Preaching After the “End of the World”

I have a unique opportunity to preach this coming Sunday after another misguided prediction that the world will end.  Or to be technically correct, that all the “true Christians” (whomever they are) will be “raptured” on May 21st, 2011 at 6:00 p.m.

This Sunday, May 22nd, I plan to preach on the problem of bad theology and why Christians shouldn’t worry.  I plan to use Matthew 6:25-34 to share the message of the good news, that God calls us to a life of dependency on God which includes casting our cares on God and not worrying.

Very few Christians are taking the latest dooms day prediction seriously and I cannot take it seriously for some good solid theological reasons.  First the scripture is quite clear that you cannot predict Christ’s coming.  “‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Matthew 24:36 NRSV.  Second the concept of a “Rapture” is not a Biblical concept nor is it a concept that any Christian had heard of before the middle of the 19th century.  That’s right the early church, the creeds, the church reformers, and the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, had never heard of a “rapture.”

So what is the “rapture?”  Well the rapture is part of a theological system called Premillenial Dispensationalism which teaches that Jesus Christ is returning two more times.  Yes, you read me right, they believe Jesus will have both second and a third coming.  In the next return of Jesus this theology teaches that all faithful Christians will be snatched up or “raptured” into heaven after which will follow seven years of tribulation and then Christ will return to set up his millennial kingdom.  However, none of this is part of the historic teaching of the church or part of the theology of United Methodists.

Yes, United Methodists do believe that Jesus Christ is coming again.  Yes we believe it is important to be prepared each and every day for Christ’s coming.  But this teaching of a frightening snatching up of all the Christians leaving the lost behind is not part of the teachings of the church, the Apostles, our the church fathers despite it being popularized in the fictional “Left Behind Series” of books.

So why is it that people keep trying to predict the end even though the Bible is clear that you cannot?

1. Some people are in it for the money.  A lot of people make a lot of money selling end times books, end times tapes, end times billboards, end times movies, etc.  And if they really believed the end was here you would think they would give away their books for free in the interest of preparing us all for the end given that if they were right they could not spend the money anyway.

2. Christians just do not know the Bible or the theology of the church as well as we should.  So when someone like the May 21st crowd comes along we cannot defend ourselves against bad theology.  Some Christians never attend Sunday School.  Some stop attending after childhood or after confirmation.

3. Many of us are afraid.  We live in a world where fear and anxiety have become the norm.  9/11, terrorism, war, poverty, earthquakes, floods, and hard economic times make us all wonder what is going on in the world.  And has happened in generation after generation this has caused people to ask “is this the end?”

4. Some people just repeat what they’ve been taught or have read.  I have heard Christians quote the “Left Behind Series” as if it were holy writ rather than a work of fanciful fiction.  Others have heard these theories repeated from the pulpit, on the air waves, and in other popular books.  We are in the internet generation.  And many people have not learned to differentiate good Biblical scholarship from poor theology.  And the’ve not learned it in part because some where along the way the church did not teach them how to tell the difference.

5. It makes news.  The press likes to report when Christians do something out of the ordinary.  You never read  a story about how many people go to church, meet Jesus, and have their life made better because of it.  But any story about wild end of the world predictions, odd ball theological proclamations, or sick behavior like the picketers from Westboro Baptist Church (those people carrying signs basically saying that God hates everyone) will get press.

6. Some people make predictions for the power, fame, or recognition it temporarily gets them.  There is a rush for some people in being able to marshal all of your friends to drop what they are doing, pass out flyers, and proclaim the end just because they said so.  Some people really want the adulation of being a prophet.  So the scriptural admonitions declaring us to beware of false prophets certainly make a great deal of sense right now.

So when will Jesus come?  I don’t know.  Will Jesus come?  Yes, because he has promised to come.  Do we need to worry about it?  Absolutely not!

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  Matthew 6:33-34