Last Days

Luke 21.5-19; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-12


What do the following all have in common:

Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and Yasser Aarafat, Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama? 

They have all been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize rewards those who have worked especially hard for peace, to promote human rights or to provide humanitarian relief. It praises what is good and positive about humanity when we try to make part of the world a better place. And yet the prize with its large financial reward was set up to assuage a guilty conscience for making the world a worse place.

The Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel had made a fortune from the development of nitroglycerine into dynamite and gelignite, inventing more effective ways to create explosions. In 1888 false rumours circulated that he had died and a premature obituary appeared in a French newspaper which declared 'Le marchand de la mort est mort', the merchant of death is dead. The writer alleged that Nobel had made his fortune by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before. Nobel was reputedly so affected by this verdict on his life that he left his fortune of some two million pounds to set up the Nobel prizes in science, medicine, literature and peace. Nobel wanted to use his fortune to encourage others to work for the good of others.

Mankind is capable of great good and great evil. We can use our knowledge and creativity to good ends or to bad. Knowledge once acquired cannot be forgotten. Mankind is easily capable of bringing to an end to life on this planet. 

When we read today’s gospel we might think that we are coming towards the end days that Jesus speaks about. But Christians in every age have recognised these signs.1400 years ago St Gregory wrote that

‘this world is in haste and the end approaches and therefore in the world things go from bad to worse and so it must of necessity deteriorate greatly on account of the people’s sins.’

Some of the Thessalonians, to whom Paul addressed his letters, believed that the end time had already come and so they could eat, drink and be merry, and do what they liked.

As the clocks struck twelve to mark the beginning of the third millennium in the year 2000 some people expected the end of the world. Others look for signs in the prophecies of Daniel and the book of Revelation to point to when the end days shall be. The disciples ask to know when this will be. For Jesus the timing of the end days is not important; it is the time before it which his disciples should be most concerned with.

Jesus says that if the disciples trust in him they will be able to withstand all that is thrown at them when they are persecuted for his sake. He tells them not to rely on their own strength but to let the Holy Spirit inspire them with the right words. Jesus will give them words and a wisdom that none of their opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. We too must endure, and continue the struggle to live an authentic Christian life.

Though most would not recognize it, mankind is accountable to God as well as to itself for what it does in the world. Most things that we do have consequences. There are signs all around us of what we are doing to our world, and to one another, but we never seem to learn, we continue to see the world from a selfish ‘me’ standpoint rather than an  ‘us’ standpoint of shared humanity.

The Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, compared the world to a theatre where a variety show is proceeding, with mankind as both audience and performers. Each act is more fantastic than the last, and is applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager comes forward. He apologizes for the interruption, but the theatre is on fire, and he begs his patrons to leave in an orderly fashion. The audience think this is the most amusing turn of the evening, and cheer thunderously. The manager again implores them to leave the burning building, and he is again applauded vigorously. At last he can do no more. The fire races through the whole building with the fun-loving audience trapped inside.

Kierkegaard concluded that he had to think sometimes that our age will go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators.

There are signs all around us, but do we want to see? Warnings are given to us, but do we want to listen?