Posted: Nov 17

Apocalyptic Stories and Stewardship

By JR Lander

Too often, I plan events in the life of my congregation without looking at the lectionary readings.  

ruins-apocalypse_00428450.jpgThis week was one of those times. We had done a great job of preparing to celebrate our annual stewardship commitments, both on Sunday morning and at a festive dinner in the evening. But then - I started preparing my sermon….  and realized that the Gospel reading was Luke’s version of the synoptic apocalypse, where Jesus prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem and the persecution of his followers.  This is not an ideal gospel with which to teach stewardship…  or is it?

Apocalyptic stories often draw people in.  

Whether it is zombies in the television show “The Walking Dead”, or the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse in “Sleepy Hollow”, or the mass destruction of the planet portrayed in the film “2012”…  we are drawn to these stories of the world ending.  I think it is the combination of our adrenaline junky biochemistry and our amazing imaginations that make such stories so attractive. We like to be frightened by such horrors, and we like to engage our imaginations in such wild ways.  

This is nothing new.  Stories of the end of the world, or the end of the world as we know it, are commonplace in literature ancient & modern. We have many in Holy Scripture, including Sunday’s reading from Luke 21, and its parallels in Mark and Matthew.  In Christian Scriptures, these texts can be understood as the authors comforting the Christians in their communities. The destruction, death and persecution they are suffering are the beginning of God’s reign. It is necessary as the world is reborn. But what’s the theological message for us today?

The greatest apocalyptic story in Christian Scriptures is found in that final book of the New Testament, The Revelation to St. John. 

My New Testament professor in seminary referred to this as a “strange beasty” of a book.  And it is sure is. The one part that seems to engage most the human imagination is the battle at Armageddon…  the great battle between the forces of good and evil.  Today, you can visit Armageddon.  It is a national park in Israel. It is a historic “tel”, a site on which 26 different civilizations existed, one on top of the ruins of the previous. Many of these towns and settlements were destroyed by battle. Tel Megiddo, as it is called today, was at a very important crossroads in the ancient world. It was where the powers of the South (Egypt) often met the powers of the North (Assyria, Babylon & Persia). And thus it was the site of many horrific battles. I think what John is saying in placing this great battle at Megiddo is that God’s redemption of the world overcomes the most bloody and infamous destruction of and by humankind. I think John is telling us that God’s compassion overcomes it all, and that death is never the end.

So what’s the stewardship message here?  

I believe these Christian apocalyptic stories teach us about the all loving nature of God, and call us to respond in kind. God’s love is so great, even in the midst of and after horrific events, that it always triumphs. God loves is so much that God is willing to pour out God-self, even through the horrific cross, to be with us. God demands nothing in return. But we can learn, and grow, as we model our own lives after that ever-giving, ever-loving, ever-redeeming Lord.  And this response is stewardship. This response is giving our whole selves to God. Part of that is giving our time and resources to God’s work through the Church. But that’s just part. This response of stewardship is also about how we raise our children, how we earn our livings, how we treat each other, and how we are engaged in our communities. In everything we do, we should pour out ourselves in the same way as God in Christ does. We should give and give and give, because God’s love for us is so great that it overcomes the most horrific things in this creation.

Life ends…  Families end…  Communities end…  Nations end…  but God’s love is forever.  

In the midst of fear, and in the midst of the knowledge of our own finality, we can choose to grasp onto what we have, or we can choose to give it all up for the one who promises that there is new life in every death.