Sharp sickles reaping a fully ripe harvest; “the great wine press of God’s fury”; the temple destroyed; judgment; wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues: these are signs of the end times from today’s readings from the book of Revelation, the Gospel of Luke, and Psalm 96.
Scripture scholars inform us that the first generation of Christians often expected Jesus to return for the Final Judgment in their life time, at any moment. 2000 years later, we do not tend to see the apocalypse as so imminent. We have seen many earthquakes, famines, plagues, and wars come and go, and we continue to deal with all four today – so far without total destruction. But our longer view does not excuse us from “being prepared” now. In fact, that is the only time we really do have: now, the precious present. The truth is that we do not have any idea when we as individuals or as a species will reach our “end time.” So what should we do? How should we live?
I recently attended a talk by Philip Mangano, Director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness. Mangano was in Omaha to help launch our metro area’s “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.” Mangano anticipated the reaction many of us in the room were at least thinking: “End homelessness? Why not just reduce it? Everyone knows ending homelessness in 10 years is folly!” Mangano challenged and inspired our community and civic leaders to think and act boldly. He recalled others who were ridiculed as “foolish” and “naïve” over the past several centuries in the U.S.: abolitionists who envisioned a day with no slavery, not less slavery; suffragists who envisioned a country in which women could vote, not just men; civil rights activists who envisioned a society with no segregation, not just fewer Jim Crow signs. Next, Mangano introduced us to the vision of Grameen Bank founder and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Muhammed Yunus: a day in the next century when his grandchildren could visit a “Poverty Museum” to see what poverty used to be like in our world. Finally, Mangano challenged us to look at homelessness the same way. “Homes for All.” Some day in the future “Homes for All” will make intuitive sense just as freedom with no slavery, universal voting rights, and full civil rights without segregation make intuitive sense today.
Mangano’s message was clear: envision the world we believe is right and just and desire sometime in the future; live that world today. Live as though that world of justice and love and peace is not only possible but inevitable. Consider the best of who we can be in the future and appropriate it for the present. Envision our best tomorrow; live it today.
As Christians we also follow a visionary who lived out his vision in his own present. Jesus both envisioned and inaugurated the Reign of God. Rather than worry about our potential demise, let us envision what the Reign of God would/could look like and start living it today. The Reign of God is paradoxically here and now and not yet. Let us picture a society of love and peace and justice and do our best to live out of that spirit and vision now.
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