“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”
When I was growing up our mother would often share bits of wisdom in pithy sayings or little rhymes designed to teach and to help us remember. Some, of course, were passed on from old folks in the family and things she had read while some I think she constructed herself. Even though she has been gone many years and I am now nearing the age she was when she died, I still recall those lessons and find myself repeating them. As I was reading through the lectionary for today the one that came to mind was “Don’t borrow trouble.” …and its corollary: “The evil of the day is sufficient unto itself”. I have found these admonitions to refrain from worrying about the future and to concentrate on what needs to be dealt with in the present to be very helpful in managing anxiety in these troubled and chaotic times.
People in every generation have been both fascinated and terrified at the idea of the end of days. In Genesis, we have a lovely mythology of creation…the beginning of all things but our holy texts are cryptic at best and downright confusing when it comes to dealing with how things will end. In the Gospel for today, we read that Jesus’ disciples wanted Jesus to give them some sign…a way to recognize if the end was near. In his response he doesn’t give them any real specifics and to be honest I am sure he probably could not if he had wanted to do so. In another place in the scriptures, Jesus reminds the disciples that only Father knows when the end will come….not even the Son has been given that information.
The disciples, of course, had heard the prophecies from Daniel as well as from Isaiah and the other great prophets but the ancient texts are not specific. Apocalyptic language tends to be wonderfully expansive and descriptive but in a vague way that allows for multiple interpretations and misinterpretations. All Jesus’ talk about wars and rumors of wars could have been describing their current situation as much as the future. The Roman Empire was always at war somewhere in its efforts to maintain power over its vast territories and people. Not to mention the constant conflicts in the history of the Hebrew people in their efforts to establish and maintain a nation-state.
Even now, more than 2000 years later we are still hearing of wars and rumors of wars. Not to mention the earthquakes and natural disasters in divers places. Jesus told his disciples that those signs were only the beginning of things…so it would seem that if the end is coming we are still only at the start of it.
My point in all this is to remind us that while some religious leaders have made very lucrative and successful careers analyzing Biblical signs and metaphors and concocting scenarios and timelines for the end of the world, the truth is no one knows and no one can know when the end of all things will come…or even how that might occur. It is not helpful to be fearful of something that cannot be predicted or altered by our actions. To spend all of one’s energy and concern focused on some future time or event steals that energy and attention from the present…the now where our loved ones are… where there is good work waiting to be done.
One of the reasons we are in our current environmental crisis is the Christian misconception that if the world is going to end anyway we might as well use up what is here. God did not intend for us to destroy this beautiful and precious earth that was conceived in the mind of God and created out of love. Our holy texts tell us that God looked at everything he had made and it was very good. Who are we to destroy that good creation in our greed and our wastefulness? Who are we to take more than our share while the poor and the powerless go without adequate food, water or shelter? Everything that is belongs to God. We are only temporary caretakers.
Another very negative aspect of focusing on the end of the world seems to be that those who engage in it the most seem to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the folks they believe will be punished in some great tribulation before the actual end. As followers of Christ we are not called to judge God’s people in their sin but to love them in their brokenness. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and all of us have been redeemed by the power of Christ’s salvific act on the Cross. How all of that will come to its fruition at the end of the age only God knows. What we know is that we are loved…that God incarnate in Jesus Christ died that we might have eternal life and that Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it.
Whenever and however the end of the world comes about is of no consequence for us. We are called to live and love in the present caring for one another and tending to the earth and her creatures. If we focus on living well…living fully in the present we have no reason to fear the future. Yes, the world is in a sad and sorry state…it has been for a very long time. It seems that since we crawled out of our caves humans have been killing one another and destroying the planet in their blind lust for power, property and wealth. This is nothing new and even the most idealistic among us can see it is not going to change anytime soon.
But we can be faithful in the small things…make positive changes where we are. We can bind up the wounds of those closest to us. We can make the lives of our neighbors better by sharing our resources and our love. We can clean up and nurture our own corner of this creation making whatever future we have is greener and cleaner, healthier and holier than our past.
We can add our efforts to those of people who are working to end wars and to make peace in the world. We can make sure that the leaders of nations and the heads of corporations do not forget the faces of the poor and the vulnerable…the ones most affected by economic changes and environmental devastation. We can support legislators who advocate for justice and equity in law and commerce.
Years ago when I was young and bright and working at my first real job at an environmental demonstration center in the Daniel Boone National Forest, the catchphrase among environmental activists was “think globally and act locally”. There is still wisdom in this idea. If we are going to have a positive impact on the world we must first get our own house in order. That includes our interior, spiritual life. Developing good spiritual practices of attending worship and engaging in corporate and private prayer…studying the Bible and meditation on holy things…becoming comfortable with talking about Jesus and what it means to live a holy life. We are to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies as living sacrifices to God, showing forth Christ’s gospel of love in our thoughts, our words, and our actions. If we tend to our interior selves the effects will show in our exterior lives …by the good works we are called to do…by the kindness and compassion that will come so easily to us.
Yes, we believe that the world is going to end …some day. It might be soon or it might be in 6 billion years when our sun supernovas. The truth is it doesn’t matter. We are responsible for the lives we live here and now…in the present. We cannot change God’s plan for the future but we can live faithfully into God’s plan for today. If we are living our lives in love…of God…of neighbor…of self…of creation…..we have nothing to fear from the future. Our Lord is with us every step of the way in this life and in the life to come.
The future is in the hands of God…and so is our present. We can trust that God loves us…enough to come among us in frailty and vulnerability…enough to die for us incarnate in the man Jesus. Safe in God’s love we have nothing to fear, either today or tomorrow. As St. Julian said…all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.