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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Scripture Reading: Matthew 24:3–14
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come. (NRSV)

In today’s reading, Jesus provides his own view of the end of the world: apocalyptic images of wars, famines, earthquakes, torture, hatred, betrayal, false prophets, anarchy—they’re all there. Yet amidst all of that, Jesus provides hope: the image of a kingdom, and the one whose love endures will be saved.

I have often wondered if there really will be a “second coming” or even if there is heaven. Maybe the whole point is that we are to work for the kingdom here on earth. As Marcus Borg and other scholars point out, Jesus came to inaugurate a kingdom now, not in the future. Jesus says that here, when he says the “good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world.”

Several years ago, I led a Fourth Church mission trip to Ghana. I will never forget one night in the town where we were helping to build a church when we had our official welcome celebration. Everyone was in a festive mood. The service was filled with singing and dancing and the beat of the drums. It was an amazing experience to dance through the church with our new friends, singing, “We are marching in the light of God.” I remember the sight of the pastor holding her hands up in the air as she marched and the grins on her and our faces. It was overwhelming. 

Certainly I do believe in heaven, but I also believe that there are times when we come very close to achieving the kingdom here on earth, and for me, that night in Ghana was one of them. It was the body of Christ in action. Hands in the air, feet marching, voices singing, and God’s love shining through. 

Every time we fight for justice, every time we feed a person who is homeless or tutor a child, we are achieving God’s kingdom. And that’s a lot less scary than images of the apocalypse.

God of heaven and earth, help me identify ways to achieve your kingdom today so that your will can be done on earth just as it is in heaven. Amen.

Written by Mark Nelson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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