The Rev. Jim Friedrich
First Lutheran Church-San Diego
August 7, 2016
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
It was a little over one year ago that Jessica and I moved here. A few months ago I said, “It’s about time, I can’t procrastinate any longer, I need to find a dentist.” So I went in for my first appointment and after the hygienist finished sand-blasting my teeth and assaulting my gums, the dentist came in. Making small talk he said, “So what do you do?” Now, it’s always interesting what people tell you when you say you’re a preacher. (Of course, it’s probably more interesting what they don’t tell you, but usually you don’t find out about those things.) But he says, “I’ve never been very religious myself but I think religion is important.” He went on to tell me about his daughter. He said he got her to go to college at the Christian College in El Cajon. He thought this would be a good place to go since this is the school where Tim LaHaye is and of course he wrote the very popular Left Behind series of books. He said that after a while she transferred to USD where the Jesuits tried to influence her thinking. But now, he said, she’s atheist. I think the subtext might have been: you religious folks sure aren’t very persuasive.
But he got me thinking about Tim LaHaye and the Left Behind books. I hadn’t remembered that he was right here and I don’t know if he had a lot of influence in the Christian community here but there was a lot of attention around the country 10 years or so ago about these books and the theology behind them. LaHaye just died a few weeks ago and there was a big write-up about him in the UT. It was on an airplane when he got the first inspiration for the series. He saw a married pilot who was flirting with a flight attendant and he wondered, “What if the rapture happened right now?” He wondered who would be caught doing the wrong things and how can you use this as a motivation to think more seriously about the consequences of your actions. Yet, as I thought about him, I also remember back how many of us took exception to the rapture narrative and the fear that undergirds its theology.
One of my heroes, (perhaps you studied her work–back at the time this was big stuff) is Barbara Rossing who teaches at our seminary in Chicago. She got no small amount of attention herself by writing books like The Rapture Exposed in which she challenges the rapture proponents’ biblical foundation and sees it as destructive. Perhaps the fact that this kind of theology doesn’t attract as much attention today and the fact that the Dentist’s daughter wasn’t influenced by it tells us something.
Rossing attacked rapture theology for various reasons but she sees it as a fairly recent attempt to make the message of scripture a threatening, fear producing narrative. If the rapture comes as their proponents suggest and some are snatched away into heaven and for seven years, the world is left in chaos before Christ returns. This is a pretty brutal image of God. It’s like saying, “God so loved the world that he plans to give us World War III.” While Revelations and other biblical books are filled with violent imagery Rapture theology distort the message of hope that they include. And importantly, they create very bad ethics. If the rapture is coming soon, why bother with caring for the earth, as it is likely to be destroyed anyway.
Our Gospel lesson today has echoes of this kind of apocalyptic imagery. It’s a little more subtle than the language in recent Sundays or as you’ll see next week. Hear it again: Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.” He goes on to say that blessed are those who are ready for him, “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, the owner would not have let the house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son-of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
I’m not quite sure what this means but it makes you a little anxious. And if you have images of the Rapture in your mind, then you’re really anxious. So, it seems to me, if we live with our fears that we won’t measure up when the judgment, the Parousia (Christ’s reappearing) comes, than we constantly must be on our guard to keep all possible lights lit. But, if we look at this as a reminder of the joy to come when Christ reunites with us as the loving brother, teacher, savior, it changes our anxiety to anticipation. Learning to live with a sense that God is constantly looking to brighten our days is an attitude of welcoming the unknown, doing what we can to bring such joy to others and living in wonderful and joyous expectation!
The earlier part of our lesson has a very different perspective than the last part. God seeks to give you the dominion so give back for all your gifs.Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. It doesn’t sound like a short term strategy as if the end is coming very soon. It seems to say that looking at our treasures, good or not so good, tells us a lot about our values, where our heart is. But I think it can also mean that putting our treasures to work for important things is a way of softening or changing our hearts to be more loving.
On the same day that the UT remembered Tim LaHeye’s life, they also remembered Conrad Prebys who was one of the prominent philanthropists in our community. By all accounts, he gave generously to a great variety of causes. He said he chose which things he wanted to support by saying, “Which projects made me want to jump up and down.” A few days ago, the paper also remembered Pauline Foster who also gave millions to art, schools and health care. She traveled a lot with her children and grandchildren but they weren’t vacations, they were “trips”, teaching the kids about the cultures and people they met.
Talk about legacies, about what they left behind.
Jesus was always concerned about those who are left behind, not believing that God would only want a select group to watch while the rest are engaged in great tribulations or suffering. Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, is always hunting for those who might be forgotten, like the shepherd more concerned about the lost lamb more than the 99 other sheep.
Let us worry less about whether we’ll be left behind and more about what it is that we leave behind. May we look to Christ for our inspiration and the comforting thought that what he left behind still gives us comfort and joy. Amen.