Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Behold! I Make All Things New", or God 'ends' us in Jesus

A Sermon preached at the Anglican Parish of Almaguin/Emsdale
Nov. 18th, 2007
Is. 65:17-25; Is. 12; Lk. 21:5-19

Lord of our endings and beginnings, we treasure what you bring to end and we fear what you begin. But in trust and faith we thank you for ending us in Jesus and beginning us again in him. Begin with us anew this morning. Amen.

When I say the word “apocalypse”, what do you think of? Many of us think end of the world stuff, destruction, violence; some may think about Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Apocalypse Now with its deep darkness and profound sense of hopelessness. Some of us may think about the massively successful book and now movie series Left Behind. Or maybe we remember the apocalyptic fervour surrounding Y2K. These are all popular notions of apocalypse embedded within our culture, but they all miss the biblical understanding of apocalypse.

Apocalypse simply means ‘revelation’, it means new out of old, light out of darkness, it means "coming" and in Scripture it means the coming of God, a coming which cancels what was and makes what is to be. Apocalypse means ending, but at the same time it means beginning. But most of all, for the Christian church apocalypse means Jesus Christ—God’s apocalypse is Jesus. God’s revelation—his coming to us—is Jesus.

Two of our readings this morning are ‘apocalyptic’—they revolve around beginnings and endings. These two readings, Isaiah’s vision of the newness of beginning and Luke’s sombre vision of endings are fitting as we’re coming to the end of this long season of Pentecost (which is next week, for those of you not keeping track) and the liturgical year and we await the coming of Advent and the season of anticipating and waiting for the light of Christmas.

Our reading from Isaiah 65 is about a vision of God’s re-creating, of God’s remaking of all things…”Behold! I will make all things new!”, God says. But this new beginning requires an ending, it means the passing away of old things, an ending of things as we know them…“former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” writes Isaiah…be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating”. The vision is one of the peaceable kingdom, where the lion lays with the lamb…it’s a reordering of the world, an ‘apocalypse’, a revelation of what God’s end game is like. And what a beautiful and striking vision it is.

In our other reading from Luke’s gospel Jesus is talking to some people who were really admiring the ornate beauty of the Temple…”wow, what a beautiful Temple”. I’ve had this experience walking into large cathedrals…”this is such a beautiful church!!” If somebody came in here and said that, we’d be inclined to answer them with, “well thank you, we work really hard to keep it up”. How does Jesus respond? In his surprising and subverting way, he tells them the Temple will be destroyed…not a stone will be left, everything will fall apart—in effect he tells them that their lives which revolve around the Temple in Jerusalem will end…and it did; in fact, for the readers of Luke’s gospel this would be the reality they lived. Jesus’ warnings about the end carries with it the promise of newness; endings mean new beginnings. For that, we need to read a little further in the gospel. Further along Jesus says to his disciples, ““Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Endings are part and parcel of what God did with Israel, of what he is doing with us, with his church and with this world. What we know will come to an end; sometimes suddenly or sometimes slowly, and most of the time endings can be quite uncomfortable or painful. Jobs come to an end, marriages end, friendships end, life itself has its end. This isn’t news to any of us.

But there’s something in us that reacts quite sharply to this. We don’t like endings, endings are by nature unpredictable, uncontrollable. But we want to control our endings…there’s something in us that so badly wants to be in control. In fact, our entire modern age of technology and supposed progress is one long attempt to be in control of our destinies. If we can maintain some sort of control over our situations, we think we can maintain a level of comfort or at least a level of manageability. If we can be in control, we can feel like we’re grabbing life by the horns.

I came upon a strange thing a little while ago. At least I thought it was strange. I had rented a DVD and apparently, the new thing with movies, is that some movies allow you to choose the ending to the movie. Does that strike anyone else as strange? You’re able to choose the ending you want. Designer endings…In the world of movie magic we get to control how the story ends. I can see the appeal. Maybe Gone with the Wind's Rhett Butler decides that he gives a damn after all; or maybe at the end of Casablanca Humphrey Bogart doesn’t send Ingrid Bergman on the plane and they walk off into the fog together.

But there’s something wrong with this. In the story of life we can’t choose our endings, we aren’t in control of our destinies—no matter how much our talk-show gurus would like us to “Get-Real” and create and take control of our own destinies, endings surprise us and confuse and, most of the time endings mess up our plans. But that’s the whole point of the gospel—that job’s taken: the end of the story, the final curtain of this drama of life is in God’s hands. Our beginnings are his, our endings, all the endings we experience in life are his also. This is another way of speaking about salvation, about conversion.

The salvation that the church speaks of, the salvation the church proclaims about Jesus is just this: God surprises us in Jesus, He ends us in Jesus Christ, and begins us anew in Jesus. The God of our beginning, the God of our creation is the God of our endings; our endings and our beginnings begin and end with God, not with us. Conversion is the slow and often uncomfortable realization of this.

What sustains the church is not the church’s social activities, its monetary support, or its engagement of culture, important and as vital as these things are. What supports and sustains the church is its faith, its deep trust that God carries the church, that God carries us and will bring us to our ends and will bring us through our ends to something new. God ends all of us, he ends all of our desires for our own way, our own ends, for control over what we want; he ends us in Jesus Christ and begins us anew in Christ. This is what our baptisms represent—we are ended in Christ’s death and we are made new in Christ’s resurrection. In baptism we participate in God’s apocalypse, we participate in God’s coming and making all things new. And our participation in the Eucharist this morning is our reminder that we celebrate God’s apocalypse, God’s revelation of who God is in Jesus Christ and who we are as those people called and gathered by him. In the bread and the wine, we celebrate God’s coming to us in Jesus Christ; these physical things, this bread and this wine, are for us the sign of God’s apocalypse—the beginning and end of the world in a wafer. So we participate here in anticipation of the ending of this church year and the beginning of something new; we participate in anticipation that out of the endings in our life, we will find new and exciting things; we participate in anticipation that we ourselves will be made new.