Eschatology from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
1But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! 2Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
3For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will your my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. 4They shall spring up like a green tamarisk, like willows by flowing streams. 5This one will say, “I am the LORD’s,” another will be called by the name of Jacob, yet another will write on the hand, “The LORD’s,” and adopt the name of Israel.
6Thus says the LORD, the king of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and the last; besides me there is no god. 7Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be.
8Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
24[Jesus] put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them into bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.
36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of ire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
My mother was a preschool music teacher, which means that every car ride was an opportunity for her to do research. She would pop in a new tape of children’s music to which we would listen as she decided what songs she should add to her repertoire.
Thirty years, seven months, three weeks, and one day of listening to children’s music and a couple of songs stuck with me. “When I was a little kid, a diminutive juvenile, I liked my folks to read to me, I was an eager bibliophile. Now I like words for how they sound, and how the communicate, perhaps I should explain myself, that is, elucidate.” So begins children’s musician Tom Chapin’s magnum opus, entitled “Great Big Words.”
Silly songs and parental encouragement formed my hobbies, and now I love a well-placed big word.
And since I love my congregation as well, y’all occasionally get to hear a Great Big Word in a sermon.
Eschatology: the study of the end.
Thirty years, seven months, three weeks, and one day.
That’s my lifetime. December 1, 1986 was thirty years, seven months, three weeks, and one day ago.
I know that in the beginning, God created all things and called them good. But in my thirty years, seven months, three weeks, and one day lifetime, I have also seen suffering and anxiety that defies my understanding of goodness.
A majority of this community can like remember what roughly thirty years ago looked like, certainly better than I could. My earliest memories don’t reach back quite that far. A majority of this community could build on the stories of my lifetime, reaching further back in your experience, having seen more of the field than I’ve gotten to yet.
But in my thirty years, seven months, three weeks, and one day, I’ve seen enough of the field to know that there are weeds among the wheat.
But God created the world and called it good! Why then does evil exist? The Son of Man redeemed all creation! Why then does evil persist? There are weeds among the wheat. “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” I am among the slaves of the householder, demanding an explanation for what I see in the world around me, which is so different than what I know the Master intended.
I raise my voice to God, like the servants in this parable, because I know that the my experience does not match God’s promise. I know that God is loving, and that God is powerful, but I also have seen in my thirty years, seven months, three weeks, and one day, that evil exists. “Evil and suffering are wounds in creation, and a deeply Christian response is to turn to God in pain and protest.” I also take some comfort in the Master’s reply: “An enemy has done this.” God is not the cause of evil, not even indirectly. Evil, and the suffering that it causes creation, stands in opposition to our loving God.
The hard news is that God does not choose to uproot evil root and stem from the moment it first emerges. While it’s certainly within God’s power to act in that way, it’s not in character of the one whom we meet in scripture. There are weeds among the wheat, and we cannot gather the weeds without uprooting the wheat along with them. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we can try and help the wheat continue to grow healthily, and maybe even hinder the growth of weeds. Suffering remains, however, a part of life in this day and age.
The good news, on the other hand, is that evil and suffering do not have the final say. That’s where eschatology comes in.
In spite of the all the cultural speculation about what the end will be like, “Jesus spent no time describing the golden age on a transformed earth or the golden streets of the heavenly Jerusalem.” So I don’t spend much time focusing on what it’ll look like when we all get to heaven. But I do know that the evil we experience in the world, the needless pain and anxiety, is the enemy of God. “Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you.” God strives against evil even as we are suffering it. We know that God is our helper amid the flood of mortal ills. The decisive victory against that enemy was won in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. God, in Jesus, won the victory over the power of sin and death. “God’s perfect love, poured out on the cross, burns down the gates of hell and destroys the powers of sin and death.” That victory will be completed at the end of the age and all the causes of sin and all evildoers will come to an end.
And in those days, we will see the glory of our creator. God does not stop at removing the bad, the good will be poured out and all of creation will experience renewal. “Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground.” Just as creation is renewed by the presence of the LORD, so too will our family of faith find itself transformed, “I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like a green tamarisk, like willows by a flowing stream.”
And though this world with devils filled should struggle to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him, his rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.
There are two versions of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in the Presbyterian Hymnal. Grab a hymnal and open it up to Hymn 260. I’ll wait.
This is the version that all of us know, that many of us could hum to ourselves without looking. Martin Luther’s original words, translated into to English hundreds of years later, build a theology of Christ’s victory like the mighty fortress the song depicts, and we can imagine the bricks as we sing measure by measure.
Definite chunks of music that match up with the lyrics we have come to love for their reliability.
But this is not the tune that Martin Luther wrote when he composed this hymn. This is an edit, an easier arrangement. Luther’s older tune can be found just one page back, while these lyrics are from the twentieth century, the music is what Luther penned in 1529. Hear the rhythm as it moves around in the tune.
These are not the block chords that build a fortress out of music. God does not fit into a 4/4 time signature. God is greater even than the hymns we use to praise him. God moves through, and around, the tunes in our lives in unpredictable ways to reveal is greatness to us. “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.”
We have seen who God is, revealed in scripture, and in our own lives. Thirty years, seven months, three weeks and one day of my lifetime have seen God at work in the world, moving among both the wheat and the weeds, ensuring that the hope-filled and grace-shaped end is on its way. Eschatology is the study of the end, but it brings comfort to people of faith because we know that our future is crafted by the promise of our Mighty God.
The promise of God is that the story does not end with the suffering of the cross. The promise of God is that the tomb is empty. There are weeds among the wheat, but we can take comfort in knowing that they will come to an end. The causes of sin, the evil and suffering in this world will all be bound up at the end of the age and cast aside to be destroyed. We can endure the suffering for now because we know that it is not forever. The day will come when “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Creation will be renewed by God’s presence.