Monday, October 06, 2014

October 5, 2014 - What In the World Is Wrong With Our World?

It appears that Hollywood has apocalyptic fever.

I was surprised a couple of months ago to learn that Nicholas Cage would star in a new movie version of the first Left Behind book (it opened this weekend).  I’ve not read any of the books, and I don’t know that I’ll see the movie, but it’s one in a long line of apocalyptic movies that Hollywood has produced in recent years. 

The word apocalyptic refers to the end times or to events that are so cataclysmic that people believe the end must be upon us.  The most popular genre of movies in recent years has been superhero movies.  Most of the superhero movies are apocalyptic, because they portray the earth as under threat of destruction and must be saved by a superhero.  The zombie craze, so popular in movies and on TV, is also apocalyptic, as humanity is threatened with destruction by some kind of zombie virus. 

Why are these movies so popular?  Because they play out, onscreen, our anxiety about the condition of our world, and in seeing a victory over apocalyptic events we are reassured that everything will be all right.

The apocalyptic theme is no accident, but a reflection of the great sense of fear and uneasiness in our world about the path of humanity.  Everyone, certainly, feels some measure of unease about the future.  Elon Musk, founder of Tesla automobiles, is so worried about the future of humanity that he wants to put a million people on Mars to ensure the survival of humanity.

It is not necessary for me to list the numerous ills facing our world today.  Do we really need – or want – to be reminded of all the problems facing our world?  I don’t think so.  We are all painfully aware of the struggles of the world and of every day life.

This morning’s message is What In the World Is Wrong With Our World?  As our world seems to be coming apart at the seems, it is worth asking, what does our faith have to say about not only the condition of the world, but the future of the world?  What message does our faith bring to a world where there is such an incredible amount of worry about the present and the future of our world?

It is certainly a very difficult world in which we live, but it has always been a difficult world.  We live in a world filled with unbelievable brutality, but that has always been true.  What is different today, I think, is that the threats to humanity are increased because it is, first of all, a smaller world.  We are no longer protected by distance as in the past.  Our country has been shielded by much of what the rest of the world faces because of two oceans, but that is not the buffer it once was.  It is also a far more weaponized world.  Humanity has always specialized in creating weaponry but the 20th century brought weapons by which mankind could bring about its own destruction.  If you are my age or older, you may remember the drills in school in the event of a nuclear attack.  I remember being taught to get under our desks.  Evidently, we don’t need to build fall-out shelters; we just need to get some school desks under which we can hide.  We have also reached a tipping point as the world has increased to such a large population that the coming years could bring war based on the struggle for resources that grow ever more scarce.  If you don’t have some measure of unease about the condition of the world, you are probably not paying attention.

My intent is certainly not to scare you this morning or to raise your stress level, but to ask how our faith responds to what is happening in our world.

Many people, when they contemplate the future, turn to the book of Revelation.  That’s helpful, if you do so in the correct manner.  The book of Revelation is very mysterious with all of its strange symbols and visions, but it was written to bring comfort and assurance to people who were asking the same kinds of questions as we ask about the condition and future of the world – what is happening to our world?  Why is it happening?  What is God going to do about it?  What’s going to happen to us?  Unfortunately, some people use the book of Revelation to instill fear in people rather than bringing comfort and assurance.

But I prefer to turn to the words of Jesus when I think about the condition and the future of the world, and let’s read some of them.

Matthew 24:3-14; 36, 44 –
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.
For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
All these are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

When we think about our world, its condition, and its future, there are several options as to what we can do –

1.  We can live in fear.
There are plenty of people in this category, and the sad part of this approach is there are many people who have found ways to profit from our fears.  People profit from our fears both financially and politically.  There are companies who have done well marketing to our fears – buy a product that will protect your identity, buy anti-virus software that will protect your computer, but a home security system, buy plenty of insurance, and don’t forget to buy a weapon.  How much protection do we really receive for all that money?  I have some of those products, and I think we ought to have some of them, but we can spend and spend and it won’t guarantee our safety.

But it’s not just businesses – plenty of politicians have exploited our fears for their own political gain and political ends.  Uncertain times brings out a certain kind of political rhetoric that is designed to exploit our fears.

Jesus lived in a time of great fear, and yet he was fearless.  I’ve always admired that about Jesus, and wished I could emulate it.

2.  We can withdraw.
We can withdraw into our own little world and forget about what is happening around us.  We can withdraw into a world of our own concerns and interests and ignore what is happening around us.  There is enough evidence to support prove that many people have made this decision. 

It is very tempting to withdraw into our own lives and look after me and forget everyone else and their problems.  When a group of us traveled to the Diersen Center on Tuesday evening to lead worship we entered a place where people are mostly forgotten by the rest of the world.  It is a place where people are housed in a manner that others don’t need to know they are there. 
But Jesus didn’t withdraw, did he?

3.  We can find someone to blame.
When disasters strike, when we endure great tragedies, when we enter periods of momentous change, people want to find scapegoats and lay blame for what is happening in the world. It’s certainly nothing new, as scapegoating has been with us from the beginning, when Adam shifted the blame for his own actions to Eve – the woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it (Genesis 3:12).  Adam manages to blame Eve and even God – she gave me the fruit, and you gave her to me, so both of you are to blame, he implies.

St. Augustine wrote one of the most monumental books in history when he penned he City of God in the 4th century.  Augustine wrote the book as the Roman Empire was collapsing, and someone had to be blamed.  Many around the empire blamed the Christians for the collapse of the Empire, so Augustine writes in response to the church becoming the scapegoat.  When the church ascended to power in the Middle Ages it began to find scapegoats for the problems of the world, and the tragedy of the Inquisition began.   

In our own time, we hear scapegoating by religious figures as they pick out group to become the scapegoat for the tragedies we endure, whether natural disasters or human disasters.  It’s the fault of feminists, or environmentalists, or gay people, or some other group.

Robert Jeffres, pastor of FBC, Dallas, Texas said earlier this year went so far as to say that things are so bad because President Obama is paving the way for the Antichrist.  It doesn’t matter where you stand politically; I would hope we could agree that’s going overboard.

4. We can embrace the world, following the example of Jesus.
There has always been a tendency to do all of the above in the world of religion.  It happened in the day of Jesus, it happened in the early church, and it has continued to the present day.

There are still people living in great fear, and there are religious people happy to capitalize on that fear.  My goal is not to make you afraid, but to remind you that God remains in control of this world and when we live within his care and know are destiny is ultimately in his hands we do not need to be overwhelmed with fear.  We don’t need to withdraw into our own little world, as some churches encourage, building their own subculture that protects them from the larger, scary world.  And neither do we need to lay blame upon others for what is happening in the world.  We don’t need to scapegoat people who are simply living their lives but are convenient targets as those whom we want to blame for the ills of the world.

I want you to look closely at the next picture on the screen.

Is that sunrise or sunset?  If you had the correct perspective you would know – if you knew whether or not the sun was in the east or the west you could determine if this is a sunrise or a sunset.
Are we in the final days of time, watching the sun set on humanity?  It depends on your perspective.

I would not minimize the difficulties that we are facing in our present age.  The problems facing humanity are very grave indeed, butI believe that much of the unsettledness of our time is a fermenting of something new, and God is working through all the change and all the uncertainty of our time and that he is going to bring an amazing new work from what is happening.  I believe that contrary to what many people believe, we are in the early stages of a new and great spiritual awakening.

What in the world is happening wrong with our world?  There is a lot that is wrong, but God is going to put it to right. 

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