Sunday, November 15, 2009

There's Always a Morning After

Mark 13: 1-13

There's a song that, by modern Rock history measure, probably classifies as a standard. Just as Dave Brubeck's Take Five classifies as one of those songs that everyone into Jazz knows, or Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors for Country, or Amy Grant's El Shaddai for Christian Contemporary, (so well known it is even in the United Methodist hymnal at #123), so this song is so well known by folks that I want you to raise your hand when you recognize the song from the lyrics I will quote.

1. That's great, it starts with an earthquake,
2. Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn -
3. Uh oh, overflow,
4. no fear - cavalier, Renegade and steer clear!
5. Leonard Bernstein
6. Jelly Bean Boom!

The name of the song is It's the End of the World as we Know it (and I Feel Fine), by REM. I'm sure that for many of the people who have raised their hands, they can sing the chorus as easy as they can Happy Birthday.

Now, when you read the lyrics to this whole song, it's not easy to make a lot of sense as to what the point is. It's one of those songs that is a list of things, and the general gist seems to be things that are significant change. Lenny Bruce was a comic in the 50's who changed the way a lot of people did comedy, even until now. Leonard Bernstein was the same for 20th century American music. Now as to what jelly bean boom means, sorry, I have no idea.

It's the chorus that I am going for here; It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

When Jesus is coming out of the temple, one of the disciples says, "man, are those some big rocks! These buildings are huge!" Indeed, if you have ever seen pictures of the western wall in Jerusalem, which was the foundation of the temple, the cut stones are indeed very large.

Jesus takes this opportunity in Mark to say that there is going to be a time when this temple is not going to be here anymore. Later, four of the closer disciples ask Jesus in private what the end of the world will look like, because if he can see that the temple will be destroyed someday, that must mean that the end of the world is coming. It would be, I imagine, impossible for a first Century CE Jew to imagine the temple destroyed, and so such a thought must naturally equate with the end of the world.

Jesus' point isn't that they must protect the temple, but rather that it is going to happen, and the important thing to watch for is this; people who will come in the name of Jesus and try to take advantage of the fear and the chaos to gather followers. Jesus is encouraging them to hold fast to him only, that he is enough. They must stay true, but they will be tested, they will be tried, they will be persecuted, some of them may even die, but when it's over, they will be saved.

Now, I'm no apocalyptic scholar. You all know, who have heard me preach before, that I don't have much patience with end of the world prophecies or predictions. I believe that the failure of Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth in the 70's will soon be joined by the Mayan Calendar stopping at 2012. I believe that all prophecies about the end of the world end in the predictors looking like fools. I believe that it is a Christians' duty, and a Methodist's mandate, to prepare for whatever end that may surprise us by working to alleviate suffering and to show God's love, and when Jesus comes, let us be caught doing so.

But for me, this message today has a smaller, more personal message--There will be a day after. Imagine the worst thing to happen in your own life, including your own death or the death of your most loved one, and I will tell you that, somehow, some way, the sun will rise again. Imagine the death of a child, and I will tell you that there will be life for you still the next day. I'm not saying that it will be pleasant, or even that you will want to live into the afterwards at first, but I am saying that the opportunity is there, and God will be there, too. Jesus is saying that the Temple, the location of God on earth for Jews of the first century, will be destroyed, again (this is, you will remember, already the second temple). You'll be tested, you'll be tried. But those who endure will find the other end to be worth it.

We have no temple, but we often do locate God in things mistakenly. In the end, we get to a place where it is just us and God, and if we are looking for our cars, our houses, our bank accounts, even our spouses in that moment, we will be mistaken. The loss of things is often described by people as the end of the world, really isn't, and like the Christian version of Job, there will be more life after we've met God.

The ultimate of this idea, as I was reminded by a friend and classmate from seminary, is Mary Magdalene the third morning after her Lord had been crucified. The world may have ended, but someone still has to take care of the body. So off she goes to the tomb, and what she finds is even worse than she anticipated; an empty tomb. But, unimaginably, the day turns out much differently than she could have imagined when she woke up with cloths and herbs in hand.

So, it's a declaration of faith in God, in Christ, to say this:

There always is a morning after.
There always is a morning after.
There always is a morning after.

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