Is the end near?
Lukas 21, 5-19 aus der Neuen Genfer Übersetzung
Einige unterhielten sich über den Tempel; sie bewunderten die herrlichen Steine, mit denen er gebaut, und die Weihgaben, mit denen er geschmückt war. Da sagte Jesus: »Es kommt eine Zeit, da wird von dem, was ihr hier seht, kein Stein auf dem anderen bleiben; es wird alles zerstört werden.«
Sie fragten Jesus: »Meister, wann wird das denn geschehen, und an welchem Zeichen werden wir erkennen können, dass es soweit ist?« »Gebt Acht, lasst euch nicht irreführen!«, antwortete Jesus. »Denn viele werden unter meinem Namen auftreten; sie werden von sich sagen: ›Ich bin es!‹ und werden verkünden: ›Die Zeit ist da.‹ Lauft ihnen nicht nach! Erschreckt auch nicht, wenn ihr von Kriegen und Unruhen hört. Diese Dinge müssen geschehen, bevor das Ende kommt, aber es kommt noch nicht sofort danach.« Weiter sagte er zu ihnen: »Ein Volk wird sich gegen das andere erheben und ein Reich gegen das andere. Es wird schwere Erdbeben geben; Hungersnöte und Seuchen werden bald diese Gegend heimsuchen und bald jene; furchtbare Dinge werden geschehen, und am Himmel werden gewaltige Zeichen zu sehen sein.«
»Aber noch bevor es zu dem allem kommt, wird man mit Gewalt gegen euch vorgehen und wird euch verfolgen. Man wird euch in den Synagogen vor Gericht stellen und wird euch ins Gefängnis werfen; man wird euch vor Könige und Machthaber führen. Das alles wird man euch um meines Namens willen antun, und es wird für euch eine Gelegenheit sein, das Evangelium zu bezeugen. Meint nicht, ihr müsstet euch im Voraus zurechtlegen, wie ihr euch verteidigen sollt. Denn ich selbst werde euch Worte in den Mund legen, denen eure Gegner nichts entgegenzusetzen haben, und werde euch eine Weisheit geben, der sie nicht widersprechen können. Sogar eure Eltern und Geschwister, eure Verwandten und eure Freunde werden euch verraten, und manche von euch wird man töten. Um meines Namens willen werdet ihr von allen Menschen gehasst werden. Und doch soll kein Haar von eurem Kopf verloren gehen. Seid standhaft, dann werdet ihr das Leben gewinnen.
Is the end near? The end of the world?
I do not know how you felt while listening to the reading from the Gospel according to Luke. I believe that this was listened to differently because we are all different. Different ages, different levels of attention, fully or not at all awake, all of this plays a role in listening to a text.
But since this is an unpleasant text, I decided to preach about it. Knowing that I can only offer you my thoughts. Hopefully that this will be helpful for the one or the other.
Inevitable is the question as to how we understand Jesus‘s speech towards the end of his life? Do we see in it the somewhat delayed timetable of the end of history, whose outstanding stations we are always trying to redefine? In other words, is the war in Ukraine the war that Jesus was talking about? Does the epidemic mean the covid pandemic? Are the powerful signs in the sky the hurricanes caused by the climate change?
This would be fitting to my original question – I do admit that it is something ironical: is the end really near?
Or is Jesus’s speech about the end of time about the processing of contemporary historical difficulties with the means of apocalyptic language using traditional words of Jesus which have nothing more to say to us? Put more simply: do we have to listen to such a text historically? So we should call to our memory when and in which situation the Gospel according to Luke originated. What was it like for the young, Christian congregations who were persecuted by the Romans and experienced the destruction of the temple? Does the author of the Gospel according to Luke speak only and exclusively to his audience?
Or – and this could be the third possible approach – or can something like a basic history of the nature of God’s path with his church be recognized in the apocalyptic focus of Jesus’ words on current events?
This would be like the middle road between Jehovas Witnesses, who are always trying to conjure up the imminent end of the world and an historical classification that more or less says that it no longer concerns us today.
For once, I find the middle road the most interesting. Can we recognize the beginnings of God and his dealings with his church through the horrible scenario which was described? This could probably help us more and make this text more fruitful for us.
Before I go any further I want to try to explain it in simple terms. As untheological as possible so that everyone can easily listen: I would like to know if the text which we heard has something to do with me and with us. Do I have to be afraid because Jesus means us and everything will get worse? Or was Jesus just speaking with his disciples and we were not the people that were on the road with Jesus? Or, and this is the way that I would like to continue – or can we learn something from this for us and our life?
Next I would like to emphasize a statement made by Jesus: Do not let yourself be deceived!
I think that Jesus meant to stop wanting to calculate the end of the earth. Stop! You cannot do this.
How often have people tried to do this? The Roman empire fell and now the world will fall. The plague, also the worst epidemic in the Middle Ages, killed thousands of people and now the world will fall. The second world war is over and now the world will surely fall. All nonsense, all false and as Jesus himself said: „yet from those days and hours no one knows anything not even the angles in the heaven nor the son but only the father.” (Mat 24, 36)
And following that statement, I would like to ask the question: even if you knew when the world would end - what would you change?
And here a famous sentence from Martin Luther must be mentioned: If I knew that tomorrow the world would fall then today I would plant a tiny little apple tree.“ Last Sunday when I preached in Leibnitz, there is a small place in front of the church with a tree and exactly this sentence. What is meant by this?
I think that means a way of life. A basic approach to life.
And I found another beautiful story which is fitting:
In front of the house of an old man is a huge mountain. The mountain takes away the light from him for which he has been wishing for. What does he do? He starts, takes rakes, shovels and a wheelbarrow and starts to move the mountain. The neighbors start to laugh and make fun of him: “The old man has really gone crazy now!" The old man said, „just wait, I will do this, shovel for shovel, cart for cart.“ “You will never be able to finish this!“. Said the neighbors. He responded, „Maybe you are right. But If I do not finish this then maybe my sons will continue; when they do not finish is then their sons – and sometime the mountain will have been moved.“ The legend ends in the sentence, „When God in Heaven saw this trust, he sent two angels who carried away the mountain on their wings.“
As crazy as this story might appear, I see two very important basic statements: one is the start and the other the work of God.
The man starts. How many people do not know what to do with themselves, what to do with their time, do not know what to do with their abilities and their talents – and therefore they do not start anything. Yet if you do not start you will be exhausted if you do not start anything because there are so many things that get left undone.
Not starting makes the mountain get bigger and bigger instead of being taken away. Listlessness and nostalgia are rampant, „Before I could and now I cannot anymore! How come you cannot anymore, who says this?
Something is always starting – the question is, can I start something? The day starts, the week starts, the year starts, the school starts, the marriage starts, the mid-life starts, old age starts - something is always starting! The challenge is that I cannot just let this starting simply happen, but make it my start so that I start.
If I do not do this, then I am not living but I’mn beeing lived. Life goes past me, it becomes an accumulation of missed chances, a collection of unlived lives.
Climate change is for me like this mountain. It appears to be too big. A frustrating statement and missed chances wait in line for the next ones. Many are exhausted. The have come to a standstill. But is this a reason to stop? Is frustrated resignation more fun? More fulfilling?
Or is it a matter of starting and thinking what I can personally do.
This differs just like we are all different. I, for example, have turned off the warm water in the shower. This is my personal contribution to saving energy. This is not something for everyone but I need cold water or else my day does not start. And so I started by simply doing away with the warm water. What can be your contribution?
This is one thing and the other is God‘s work. God simply sent two angels and they carried away the mountain on their wings.
Perhaps we should consider more God’s incredible possibilities, instead of just trusting our own powers and our own possibilities.
In 1 Thessalonians it says: „pray without stopping.“ (1.Thess. 5,17)
This could mean that we ask God that he makes things happen. That he helps us in our times of weakness. God does what we cannot do.
And finally, I want to draw our attention to the promise that is at the end of today’s text: be steadfast and you will gain life.
This steadfastness, this clinging to Jesus, this trust in the Holy Spirit, this calculating with God’s works, this starting, this hope -this will gain you life.
True, genuine life must also be able to deal with difficulties, setbacks, pain, crises, and inconveniences. This is part of life.
Famines, earthquakes, epidemics and war -this has been a part of our lives as human beings for as long as we can think. But – and I will close this now – in Mark and in the Gospel according to Mathew, Jesus describes this as the birth pains of creation.
Birth pains are painful – as every mother knows. But at the end – there is new life. And usually a tremendous joy which helps to forget all the pain.