Saturday, May 21, 2011

The end is near!!! So what?!

A priest died and was waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Just ahead of him was a man dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans. Saint Peter addressed the man, “Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?” The man replied, “I’m Joe Green, taxi-driver, of Noo Yawk City.” Saint Peter consulted his list, smiled and said to the taxi-driver, “Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven. You may have that beautiful mansion on the left.” St. Peter motioned to the priest with the same question, “Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you into the Kingdom?” The priest answer, “I am Fr. Michael O’Connor, I was pastor of Saint Mary’s for the last 43 years.” Saint Peter again consulted his list and said, “Welcome to the Kingdom, Father. Yours will be that lovely little cottage down there on the right.” Surprised the priest said, “But, St. Peter, that man was just a taxi-driver, and you gave him a great mansion. I’m a priest and all I get is a cottage. How can this be?” St. Peter looked at the priest and said, “Father, up here, we are all about results, and while you preached, people slept. But, while he drove, people prayed.”

I’m sure you all followed the news this week about the group in California who believed that the Rapture is upon us and that it would take place at 6 p.m. last night. This prediction came from 89 year-old Harold Camping, who believed he discovered some pretty complex mathematical equations that prove definitively that yesterday was Judgment Day that would usher in the Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus. Well, we’re still here!

Now, there were many reasons to be skeptical of this proclamation. First of all, this wasn’t Mr. Camping’s first prediction. He also predicted the Rapture would take place in 1994, and when it didn’t blamed his calculator – the math was off. Not to mention that we all know the ancient Mayans predicted the end of the world would be in December 2012, so that gives us another year, or so. I know in my own lifetime, I can think of at least a half a dozen times that the end has been near! And, we’re still here. To quote the R.E.M. song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it; and I feel fine.”

Of course, all joking aside, there are also some really good reasons to be skeptical whenever anyone makes claims like this. For example, most profoundly, Jesus said in Mark’s Gospel; reiterated in Matthew, speaking of His Second Coming, “Of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Can we take a moment to let that sink in? Jesus tells us clearly – no one will know when the Judgment Day will be upon us – and by no one Jesus said that not even angels in Heaven know; not even He knows the day or the hour – and yet, some guy living in Oakland, CA knows. Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity doesn’t have this information, but a retired civil engineer-turned radio preacher, somehow figured the whole thing out. As for me, I’m sticking with Jesus: “You do not know when the time will come.”

The other reason a believer should be skeptical is much deeper and, I think, more beautiful. If yesterday were the day? If the end of the world really did take place last night at 6 p.m.? So what!? What difference does that make to a baptized believer; to a true follower of Jesus? It shouldn’t make any. On the day of your baptism – whether it happened recently or many years ago – the priest or deacon said, “May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life.” My friends, this tells us something important – the end is not near; the end happened a long time ago – the end happened on the day you died in baptism and we’re reborn into eternity in Christ. From the moment that the waters of baptism embraced us, we have been marked out for eternity; for immortality; for never-ending life with God in Heaven. The end, then, was that day, not today. On that day, Jesus conquered death in our lives, so that we might live forever. Since that day, we became luminous, immortal, destined for the same glory that we spend these 50 days of Easter celebrating.

Predictions like these recent ones by Mr. Camping serve only one purpose – to make people anxious, nervous and even frightened. They are more caught up in hellfire and damnation than anything that resembled the Good News that Jesus came to share with us. And, today’s readings are so perfectly attuned to the real truth of the Good News.

To the anxiety and nervousness that Mr. Camping and others like him preach, Jesus says today in our Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” To the gospel of fear that these predictions bring, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”

This is the authentic, loving and comforting message that Jesus wants us to hear today; that He wants us to hear throughout the glorious season of Easter; and He wants us to hear every day of our lives. He says, “Where I am going you know the way,” because, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” So, my friends, “do not let your hearts be troubled.” Instead, let us build up one another in our faith and our trust in Jesus Christ and all that He promises; a faith that has conquered even death itself and opened for all the baptized the gates to eternal life. Let us pledge once again to follow Christ who is the way, who is the truth, and who is the life! And, let us follow Him all the way to Heaven.

As St. Peter reminds us today, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of [God’s] own.” We have “put on Christ, in Him we have been baptized.” So, let us live renewed in the joy of that same faith; let us live recommitted to a true life in Christ; and please, let not our hearts be troubled.

May the Lord give you peace.

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