Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday.21 “The Only Thing About The End of the World…” Mark 13:24-37

The only thing about the End of the World that should be difficult for us Xns is pretending we’re not excited.

That is to say, when everyone else is losing their sh…tuff, because the sky is falling, the sun and moon and stars are going out, the seas are (finally!) actually rising and swamping all the coastland cities, the earthquakes are creating some serious travel difficulties, and this figure is descending on the clouds (can he be Jesus? But he doesn’t have blond hair or blue eyes like in the Arch books! He looks more Lion than man, lumberjack beard and hair like a mane, more god than man—like a King out of some ancient legend (like he missed the memo that Christianity is essentially liberal, egalitarian democracy!) and he’s got a vast host of angel armies and lightning and rays flashing from his hands and eyes—more awesome than any Marvel Super Hero’s, though he doesn’t seem nearly as gentle, meek, or mild as we were promised Jesus would be, but seems a little angry, actually, a bit dangerous—like he’s going to hurt a lot of people and doesn’t really care too much about our comfort or safety; and somehow all people, everywhere, are seeing this like he’s coming in for a landing right in front of our noses!

While all that is going on, the only difficulty for Xns will be pretending we’re not excited, not thoroughly enjoying the spectacle, as we go: “There, there, now…” to the panicking pagans all around us, “He’s probably just coming for a little chat; I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about—I mean it’s not like Jesus (if that Dude is Jesus?) ever said he’d end the world with a bang not a whimper and judge those who hate him, right?” acting like we’re aren’t thrilled to the very depths of our being that the horror show we call “Modern Enlightenment Civilization” is finally coming to an end.

At least, that should be the only difficulty for us—the feigning of sympathy for the ones driving the clown car we call “our society” in which all are now forced to ride without touching the steering wheel or suggesting course changes—you know, for everyone’s safety (which is the most important thing to worry about, right?).

But, I have found, over years of preaching and teaching on this most delightful of chapters in the Scriptures on The End of the World, that, once again, I seem to hold a minority view in Christendom on the joys and terrors of the Last Day. Lots of people have told me that pretending they’re not excited about the calamities of the End Times is far from the only difficulty about it!

Now, I’m sure this surprises you! I’ve seen your “the only thing about the Zombie Apocalypse, when it comes, that will be difficult for me is pretending I’m not excited.” I see the way your eyes light up as you sing “Wake, Awake For Night is Flying”, that gleam that indeed IT might be near, just around the corner, the Return of the King! I know how you love Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books like I do. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir on this one… 🙂

But, there are days when all of us go: “It can sound a little harsh? Remind me again, Pastor, exactly why the destruction of the world and condemnation of the haters of Christ is such a joy and a delight and not a cause for concern? Because, you know, speaking for a friend, some people might legitimately worry the Last Day could be a little rough on them, like, you know, if Jesus comes on one of my, I mean, my friend’s (not infrequent!) bad days?

OK! Happy to do that for you—er, I mean, for your friend.

One common misunderstanding that might be bothering your friend is this: I’ve found many people think the reason we don’t have any fear of the Last Day is because we know, as Christians, that the Last Day will be great!—for us. We won’t be harmed physically, or emotionally. We’ll be shielded from the chaos, and it won’t hurt us, one little bit. Because we’ve been such great Christians! We’re Lutherans, for Christ’s sake! Our doctrine is pure, our worship is sound, our theology is bang on, and our behavior is more than adequate for Jesus to be thrilled to see us and reward us with eternity in Heaven (a nice spot in Heaven, too; far above the Baptists and Papists!). We know that we’re justified by grace through faith without doing any good works, so the Last Day will just be like collecting our Academy Award and making a speech in which we feign er, I mean, display the humility we have achieved over a lifetime’s quiet effort.

But, maybe, your friend is deceived, thinking this is an accurate biblical teaching? I’ve found nothing in the Holy Scriptures that says as long as your deeds for and ideas about Jesus conform to Christian orthodoxy you’ll certainly end up in Heaven and the fires of hell won’t scorch your clothes, a little. I know that some people think this (because I’ve heard it in bible class the last couple weeks 🙂 but there is no set of ideas, practices, or beliefs by which we can assure ourselves of our place in Heaven! Sorry, if that bursts balloons…

St. Paul tells the Corinthians that he doesn’t judge himself safe and sound. He doesn’t know of anything against his salvation, but the only one who judges that is God; and that will only be revealed at the Last Day. The idea that we can be, in this life, certain beyond any doubt of our spot in Heaven (just as we are!) is not taught anywhere in the Scriptures. Isaiah found a few minutes in Heaven undid him. He just wasn’t ready. He wasn’t holy… yet.

So if the news of the terrors of the Last Day might actually be news of our own demise, how can we be sanguine about it?

Well, because real Xn Faith is total abandonment of ourselves to God. What Luther and the medievals called “The Resignation to Damnation”. This, Luther judged the highest mark of faith—the union of our will with God’s.

It’s like this: we’re all sinners. Luther figured a God who would send him straight to hell is a just and righteous God that you’ve got to respect. I deserve to go to hell! A God who could be fooled by my feigned goodness, humility, and piety is not worthy of respect or praise. Because sin is no fun and has made a mess of this world. If we aren’t eager to see that put rite, then whose side are we really on—God’s or the devil’s? Hmmm… food for thought.

Maybe, tell your friend that we are excited for the Last Day and a fiery End because the end of the old me is crucial for a new me to rise! And—if we end up in hell—maybe we can be the guy in the Far Side cartoon who bugs the devil no end by enjoying it? David says, Ps 139, even the darkness of hell will be light with God around. David doesn’t want to be happy. He wants to be with God.

“Command what you will, O God, and make me love what you command” was Augustine’s way of putting it. Neither he nor Luther wanted to be safe or happy or comfy. They just wanna be with Jesus, want to “look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”

The Last Day’s exciting, delightful; not because it won’t hurt (a little 🙂 but because it will unstring our bones. Then spit us out, holy, reborn. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.


About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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