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The Rockies May Crumble

Luke 21: 5-19
It wasn't that long ago that scientific theories for most natural phenomena were founded on a theory of "gradualism". That's not the name, but reflected our views of the natural world. We believed that dinosaurs were replaced by mammals who adapted to the changing climate. We believed that climate change was gradual. In fact we believed that most natural occurrences were a slow process. This may be true in certain cases, but the scientific world now embraces the notion that big changes may, and in fact often are not gradual, but the result of dramatic crisis events.

The prevailing theory is that the dinosaurs were wiped out quickly, perhaps by a meteorite and not slowly by competition. Even climate changes, which are not infrequent in geological time, seem to happen rather suddenly rather than as a slow process.
The magnetic poles suddenly reverse themselves.
Our world is one in which change seems to take place in dramatic sudden shifts.
Luke 21: 5-19
It wasn't that long ago that scientific theories for most natural phenomena were founded on a theory of "gradualism". That's not the name, but reflected our views of the natural world. We believed that dinosaurs were replaced by mammals who adapted to the changing climate. We believed that climate change was gradual. In fact we believed that most natural occurrences were a slow process. This may be true in certain cases, but the scientific world now embraces the notion that big changes may, and in fact often are not gradual, but the result of dramatic crisis events.

The prevailing theory is that the dinosaurs were wiped out quickly, perhaps by a meteorite and not slowly by competition. Even climate changes, which are not infrequent in geological time, seem to happen rather suddenly rather than as a slow process.
The magnetic poles suddenly reverse themselves.
Our world is one in which change seems to take place in dramatic sudden shifts.

Soviet Communism did not gradually morph into something new the way Mikhail Gorbachov hoped it would, but it suddenly crumbled with a speed that no one living a decade earlier would have predicted.
My brother in law was working in Iran for a big multi-national oil company just prior to the revolution. I asked him if any westerners saw it coming and in his opinion he said it caught them all as a big surprise. The forces were building under the surface, but when the shift came it happened suddenly.

Jesus and the disciples are sitting on the Mount of Olives one day. You can imagine perhaps a setting or rising sun has lit Herod's temple in its golden rays. The scene apparently was magnificent.
The Jewish historian, Josephus writes about the appearance of  Herod's temple:
"...it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and at the first rising of the sun reflected back a fiery splendor that forced anyone viewing it to turn their eyes away...But the temple appeared to strangers when they were at a distance, as a mountain covered with snow."1

From their vantage point that day, this was the pinnacle of achievement.
Jesus all but dismisses it saying in effect, it's all headed for the scrap heap.
He tells them that the kingdom of God they are anticipating is not going to be ushered in through tinkering with what already is.
It is going to be a new event and that its advent will be the conclusion of crisis and struggle.

The Jews believed there were two distinct ages: the Present Age which was filled with evil and the Age to Come which would be a golden age ruled over by Messiah, a king to reclaim the throne of David and surpass David and Solomon's glory. The prophets speak of this age as the age when spears are turned into pruning hooks and the sheep and the lion lie together in peace. Between these ages is the Day of the Lord, a cataclysmic day of judgment and deliverance.

Think of time like an hourglass. The sands of the present age run out and passage into the new age is through the narrowest point, a point of judgment and deliverance.
In some ways, Jesus at Calvary is the narrow point of time because it is that moment that defines creation. The lamb slain before the foundations of the earth fulfills his moment in eternal crisis and history pivots into its new destiny.

Jesus looks at the temple, magnificent as it is, and says, "This is not it. This is just the prelude to the real thing."
He describes cataclysmic events of conflict and disaster.
A good portion of what Jesus was describing was fulfilled in 70 AD and the years following when in fact the Romans did level the temple and uprooted the Jews from the city and the nation. The destruction and suffering were every bit as bad as what Jesus predicted.

But he also predicts other events. There will be earthquakes, pestilence, wars and rumors of wars. This can be seen in almost any time span. When in the history of our world has this not been the case? There have been times when parts of the world at one time or another fit this description "to a tee".
Then Jesus describes a time when the whole of nature seems to convulse in some natural catastrophe. The seas rage, strange signs in skies, in fact the heavenly bodies will be shaken so that mankind will virtually faint in fear of what is to happen.

Then says Jesus, your deliverance is at hand.

Many have preached on end times and even tried to predict when all this will come to pass.
I am not sure this all refers to the same event. I think you could make a good case that Jesus is talking about the fall of Jerusalem to Rome, the coming times of persecution for the early church, life in our present world and then something about end times, when even the cosmos seems to be part of the drama, but I don't think we need to dwell on that. Maybe I am just chicken to try. Generations of preachers have made a career out of end times preaching, but I don't think I could do it with integrity.

What I do see here is Jesus warning his followers not to hitch their wagon to a falling star.
Don't set your heart on things of this present world. As delightful as they may be in many ways, they are passing.
Even a temple as glorious as Herod's is just rock and wood and metal.
Set your heart on the God who is worshipped.

Remember the words to the Gershwins'' song,
Our Love is Here to Stay

It's very clear, our love is here to stay
Not for a year but ever and a day
The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go

But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay
Together we're going a long, long way
In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble
They're only made of clay
But our love is here to stay2

To Jesus it was very clear that the Rockies will crumble, Gibraltar will tumble,
they are only made of clay.
There's only one thing....God's love is here to stay.

When will the end come?
Jesus said that even he didn't know the exact time.

Do not get overly attached to the things of this life. Our world is in conflict with the coming new world. They do not just overlap.
If we have times of peace and tranquility, wonderful, but make no mistake: this world is not identical with the coming age.
We live in it, but conflict, turmoil and hostility are part of the process of change.

A hundred years ago the current theory of the return of Jesus and the kingdom was one of gradualism.
As the gospel was preached, it was believed that this life could be perfected to the point that the kingdom would arrive.
Jesus followers assumed that this would happen in their lifetime. Not slowly, but immediately.

World wars, the Great Depression and the horrors of our modern world have pretty much given the lie to the notion that our world is moving uphill to the kingdom. Jesus says the transition will not be smooth. It will be a time of crisis and struggle.
So be prepared. Hold your attachments loosely.
Such as what?
Begin with material possessions. Hold them loosely. They are only made of clay.
Use them wisely as Jesus said, so you will be welcomed into God's kingdom with thanksgiving.
Put your trust in it, and you are in for disappointment.

How about health and reputation.
Its wonderful to be fit and healthy and full of energy and plans. It's great to have others admiration.
If you are so fortunate, use them to influence your world for Jesus.
But assume they are yours to do with as you wish, or that they are permanent and you have the recipe for a great let-down perhaps. But even if they don't let you down, they simply cannot deliver the real goods.

To be at peace with God, to be secure in your destiny, to have goals each day that you know are guaranteed to produce eternal fruit--those are things you can take with you. The rest will just get left behind someday.
Valerie and I are accumulating what we can for the purpose of leaving it behind, to our children and to the causes we support, including this church. We want everything we have and are to produce a legacy that will live beyond us.

In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble

They're only made of clay
But God's love is here to stay

Preached November 14, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia


Notes
1. Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, book 5 section 5
2.  Our Love is Here to Stay, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, Music by George Gershwin.


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