Hollywood Meets the End of the World
Hollywood fell in love with the end of the world in the 90's. Movies like "Asteroids," "Deep Impact," and "Armageddon," are all about the world facing it's end. Today the Church begins it's countdown to the end of the world. Today is the Third to Last Sunday in the Church Year; next Sunday will be the Second, and the Sunday after Thanksgiving the Last. Does Hollywood meet the end of the world like the Church does?
In the movies, there is plenty of warning. Somebody spots an astroid or comet way out there on a collision course with earth. This provides the tension throughout the movie. This massive rock is shown moving relentlessly toward earth. At first, people joke about it. Some are real Stoics. But you know what happens. As it gets ever closer, people begin to crumble.
Is that how the end of the world will be? A comet? An asteroid? A nuclear war? A deadly plague outbreak caused by terrorists? The sun supernovaing? The Scripture speaks of none of these things. All of which you could see coming a long way away before the end. What ends the world is Jesus returning. The trumpet sounds, the archangel blasts his horn and that's it. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, Jesus comes sitting on His throne, riding on thick dark clouds, surrounded by thousands and thousands of angels, His glory shattering the sky!
The world ends by Jesus returning, not by a comet bumped off it's trajectory, not by an astroid set on a collision course with earth millions of years ago, not by terrorists dropping the e-bola virus, not by a deranged Muslim pushing a button. Some star didn't explode aeons ago haphazardly flinging a piece towards earth. A comet wasn't bumped 2 degrees and sent into our orbit. Space "accidents" don't rule; demented men don't decide when the end is; even poor environmental policies don't. The end of the world has been planned by God from the beginning. St. Paul tells us in Acts 17 that God has a day already set for the world to end. We are on a collision course with a day that God selected before the foundation of the world. God decided before time began on what day time would end. Before there were comets, asteroids, terrorists, or pollution God had already decided when the end would come.
I know what some of you are thinking. You're thinking, "How do you know God didn't decide to use an astroid, comet, pollution, nuclear war, or a terrorist attack?" Because in the end the world is not pulverized into a dust cloud; disease doesn't kill everybody; nuclear war doesn't vaporize everyone, nor does the environment choke to death. No, Scripture says at the end, life goes on just like it does now people eating, drinking, buying, selling, building, and planting. Jesus' arrival is what ends all of this, not war, disaster, or plague. Also Scripture tells us that in the end people don't beg to be hidden from comets, disease, or nuclear war but from God and His wrath.
Even if you know that Jesus' return ends the world, you probably still have the wrong picture. You see Jesus as returning from a long way away like an astroid on course to hit earth. But that's not how it is. For lack of a better term, think of Jesus, the angels, and heaven itself as existing in a parallel universe side by side with us right now. We can't hear them, see them, or sense them in any way physically. The things of God are hidden behind a curtain. On the last day Jesus will fling open that curtain which hangs right next to us and step through. Isaiah speaks of the sky suddenly rolling up like a scroll let go of from both ends. Picture that. See all that blue up there suddenly rolling up from both ends of the horizon toward the middle. And there on thick dark clouds, there surrounded by thousands of angels, there in bright glory is Jesus.
It's just not like most of us think. Jesus isn't far away only able to hear our prayers faintly. He is right here, just behind the thinnest of curtains separating this life from the next. It's like we've lived our whole life surrounded by a two-way mirror. All we can see is a reflection of the earth we live on wherever we look. But behind that mirror our God and Savior and His angels watch. And not only watch but direct. It's like another Hollywood movie, "Truman". From birth Truman lives on a Hollywood sound stage. His whole life is orchestrated, choreographed, staged by unseen people. And so it is with our lives, but with this difference. God not men does the directing.
The Last Day is when Jesus steps from behind the mirror suddenly and says, "Boo." But what sort of warnings will we have before that? Not the kind Hollywood movies have. The only kind of warning Jesus gives is dull, boring sermons like this one. Don't believe me? Well that's the only warning the people in the days of Noah or Lot ever got. God didn't send a couple of heavy thunderstorms or local floods to show the people of Noah's day what was on the way. God didn't kick a couple of burning brimstone out of heaven to give the people of Lot's day a foretaste.
Make no mistakes; God could have done something like this, but He didn't. All God did was have Noah preach for 120 years. All He did was have Lot preach to people to turn from their sins. Boring, boring sermons is all they got. So you know what people did, don't you? The text tells you. They ate and drank; they went to Sixth Street, football games, and festivals on Town Lake. They dated and picked out spouses. They planned weddings for daughters and sons. They bought and sold their stocks. They planted businesses and built homes as if the world would never end.
If God had just sent a few flaming brimstone across the sky, if God had only sent a couple of sharp bolts of lightening or some heavy rainstorms, don't you know that people would have sat up and noticed. But all He ever did was send sermons. That's all God ever does. How did He warn Nineveh? Did He have a whale swallow them? No, He had a whale swallow Pastor Jonah and sent Nineveh a sermon. How did He warn Jerusalem about their destruction? Sure, Jesus did some miracles, but He did more preaching and then He went and suffered and died miserably on a cross. Some warning!
We have just got to come terms with the Theology of the Cross because this comes into play as we get ever closer to that Last Day known only to God. As the Day of the Lord nears one thing you will see is an increase in the Theology of Glory. People will long for God to do something to show He's really here. When people want God to do something, it is always something glorious. They dismiss the clear preaching of the Word, just like Noah and Lot were dismissed, and focus on a powerful Jesus, a feel-good Jesus; an exciting Jesus. Over here is Jesus healing. Over here is Jesus packing a church. Over here is Jesus making people happy. Over here is Jesus casting out demons. And what does Jesus say about such? "Don't go running after them. The next time you'll be able to see Me nobody will miss Me. I'll be as unmistakable as lightening flashing across a sky. But before that, all you will visibly see Me do is suffer many things and be rejected."
Our Jesus is hidden right now. He is hidden under the suffering and rejection that comes with the cross. He is hidden under weak things: boring sermons that do not move you. Water that looks no better than any other water. Bread and wine that look less appetizing than other foods. The eating and drinking that you do elsewhere is much more appealing than the eating and drinking you do at this altar. The things to do with weddings move you more than any sermon will. The buying and selling, planting and building that you do seem more beneficial and important than what God does with baptismal water!
Can you see what we're up against? Can you see how the people could listen to Noah preaching with a gigantic boat in the background and still not believe a flood was coming? Can you see how when Lot warned his own family they could laugh at him? Can you see why so many people you know could think one more or one less boring sermon really doesn't matter? Can you see how easy it is for Judgement Day to be bearing down on us, and we show no more concern than the people of Noah's or Lot's day did?
I know what you're asking. "What can we do about the end coming?" Hollywood is big on answering that question. However the end of the world approaches, according to Hollywood, mankind can do something about it and usually they are successful. Hollywood hates to end a movie with the world ending. For example, the movie "Sphere" is from a book that ends with the world ending. But when Hollywood test-marketed the movie, audiences found it too depressing. So they changed the ending so the world would go on. Hollywood's answer to the world ending is not to have it.
Don't let Hollywood fool you. The end of the world, the return of Jesus is on the way, and nothing we do can stop it. Go ahead; march against nuclear and biological weapons; you won't stop the world from ending. Go ahead; scan the sky for wayward comets and asteroids; you won't stop the Lord from returning and bringing everything you see around you to an abrupt halt. Go ahead; clean up the environment, but you won't stop or even slow the countdown for Jesus' return. As relentlessly as the next 3 weeks will pass, 3-2-1, so will the countdown till the end continue.
You can do nothing to stop or even slow the ticking clock. This fact caused Peter to ask, "Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?" What kind of people does Hollywood picture at the end of their end-of-the-world movies? The same kind of people they were at the beginning. People mired in the things of this life. People focused on eating, drinking, planting and building. The countdown at the end of the Church Year calls us away from that. It calls us into God's Ark where God has everything we need for salvation. Notice that when Noah preached for 120 years he didn't preach to get people to build the Ark. No, that was something God did for them through Noah. So don't think God is calling you to help build this Church in order for you to be saved. No, God is calling you to be saved by the Ark of His Church that He built with the wood of the cross and paid for by the Body and blood of His Son.
All that you need to keep above the flood of destruction at the end of the world is right here in this Vessel. Here are the Waters of Baptism that are able to float you into God's kingdom by clothing you with the holiness of Christ. Here is the Absolution that for Jesus' sake is able to send your sins away from you so that they are not found on you when the Lord returns. And here is the same Body and Blood that Christ gave and shed for sinners on the cross to strengthen and preserve you in the true faith even though error shouts at you from all around.
But error shouts too loudly and the world calls too sweetly. No sooner do leave the Ark and I'm back to wallowing in the eating and drinking, the buying and selling. I'll be lost if my salvation is left to me. But it's not. When we pray each Sunday, 'Thy kingdom come,." we're asking not to miss it. Abraham prayed for Lot not to miss the kingdom, so God sent angels to get Lot and then those angels sent Lot to get his family. This sort of thing is going on right here. I have been sent by God to get you. I have been sent to tell you to come out of Sodom and into the Ark. I 've been sent to tell you that God has a safe place for you for all eternity. Hollywood can only comfort you by telling you fairy tales about the world never ending. I have been sent to tell you that the world WILL end, but as with those in the first ark, that's only the beginning for those in the Ark of the Church. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Last Sunday (11-11-01) Luke 17: 20-30