2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
St. Luke 21:5-29
Well, I’ve not always been a Lutheran. I spent my childhood as a member of a fundamental, independent Baptist congregation in the Midwest. I went to Augustana, Rock Island and, of course, saw the light when I was a college student and became a Lutheran.
There are some things I am grateful for from my heritage—namely, a longstanding commitment to and appreciation of the Bible. There are other things I am grateful for because of what I learned when I worked to overcome them, for example: a certainty that God’s punishment awaited me upon my death if I painted my fingernails, or went to movies, or wore anything other than skirts or dresses, although something called “coulottes” were allowed. Remember those? Hideous!
These were also people who feared the “end times,” not for themselves, of course, but for all those other people—the ones who did not share their particular sort of Christian understanding. The people believed, as do Lutherans, of course, that Jesus would come again, many even believed it would be “soon.”
There, was, however, an exceedingly strong emphasis on end time theology, on the second coming of Jesus, and a rather obsessive need to be ready at all times, just in case! It was taught and believed that the coming of Christ was imminent. A warning was often issued: one needs to be sure that one does not get caught dancing or playing cards or having a glass of wine when Jesus appears to call you home.
In addition, the words about the end times, the ones we read today from the Gospel of Luke and some from John and Matthew got all tangled up with the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation, John’s beautiful metaphor of God’s love for all people, for the world . . . Somehow, though, Luke’s story and John’s promise and Matthew’s warnings and Revelation’s beautiful metaphor got all “mushed” together in a most threatening and unscholarly way. These words of Luke’s Jesus, a promise from John’s Gospel and dire warnings in Revelation got tacked onto a Matthew story, and produced fear and trembling in even the most devout Christians.
For some years as a youngster I lived with a rather constant fear of being the one “left behind” at the end, upon Jesus’ return. On Saturdays, my friends, Mary and Cheri and Patty and I often rode our bikes downtown. Now downtown in Rock Island, Illinois offers limited entertainment. We were not allowed to go to the movies, the theater was dark, of course, and, “men love darkness more than light for their deeds are evil.” That was not a “Christian” activity.
That did not leave much, but we did have some favorite things to do. We went to the dime stores, the Woolworth’s and the Newberry’s. Remember those? We found ways to spend our allowance and babysitting money. Mary liked to look at what we regarded as “boy toys,” things like baseballs and airplane models. Cheri always headed for the make up and perfume counter. Patty bought teen magazines, the ones with the boy singers on the front cover, although, of course, the boy toys, the make up, and the magazines were regarded as somewhat sinful.
I, on the other hand, looked at . . . embroidery thread and books. Yes, I was a little boring, even then. As we wandered away from each other in pursuit of our different interests, we became separated in the store. The shelves were high and the aisles long. At least once on each trip, I looked up from my shopping and noticed that neither Mary, nor Cheri, nor Patty was anywhere to be seen. I would panic, and look around, terrified. I just knew what happened: Jesus came, Mary and Cheri and Patty were taken up to meet him in the clouds, and I, a sinful creature, was left on earth to face seven years of tribulation.
My heart raced, the fear was real. Clutching my books or threads in my sweaty hand, I rushed frantically from aisle to aisle, finally rounding a corner to find Cheri calmly checking out the nail polish.
My fear came from a feeling that I did not measure up, that I was too naughty, that I played cards or wore blue jeans or kissed a boy or told a lie too many times and that there was no way Jesus would choose me to be taken up with him. It seemed obvious that our minister, the Brother Brown was right—it must be time for Jesus to come, and there I was unready, not good enough, unworthy, not lovable enough to meet my Lord and Savior. And so, I was afraid.
Jesus tells the disciples of the end times, though, not to be afraid. Do not be afraid, “for I will give you words.” I will give you words . . . words for the small ones baptized this day, words for us all.
Juliet and Madison, Mikey and James—DO NOT BE AFRAID! There are words for you today. There are words—“You are baptized.” And a sign—water, living water. And a promise—today you are freed from sin and death. You are joined to the death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today you are reborn children of God.
God comes to you today in holy baptism. God lifts you from the waters of holy baptism, raises you up before you can drown, brings you to new and eternal life, not a single hair on your little heads will perish. Do not be afraid.
The Book of Revelation tells us that Jesus will come to earth. He will come . . . to bring healing leaves from the tree of life for the nations, for the whole world, for all people. From the tree nourished by the waters of the river of life, He will come and bring healing leaves for us and for all people.
One more extraordinary word, a word St. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome: “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” Irrevocable . . . Do not be afraid. Amen.