think we’re fated like that. Plus, giving someone cancer would be a sin, and there can be no sin in God’s plan. I’m not saying that folks cannot get closer to God through cancer or any troubles, they sure can. As Paul, who faced a lot of troubles of his own including imprisonment and execution by the state writes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Things like death and natural disasters and health diagnoses aren’t part of God’s plan. I think that’s good theology. We have free will. We’ve been gifted with this life, and God wants us to live it. This means some folks choose to drive drunk. Or text and drive. And people get hit and accidents happen. Sometimes cells choose to be immortal. We have a diagnosis for when this happens. These cells are called cancer cells. Sometimes bad things happen. This is the whole thesis of Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It’s not why bad things or if bad things happen to good people, it’s when.
I need a faith that can bear when the hard times come. I need a faith that believes there is good in the world and doesn’t seek total escape. That we are called to be the good in the world. A faith that seeks to heal and welcome and call out injustices. A faith that makes life able to be lived. A faith that recognizes that while I don’t know the day and the hour, the kingdom is actually all around me in small ways. In common people. Yes, even in folks with some wacky beliefs.
When Jesus finishes the parable of the Good Samaritan, he asks, “Who was the neighbor?” And the lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus then said, “Go and do likewise.” The lesson could be to go and give help to those who despise you, as well as go and receive help from those you despise. We can do both because our God is a both/and kind of God.
It might hurt to be helpful and present to those who want to condemn. But we can try to learn from those with whom we have nothing in common other than being alive at the same time with English as our common tongue. When we get to that level, then the kingdom will be here in its fullest. When that will happen, I can’t even predict it for myself.
I do know that whenever that happens, then we will truly understand Christmas. We will then see all as God’s people. Amen.