Jesus and the World’s Last Gasp

Luke 12:32-40 – The 12th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, August 7, 2016

“You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.” (Luke 12:40)

John.TeddyWhat is the best idea born and bred on American soil?

I’ll usually first say the national park system. I’m proud that Yosemite, in my geographic back yard, was where Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir schemed to radically protect wilderness.

What about Thomas Jefferson and his co-conspirators scribing the Declaration of Independence?

Jazz? Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Miles Davis . . . cool!

Mormons? Joseph Smith’s divine revelations and discoveries were in western New York, and led to The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.

Since my wife’s from the dairy state, should I advocate for the ice cream sundae? That delicious dish was “invented” by a Two Rivers, Wisconsin resident in 1881. Those sweet scoops and ribbons of chocolate were so special you should only eat ‘em on a Sunday. Or, oops, make it more special: proclaim every ice creamy day a Sundae!

SundaeWhat do you think is America’s best idea?

What about the worst one?

Christian millennialism ranks high on my “Worst Idea” scale. Millennialism: judgment day, the end of time, and Jesus’ second coming. Perhaps more than any other nation, we’ve had our fair share of citizens espousing and codifying religious notions about the World’s Last Gasp (or let’s call it the WLG). This happened, even though Luke—and other similar Biblical references—had Jesus bluntly state, “the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him . . .”

William Miller
William Miller

And yet that didn’t stop nineteenth century evangelist Steven Miller from predicting the Second Coming’s arrival between March 1843 and March 1844. Days passed. Weeks flew by. Autumn chilled into winter and winter warmed to welcome spring. March of 1844 arrived and Jesus hadn’t appeared. Drats! Miller reconsidered and offered Thursday, April 18, 1844 as the real date.

Here we are, 172 years (and a few months) after that revised date and still no second coming. Did someone forget to knock on Jesus’ dressing room door to let him know he’d better hurry on stage?

Miller’s only one of the better-known advocates for dating the WLG. It’s actually not a uniquely American idea. I know that for an absolute fact because, desperate to watch an action flick, I again viewed Roland Emmerich’s eyebrow-arching film 2012. According to the ancient Mayan calendar (and/or a gaggle of histrionic screenwriters), the year 2012 would usher in awful stuff. As filmed by Emmerich, the grim events included the destruction of Las Vegas. Hmmm? Maybe the world’s last gasp has an upside, after all?

Back in 2012, Las Vegas had a bad, bad day . . .
Back in 2012, Las Vegas had a bad, bad day . . .

With additional research I could learn why Miller thought 1843, or even the very specific April 18, 1844, represented the Second Coming’s date. Miller, I’m sure, had his reasons. The same goes for the Mayan’s “prediction.” But whatever the Mayans anticipated, or Hollywood promoted, I don’t fret about a doomed future. (Well, maybe I do worry a smidgen about the future after watching this month’s doom and gloom Republican convention.)

How can anyone, American or not, believer or not, ever think they can predict when God will throw the switch, hit the delete button, yank away the welcome mat, and drop the final tattered curtain?

Jesus seemed awfully clear in this week’s passage from Luke 12:32-40: no one knows.

But I know. And you do to.

For me it was April 21, 1993. My world ended after a late night call from the pastor—my district superintendent (DS)—with authority over me. The DS announced I’d be leaving the church I then served. It was unexpected, humiliating, and unfair. That decision, I later learned, was based on him lying about me and my wife to the United Methodist Bishop and other superintendents.

I don’t expect anyone else to understand the pain I felt. I don’t expect others to understand how that call seemed like (using Luke’s apocalyptic language) a thief was coming.

Except you do know. April 21, 1993 might only matter to me, but I’ll wager you have your own private WLG. Who doesn’t have a prior calendar date and permanent scars on the soul when specific events led to faith (or your marriage or career or finances or health or dreams or family or . . .) collapsing? And you never saw it coming.

How’d you make it to the next day?

I can only answer for me, for it was (using Luke’s wondrous words) God’s delights in giving you the kingdom . . . through a spouse that loved me, friends that supported me, and a battered faith that still helped me trust Holy’s unwavering confidence.

Jesus was right: no one knows when an end comes.

Jesus was right: the end will come.

And yet Jesus’ best ideas claimed God would radically protect and care for us . . . with no termination date, no shelf life, and maybe even with Las Vegas still intact.

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