The End of the World

 

THE END OF THE WORLD
Randall Tremba
November 18, 2012
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

I Samuel 1:4-20
In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, "I have asked him of the LORD."

Mark 13:1-8
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

* * *

Just about every week I read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. So it’s no wonder I’m still musing about the recent election and its significance for our nation. It does seem that a different kind of America is on the rise. It seems one world is ending and another beginning.

For one thing, we’ve become a nation of minorities. The white majority is now (or soon will be) a minority which means cooperation and compromise are more necessary than ever.

Marriage equality and sexual orientation are fast becoming non-issues in our nation. Openly gay men and women are elected routinely to national and state government. Twenty women serve in the Senate. Muslims, Buddhists, even atheists serve in Congress. “Liberal” is no longer a four letter word. And it now looks like marijuana may be decriminalized, controlled and taxed like alcohol was after Prohibition. That itself would set a lot of benign and mellow prisoners free, save tax payers a ton of money, put a dent in the deficit, and allow law enforcement agencies to pursue truly dangerous criminals.

All of this suggests that a different kind of America is on the rise.

As it turns out, Bill O’Reilly was right when he lamented the loss of his “traditional America.” What was is passing away. What will be is not yet clear. It all depends as always on choices.

AsMiriam Therese MacGillis put it: In talking about the fate of the earth, we know that its fate is really up for grabs. There are no guarantees as to its future. It is a question of our own critical choices.

What was is passing away. What will be is not yet clear. It all depends as always on choices.

This past week Michael Gerson said this in The Washington Post about his Republican party. “Perhaps our greatest need at this time is a commitment to the common good and a particular concern for the poor and vulnerable.

That attitude bodes well as a new kind of nation comes to birth. But birth is never painless. Which brings us to the gospel lesson for today.

Jesus said, this Temple that you think is permanent will crumble to the ground. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of birth pangs.

Wars, earthquakes and famine. There are many kinds of wars, many kinds of earthquakes, and many kinds of famines, including the wars, earthquakes and famines that strike within your own heart or own household.

Or those that strike a nation.

The past 12 years or so in this country have felt at times like war and there’s certainly been a famine of good will. Little did we know that those were the spasms of birth—something new coming into being. At times it felt like the end of the world.

Which reminds me. According to the Mayan calendar the world will end December 21. Which could put a crimp in your Christmas shopping.

But the end of the world is hardly the worst news. It now looks like we’ll face it without Twinkies! The end of the world would be a real bummer for sure. But can you imagine the world without Twinkies?!?

Of course, by now, we should know that all things pass away.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do children as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. (Helen Keller)

All things pass away. Which means the end of this world or any other is hardly news. Worlds end all the time. Nothing is permanent but love.

This earth may be one planet but it holds and has held many different worlds. Human beings organize worlds. Currently we speak of the Western World. The Arab World. The Christian World. The Muslim World. The Free World. The First World, Second, and Third World. And now there’s talk of the Fourth World, a world of absolutely destitution.

On this one planet human beings have organized many different worlds. Most worlds are built on injustice and inequality and thus will not last. And that brings us to the Old Testament lesson for today.

The story of Hannah is a story from olden times, a thousand years before Jesus. It’s a story of barrenness when barrenness was a curse. Hannah was one of two wives. The other wife had many children and thus the favor of her husband and the local village. Hannah had no children and looked as though she never would. And in that time and place it meant she had no status, no standing, no security and no future.

The story of Hannah is about a woman who wanted nothing more than a child to give her dignity and a place in that society. Yes, it’s about infertility but it’s more than that. It is also a parable.

It’s about a longing for justice and equality. Hannah longed for justice and equality in her personal world the way many people on this planet long for justice and equality in their own world, including the smallest of personal worlds.

The story of Hannah is a story about hope in the midst of despair. Hannah would not tire of hope. Hannah could imagine the fullness of life. As it turns out, more was in the bud of her longing than even she knew. And thus it came to pass that Hannah conceived and bore a child.

And Hannah prayed and said, "My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. The LORD raises up the poor from the dust; the needy from the ash heap. Wickedness shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The warrior’s bow shall be broken. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth." (1 Samuel 2:1-10, paraphrased)

The LORD will judge the ends of the earth. Which is to say, love judges the end of one world and the beginning of another.

Hannah sang a song of hope for a new world built on justice. And for a thousand years thereafter her song was passed from one mother to another to another until it reached Mary the mother of Jesus.

It was that song of hope that Mary passed onto Jesus as he lay upon her breast. This world of injustice and hatred must end, my son. And only love will make it so. Only love can mend a broken heart. And only love can mend a broken world.

But let’s not be fooled about this so-called new American. The new world arising in our nation is not completely righteous, nor perfect, nor final. Most of us now know that a growing, pervasive and pernicious police and surveillance state is afoot in our land. Privacy is nearly all gone. And that’s not all. Our massive, military machine terrifies the world and drains our nation’s blood and treasure. It has cowed both governing parties. Both have given their consent. Don’t be naïve. All is not well. Not yet.

When the world turns dark and foreboding, when the earth shakes and nations rise up to battle, behold. Behold. Open your eyes. Love will arise in a thousand places and thousand hearts. But it’s like birth. It’s not easy. It can hurt. It takes time and work. It takes hard labor to bring life into being.

It is no accident that we've been born in these times that we find our lives unfolding now, with our particular histories and gifts, our brokenness, our experience, and our wisdom. It is not an accident. In talking about the fate of the earth, we know that its fate is really up for grabs. There are no guarantees as to its future. It is a question of our own critical choices. Perhaps what we need most is a transforming vision, a vision that's deep enough, one that can take us from where we are to a new place; one that opens the future up to hope. More than anything, we must become people of hope.

What we need most is hope and a transforming vision. Jesus heard it in the song of his mother and took it to heart. Let’s sing her song now and take it heart if you can.

* * *

HYMN 600 “Song of Mary”