14 Nov 2010
“‘See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, “I am he,” and “The time has come.” Do not follow them!’” (Luke 21:8) In the name …
The church is getting awfully close to the end of her year. As we get to this time at the end of the year, the focus of the church turns toward the theme of the end of time. Today’s words of Jesus can be chilling: The commonness of war, earthquake, famine, plague and religious persecution. A lot of people see the end of the world as just around the corner because these signs are appearing in our daily-news right now. The only problem, however, is that these signs have been common throughout human history. Even in my 50 years I remember hearing about the old and now defunct Communists in Russia as being a harbinger of the End-Time. If you’re at least my age you may recall that the Soviets used to encourage the students in their schools to turn-in their parents for unpatriotic behaviour, and for the officially atheistic Soviets, unpatriotic behaviour could have been trying to teach them about God. Those stories were in our newspapers five decades ago, and so were the words we read today: “‘You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends …’” (21:16) With the testing of the city’s emergency sirens every Friday at noon, and with the Godless Soviets only an ICBM away, there was talk half a century ago of the End Time because the daily news fit the description of Jesus’ words. Sadly though, these chilling details are too often a part of all times more than any one particular time.
For this reason I think it is much wiser to pay more attention to Jesus’ other words in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ warnings about not being deceived by those who profess to know God’s intentions and His future plans. Jesus is emphatic: “‘Do not follow them!’” Some people are worried about the year 2012 because that’s when some ancient Mayan calendar runs out. If you know anybody who wants to sell their stuff cheap because the Mayans said we’re all done, let me know. I’ll buy. Instead, religion and faith should concentrate our attention on the importance of the present.
I sometimes wonder why there is such an intense interest in how God is going to bring this whole complicated story of creation and life to its final conclusion so that even though Jesus tells us we can’t know anything about it, we still keep imagining that we can. I think part of the power of the future is that for some it is the idea that finally the good will receive their rewards and the evil will get what’s coming to them. Religion and the religious constantly have to face the predicament in this world of ours that too often the good suffer and the bad prosper, but there seems to always be that hope that in the end God will make it right. That’s the basic hope we read about in today’s Lesson from the Old Testament book of the Prophet Malachi. But there’s also another subtle message being shared with us in that reading. Malachi is the very last book in our Bible’s Old Testament, and the selection we just read a little while ago is just about the very last words of this very last book. And what it leads up to is the prophecy that Elijah will return.
Now I don’t know how much that statement means to some of you. I don’t know how familiar you are with the Bible. But in a couple of weeks when we cross over to the season of Advent, the season when we prepare to spiritually receive the Christ Child, we will hear often of John the Baptist and his role as preparing the way for Jesus and His ministry. This John the Baptist, says Jesus, is Elijah brought back by God into our world. So the Old Testament closes with Malachi’s prophecy of the coming of Elijah, and then you turn the page and the New Testament begins with mention of John the Baptist who is this very same Elijah. In a nutshell, those grand hopes for the far-distant future when justice will be made real in our world, aren’t really all that far in the future after all, that promise has begun to be fulfilled already because of Jesus. Jesus has brought God physically into our world, and that shares with us the faith, the strength and the grace to begin making this world better. The future, in other words, may not be only God snapping His fingers and saying “That’s enough!” The future may begin with God working through us now. That’s the message of Jesus and church, and that this has been and is the End-Time already. That’s not as easy or maybe even as comforting as imagining that God will take care of all our problems for us in the future, but we can’t know the future. All we have to work with is the eternal now, the present.
I was away for a couple of days this past week at our diocesan clergy retreat down the road in Westfield. The Genesis Center is probably no more than 2 or 3 miles from my father’s house, but it seems like it’s a world apart. And when I spend a little time apart from my usual schedule, I am amazed at how many opportunities are around us to come closer to God. We can’t all retreat for 24 hours, but according to our own comfort level, there are opportunities in all our lives to find Christ in the present, His eternal now, not the least of which is the Sabbath. And I’d like to share a poem with you that our retreat master shared with us. It goes like this: “If there are a ‘chosen few’ then I am not one of them. If an ‘elect,’ well then I have not been elected. I am one who is knocking at the door. I am one whose foot is on the bottom rung. But I know that Heaven’s bottom rung is Heaven. Though the ladder is standing on the earth where I work by day and at night sleep with my head upon a stone.” (Wendell Berry, Sabbath 2006: I) The “chosen few,” the “elect,” these are all terms that belong to the unknowable future. “My head upon a stone” refers to the Genesis story of Jacob’s ladder. And the message seems to be that God in the present isn’t only for the exceptional. He’s for the ordinary believer, but a believer who searches for God, who knocks at the door. And as the poet says, he may only be on heaven’s ladder’s bottom rung, and that ladder may rest upon the earth, but even that first rung of the here and now takes us into the presence and eternal present of God. May we knock at the door and try to make the most of the now, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo