Tim Lahaye has made a fortune
on the Left Behind book series.
The Left Behind movie came next:
A religious movie that looks more like an X-box video game.
The premise is a literalistic reading of today's text
combined with the images of the book of Revelation.
The forces of the Son of Man
face the supernatural powers of evil
in a cosmic battle of Armageddon
where planets crash into the earth
and people are plucked away.
The unrepentant are "left behind"
to suffer the incredible carnage of the cosmic war,
while the good escape;
taken away to rapture.
Cars are left driverless,
planes lose their pilots,
and buses meander down the street under their own power.
It's a suicide bomber's dream world.
I have seen a bumper sticker that says:
When the rapture comes, this car will be driverless.
Another bumper sticker, lampooning the theme, says:
When the rapture comes, can I have your car?
Left Behind is a futuristic, adolescent morality play
in which God is a perfectionist parent
who will only give salvation to those who clean up their act.
Like movies about aliens,
the theme presumes that the one who comes from outside
is hostile toward ordinary humans
and capable of designing and bringing about
unspeakable human suffering.
The righteous God is coming
so you had better run for cover.
But that's not the gospel.
The terrors of the world are not part of God's design;
They are not the signs of God's promise
to mend the entire universe.
Jesus warns us not to let those things trick us into thinking
that somehow the game is up.
Those things happen over and over again.
The Babylonians beat the Assyrians,
the Persians beat the Babylonians,
the Greeks beat the Persians,
the Romans beat the Greeks.
The nations of Europe were formed by historic tribal wars
in which one wave of culture overlays a previous one.
The history of the Americas is of the
European displacement of indigenous people—
people who had waged their own cultural wars.
Same old, same old.
The terrible images to which Jesus refers
are the images of Roman military and political treatment
of any who rebel against them.
The religious practices of Jews and Christians were tolerated,
but are not allowed to impact or change Roman life in any way.
Everything was fine so long as God remained one's private business,
but God was not allowed to bring change
to the superiority and sacredness of Rome.
It was Rome that demanded ultimate obedience
and a detailed accountabing of one's way of life.
That was one of the reasons tax collectors
were held in such utter loathing by Jesus' people:
They were not only cheats in the taxes they levied,
but they snitched on people like the Stassi did in East Germany.
It is not God who will pick one of two field workers off
like a sniper in an Iraqi village—
it will happen at the hands of a world
that will not allow God's sovereignty to put it into question.
In Jesus' time the Roman threat was overt:
People walked by the city landfill
and saw loved ones weeping for
the corpses hanging on the crosses.
In a democratic culture like ours,
the influence is much more subtle.
We have been seduced by a culture of multiple choices
to the point that wanting only one thing over against others
is considered narrow-minded and life-limiting
rather than dedicated and discriminating.
Discriminating is a term associated now with savvy shoppers
rather than with people who distinguish between meaningful versus empty ways of life.
God is not humanity's opponent,
lying in wait for the first sign of a weakness to exploit.
It is the will of God that people should be embraced
by the source of life in all its fullness.
Yes, we should be on guard and stay awake.
Because God is at work in the world
to bring surprises and new life
wherever an opportunity presents itself.
God is at work to revive people who have given into the belief
that life is nothing more than the same old same old.
When these Advent texts warn us to be on guard,
they are not warning us against a marauding God
who wants to hunt us down like dogs,
but to be receptive a creative God
finding original and inventive ways
to tell us we are loved and cherished.
They are asking us to be open to new ways
to think about how life can be lived and decisions made.
God is subversive, but only in order to awaken people's imaginations—
to show people that they are more
than mere consumers of the economy's goods.
We are being asked to guard against a society
that says there is only the here and now,
only what we can possess and enjoy,
only what we can get for ourselves.
We are being asked to guard against a society
that denies the sense that one is not worthy
when one is poor,
when one experiences pain,
when one is the victim of circumstance,
when one is not liked or given one's deserved space.
We are being asked to guard against
the empty-headed world of Jerry Seinfeld.
We are being asked to be on the look-out
for alternatives to domination
as ways to create change in this world.
In the world of:
the World Cup, Stanley Cup, Grey Cup and the Triple Crown;
the Top Ten, Top Forty, Top 100 and Fortune 500;
it can be easy to miss the onset of the reign of God among
the least, the last and the lost.
Now that Christianity in Canada
shares the stage with many other active and growing faiths,
it no longer dominates the charts.
This may be the greatest gift we can be given.
It may be that,
without the rose-coloured lenses
of our former privileged status,
living among others who are different
and resistant to our persuasion,
we may see what God is really up to.
May this be for us the gospel of the Lord.
Raymond L. Schultz, National Bishop
This sermon was written for November 28, 2004, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.
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