Planting a Tree

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We keep ourselves
alert and ready by simply getting busy with the work God has given us to
do.  No delays, no excuses, no
distractions.  It’s time to learn
how to love and what it means to be loved.  It’s time to show kindness and compassion to one another and
discover what changes these treasures work in life.  It’s time get to know the power of hope, the wonder of
growth and change.  It’s time to
show courage in our lives. 


25th
Sunday after Pentecost

November
18, 2012

Hebrews
10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25, Mark
13:1-8

Peder Stenslie  

I remember the
excitement in my home town when, back in the 70’s, Hal Lindsey’s book, The
Late Great Planet Earth
, came out.  I
was just a young boy at the time but I remember the stir it caused.  One day, my friend’s mother cornered me
in her house and asked me if my Dad had read the book and what he thought of it.  Her alarm made me rather anxious.  I remember seeing a very somber T.V.
special about the book. 

The book claimed to
uncover hidden references in the Bible to things that were happening in the
world at that time… the rising strength of the Soviet Union, the nuclear arms
race, events unfolding in the Middle East.  All of these things were claimed to be clearly referenced,
though cleverly hidden in many cryptic passages found in the Bible about the
end times… passages like our Gospel lesson today. 

The thrust of the book
was that the Bible clearly revealed that the end of days was upon us. 

The author, Lindsey,
predicted that:  "the decade
of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it.”  Well… it turned out that wasn’t the
case.

Spotting the world’s
last days on the horizon has been an obsession for many Christians since… well,
always.  We see that the disciples
wanted this information from Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson.  The Apostle Paul thought the end of the
world would be seen in his lifetime… 2000 years ago. 

Every single
generation since the days of Jesus has produced many claims that the end times
are at hand.  There have been many hundreds…
possibly thousands… of such predictions. 
Obviously, none of them have been right.  The year 2011 alone had 5 different predictions made by
various self-proclaimed prophets. 
Each of these had a large group of followers.  Each of these was wrong.

Why is it that people
in every generation are so eager to believe they are living in the end times?  Why do we have such a weakness for
people who claim they know the secret about our planet’s final days?

Let’s bring it back to
our Gospel lesson.  What do you
think the disciples were hoping to gain from the questions they put to
Jesus?  What were they looking for?

I suspect the
questions they put to Jesus came from fear.  They were afraid of the idea of the end, because it sounded
painful and violent.  I’m sure they
were looking for some kind of assurance that they would be okay… that they
didn’t need to be afraid.  I
suspect that is where their questions came from because I know those were the
thoughts and concerns lurking behind my own dark fascination with end time
predictions when I was young.

Whatever the reason,
the human race has certainly shown that it has a weakness for end –time
predictions… and the people who make them.

And in today’s Gospel,
we can see that Jesus was well aware of this human weakness.  His first words to his disciples, in
response to their questions, were: “Beware that no one leads you astray.”  Jesus knows how easily people get distracted
and carried away by this fascination with the end times.

He goes on to explain
that “many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and… lead many astray.”  End-time predictors are dangerous
people because they claim to possess knowledge and authority that they simply
do not have… that belongs to God alone. 
Their claims may be fascinating and enticing, but Jesus commands his
followers in Luke’s version of today’s Gospel, “Do not go after them.”

A little later in the
Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “…about that day, or hour no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Insider knowledge about the end times
is not for us.  We cannot know it;
we ought not seek it.  That’s what
Jesus tells us.

What, then, should our
attitude be toward questions of the last day?  Church reformer, Martin Luther, also lived at a time when
end-of-the world predictions were common. 
In the course of such a discussion, Martin Luther was once asked what he
would do if he knew the world was going to end tomorrow.  His reply was that he’d go out and
plant a tree.  Think about that for
a while.

His point was that the
question of when and how the end times are coming is irrelevant for the Christian.  It just doesn’t matter.  It is neither useful nor necessary for
the Christian to know how or when the end is coming.   

God has given us very important
work to do in our lives; and knowing the secrets of the end time is just not a
part of it.  If we try to make it a
part of our job, then we claim for ourselves authority and power that belong
only to God.  This is always a bad
thing for us to do.

Planting a tree, on
the other hand, is an act of love, an act of hope… a service in the cause of
life.  That’s the work we’ve been
called to.  It might seem like a
meaningless act… to plant a tree the day before the world ends; but it’s not.  It serves life… and serving life is the
work we were created for and called to… always.

I’ll tell you what is
a meaningless act… fretting about end-time predictions that never come
true.  Thousands of years of
searching for the hidden code, trying to convince ourselves and others that,
even though everyone else was wrong, we’ve figured it out… then writing books about it,
holding seminars, making documentaries, worrying….  That is meaningless activity.

As children of light
and servants of God, it is not our task to try to control or anticipate the
outcome of life — ours, or anyone else’s.  That power lies only in the hands of God.  Our task is simple, but big enough and
important enough to fill our entire lives. 

At all times and in
all situations, we are to serve life as a child of God.  Today’s lesson from Hebrews puts it
beautifully when it encourages us to “consider… how to provoke one another to
love and good deeds.”  As a father…
as a friend… as a mother… as a stranger… as a worker… whatever roles we have in
life… this is our calling and our lifework.  It never changes. 
It doesn’t matter if it’s the first day of creation or the last.

In the course of his
discussion on the end times, Jesus does warn his disciples… and us, to be
ready, to be alert. And that is indeed something we must do. But he never says,
“Figure out when it’s coming!”  We
make ourselves ready by not letting ourselves get distracted by enticing claims
and visions and prophecies about the end time.

We keep ourselves
alert and ready by simply getting busy with the work God has given us to
do.  No delays, no excuses, no
distractions.  It’s time to learn
how to love and what it means to be loved.  It’s time to show kindness and compassion to one another and
discover what changes these treasures work in life.  It’s time get to know the power of hope, the wonder of
growth and change.  It’s time to
show courage in our lives. 

A profound truth of
life and scripture is that the end times are always upon us.  Because we live with sin and death as
our constant companions, the end is always with us.  It shows itself in wars, famines, earthquakes, sickness,
tragic accidents… and so on… all the things Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel
lesson.  That’s why God calls us to
always be alert and be ready, because the end times are always among us.

Yet he promises that
we are not forsaken or lost.  He
promises that through faith and through obedience to God’s call to get busy in
service to life… to get going now on the way of hope and love, we will find
healing and strength to carry us through the end times we all must face, sooner
or later.  And we will find that
there, in that life of faith, God comes to us to fulfill his promise to carry
us beyond the final reach of sin and death to eternal life and joy.

 Amen.