Early in the school year, a young boy settled into his chair at a table for Art class. The teacher wanted to assess each student’s abilities and imagination so the assignment was simple: Draw a picture from your summer vacation.
The boy had spent a week at the shore. The week was filled with adventures like swimming, fishing, boating. The boy decided to draw a picture of the beach. But he soon became frustrated because his sky and water didn’t look right.
The teacher noticed his frustration. Sitting beside him, she asked him to try again. He was fine until he got to the part of the picture where the sky met the water.
The teacher decided to offer a little help. “Just draw a line across the paper to mark the horizon, and color the water and the sky from there.”
“That won’t work,” the boy stared at her. “That wouldn’t be right. There’s no line in this picture.”
The teacher was puzzled and asked what he meant. “There’s no line there. My dad took me out in the boat, way, way out and I can tell you, I never saw the line. I’ve been there and there’s no line. It’s not there.”
The teacher helped the little boy finish his drawing and kept it by her desk for years to come. She realized that that small child had taught her a great lesson. What looks like the horizon, the line, the edge, is not really there. That drawing gave her perspective in her daily challenges.
Today we hear Jesus speaking apocalyptically. Jesus is telling us of times of great turmoil, of times when many will believe that the End is near. Passages such as these have fascinated Christians for centuries. Verses like this, and the Book of Revelation, have long been fodder for all sorts of theories and beliefs about the end of the world.
But we must read and hear this teaching in context. Jesus, right in the midst of this teaching, notes, “but the end will not follow immediately.”
Why is it that Christians seem obsessed with the End Times rather than the time at hand? Perhaps it is because it is easier to be fascinated, even terrified, by what may be than it is to be faithful in the midst of what is.
A few passages previous to this reading, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming. He replied that the Kingdom of God will not arrive with signs that can be observed. He pointed out that no one will be able to point and say, “There’s the Kingdom.” Instead, he answered, “Behold the Kingdom of God is in your midst.”
According to Jesus, the Kingdom was not on its way, it was arriving in our own lives. We need not live in anticipation of what is to come. Instead, the kingdom is in our midst, we should live faithfully within what is.
Being concerned with the End Times to me, frankly, seems to be an unhealthy diversion. Reading the paper, watching the news, with an eye to the horizon, wondering if this is just another link in the apocalyptic chain, diverts our attention from the kingdom that is already within our midst.
Centuries ago, Jesus predicted terrifying horrors and they came to pass. Yet the world did not end. The Temple was destroyed, yet life continued.
Paul was convinced that the End was at hand. He taught that Christians should forego marriage and not to worry whether they were slaves or free because the end was so near. Yet life continued.
In every age of Christianity there has never been a generation when wars and rumors of wars were not in the ears of the faithful, nor when disasters and calamities were not troubling their hearts. That includes our age as well.
Some within this room witnessed the beginning of the nuclear age. Some can recall being terrified by bomb drills at school when children were taught to cower under their desks if the air raid siren was heard. In our own time, most of us know exactly where we were the morning the Trade Centers and Pentagon were attacked.
We live in an age of wars and rumors of wars. Yet life continues. The horizon never appears. There is no line there.
That is why I believe that Christianity’s obsession with the End Times is all ill-placed. Even as Jesus is speaking in such apocalyptic terms, he tell us, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” As he spoke of terrors and troubles that would shake the core of his followers’ faith, he ended by saying simply, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
By your faith, by your commitment to what matters the most, by your holding fast to that which cannot be destroyed, that which will last forever, you will live, your life will run forth into eternity with our Lord. It will light out for the territories of the Spirit, paling the stars that fall from the sky, casting shadows on a moon turning red with blood.
It seems to me that those who are so concerned with the End are missing what God has already begun. The Kingdom is here, within us. Why would we seek it on a distant horizon or in a future era? The horizon is not there. But Jesus is here.
© 2019, Tom Thoeni