Standing in line at the supermarket is such an education. As I’m placing my grocery items on the conveyor belt and watching them slide toward the cashier, I glance toward the ubiquitous magazines there in the check-out line and read headlines screaming at me that Big Foot has been seen again, the latest Hollywood starlet has been cheated on or has cheated on her spouse, an aging actor tells all, and (most importantly) the Pope has been contacted by an alien race informing him that the world will soon end! Fascinating!
What drives such curiosity or behavior? The truth is these tabloids wouldn’t exist if there weren’t folks to pay to read their stories. And they’ve been around as long as I can remember. So, what’s behind this strange fascination with this kind of sensational writing? Well, fascination with the bizarre isn’t new. But there is something really gripping about the “end of the world!”
That’s why TV shows like “The Leftovers” and books like “Left Behind,” soon to be a major Hollywood movie, are so popular. They feed something in us that hungers to be shocked, scared, amazed, and appear to be “in the know” about the “secrets of the universe.” In other words, they feed our egos!
But wait, doesn’t the Church teach in the Scriptures, our theology, and the Creed we declare in our worship that we believe in the Parousia (the Second Coming of Christ) AND the Final Judgement? Yes, we do believe and declare and preach this emphatically and without apology. But we do not teach these blessed truths for the purpose of base curiosity about this or that world event occurring or for some scare tactic to get people “saved.”
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning in Matthew 24:13-28, and especially notice how the passage begins: The Lord said to his disciples, “He who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:13-14)
The Lord goes on to tell the disciples about terrible days soon to come and He warns them when terrible days occur that when they hear “‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Lo, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Lo, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; if they say, ‘Lo, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
So, no “secret Rapture” where the Lord comes secretly and takes all the “good guys” to heaven and then plunges the world into all sorts of horrible tribulations. In fact, the whole purpose of the teachings of the Lord about His return and turbulent times isn’t about satisfying curiosity or even giving us “signs of the times” to let us “know” when all this will happen! No, not at all! The Lord and the Church gives us these teachings to do what all the faith is suppose to do: Strengthen and motivate us toward Endurance, Faithfulness, Hope, Confidence, and Love. All these teachings of the Faith are meant to help us do what the first part of the passage declares “He who endures to the end will be saved.” If you run your race faithfully, if you don’t give up and succumb to the fears and temptations of your day to lose heart, if you stay faithful, you’ll be safe, secure, and none of the terrors of the world will harm you!
So, Today, use the message of the Parousia as your motivating factor that while the world may experience earthquakes, war, famine, and various apocalyptic events, don’t let those distract you from your purpose. You are to endure! You are to stay faithful regardless of the circumstances of the world. You have all the tools you need to finish your life well and have “a good answer before the Awesome Judgement seat of Christ.” And you don’t need the shallow titillation of lesser self-centered sensationalists to distract you from your life as a faithful lover of God and disciple of Jesus Christ. Leave the “circus” theology to the clowns, and embrace the peaceful rhythm of the Orthodox Christian faith that enables you to truly endure to the end, whether it’s your personal “end” at the grave or the generation that witnesses the Parousia! Even so, Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha!
P.S. Here’s a great article by N.T. Wright that really helps answer lots of questions: