by Rev. Joe Connolly
“Then, afterward, / I will pour out my spirit / on all flesh, on all humankind; / your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, / your elders, all of them, / shall have prophetic dreams, / and your young people shall see visions. / In those days / I will pour out my spirit / even on those who are enslaved;…” — Joel 2:28-29.
As I am sure you know there are only sixteen days left before the apocalypse. Indeed, in some places this election cycle has been described that way. Personally, I am not sure it is quite that important but in a fascinating, interesting twist of verbiage couched with obvious theological implications, some have dubbed this political season a battle for the soul.
I have heard it said and it has been said the outcome of this particular electoral process will be and is a choice which puts the every life and identity of each voter on the line. I have heard it said and it has been said this is a choice to be made in which good will or will not be triumphant. Therefore, there is no refuge seeking to be had by voters through non-participation or with alternative choices.
When we add to this assessment the moralizing rhetoric being broadcast by the competing campaigns it, once again, feels like a theological argument. Concerns have been expressed about evil, about aspects of and the possibility of an anti-Christ, aspects which address the end of days, talk about plagues and even concern that a Satanic individual will come out ahead. Based on that it should be absolutely clear to anyone an apocalypse, the end of times, is just around the corner. (Slight pause.)
I am fairly certain that the Jews living in Roman Palestine, in the First Century of the Common Era, thought an apocalypse, an end of times, was just around the corner. You see, historians tell us the occupying Army of Rome— yes the Army of Rome, the Roman Army, was the army of a foreign invader— the occupying Army of Rome is certainly reason to think the end of times might be at hand.
The Army of Rome was living in the homeland of the Jews and that occupying army crucified about 10,000 Jews every year in Roman Palestine. All the death and destruction wrought by Rome and its army on the Jewish people must surely have felt like a sign of the apocalypse, an end of times. (Slight pause.)
I am fairly certain that people living in the area we today call Europe in the 14th Century of the Common Era thought an apocalypse, an end of times, was just around the corner. You see, it’s estimated that as many as 200 million people died in what we call the Black Plague or Black Death in the course of the 14th Century in Europe.
It’s possible as much as 60% of the population died. No matter what the number of deaths, we do know it was not until the 17th Century— it took three centuries— it was not until the 17th Century that population levels recovered. Which is to say people living in 14th Century Europe were probably well justified in thinking an apocalypse was upon them. (Slight pause.)
In my own lifetime I have personally known people who witnessed October the 29th, 1929 crash. That event, the Stock Market Crash, and the following Great Depression, devastated the economy of both this country and the world.
How bad was it? In March of 1933 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office the unemployment rate was 25%. In Chicago the school teachers had worked and had taught every day since the previous September but had not been paid a dime .
The city simply did not have the money to do that. I am sure during the Great Depression many people were well justified in thinking an apocalypse, the end of times, was at hand, just around the corner. (Slight pause.)
On the other hand, as a baseball fan, I am fairly certain an apocalypse is at hand and just around the corner right now. After all, the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series and the Chicago Cubs are in the World Series. These are, unquestionably, the end times.
Seriously, the picture the current world presents to us at any given point in time can be disorienting. We can feel displaced, maybe even feel called to address our emotions, those feelings aroused in us by using in apocalyptic language. But are the end of times really at hand? (Slight pause.)
We hear these words from the Prophet Joel: “Then, afterward, / I will pour out my spirit / on all flesh, on all humankind; / your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, / your elders, all of them, / shall have prophetic dreams, / and your young people shall see visions. / In those days / I will pour out my spirit / even on those who are enslaved;…” (Slight pause.)
It does not matter what the prediction is and it does not matter who makes the prediction. Prognosticators, prophets, pastors, pundits, pontiffs, priests, prelates, politicians or just plain people— all of these are prone and have a propensity to make predictions about the end of times. But the truth is an apocalypse is not happening any time soon and is not going to happen any time soon.
You may not like what is happening right now. It may feel disoriented. You may feel displaced. But the end of times— these are not near.
Perhaps the end of an era is close at hand. And that can be disorienting. But eras, by definition, are of a limited time frame.
Yes, this is not the best of all possible worlds. I get that. But it never was the best of all possible worlds. That raises an obvious question: if it is not the end of times why do we feel we need to speak in those terms?
Indeed, ask the people who lived in Roman Palestine if it was the best of all possible worlds. Ask the people who lived through the plague of the 14th Century if it was the best of all possible worlds.
You may have known people who lived through the Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression, as I did. Each of them told me this truth: the crash and the Depression felt really, really bad. It was disorienting. But it was not the end of time. And we all know that. No matter how bad things feel, no matter how displaced we feel, it is not the end of time.
So, what are these words about? Indeed, what are these words about, especially since these words are not only what the Prophet Joel said but we find the same words repeated by Peter after the Pentecost event? (Slight pause.)
When the readings from Joel and from Acts were introduced it was said that we should realize apocalyptic language uses wonderful, powerful metaphors to describe what a deep experience of God feels like and these words were not insisting on an apocalypse, an ending, but rather proclaiming and rejoicing in a beginning. And I earlier indicated an apocalyptic argument is a theological argument.
In short, an apocalyptic argument, apocalyptic language is not about the end of times. Neither is an apocalyptic argument about who wins and who loses, although some would have it that way.
An apocalyptic argument, apocalyptic language is theological language about one thing and one thing only. Apocalyptic argument and language is about hope.
To use apocalyptic arguments and language to address the end times, to say the end of the world is at hand, is extraordinarily bane, common, trite and not at all theological. To use apocalyptic arguments, apocalyptic language to address the end of times is, in short, simply silly. (Slight pause.)
Well that having been said, in a couple of minutes you will be invited to sing the hymn Christians Rise and Act Your Creed. And what is our creed?
The creed of Christians is not about specific beliefs. (Slight pause.) The creed of Christians is about action— positive action. Therefore, the creed of Christians is about freedom. The creed of Christians is about peace. The creed of Christians is about joy.
The creed of Christians is about equity. The creed of Christians is about love. The creed of Christians is not about an apocalypse of any kind. The creed of Christians is very much about hope. Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “There is one other thing connected with hope and the action of hope— faith. Faith is, as I indicated, not a list of beliefs. Faith is also an action. These words of Spanish poet Gerado Oberman about faith illustrate that: ‘…faith is much more than feeling, knowing, repeating… / Faith is trusting in God, confiding in God; / and, in the meantime, on the path, in everyday life, / faith is resistance to all who oppose the love of God, / the fullness of life and the justice of God’s realm.’”
BENEDICTION: God stands by us to grant us support and strength. All who trust in God are strengthened and blessed. So, let us go on our way, proclaiming the Good News: when we question and when we are open, when we struggle to know God’s will and walk in God’s way, God will be our refuge. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ rule among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.