Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jesus is coming soon--Look Busy

If you were raised in the South you would not be surprised at all this end-time talk we’re hearing lately. As a little boy sitting in church or in tent revivals I heard a lot of talk about Jesus coming back. For a child it was scary. One day, mighty soon, the clouds would open and out of the blue Jesus would come floating down. The preachers kept saying over and over, “What will you be doing when Jesus comes back?” It was the scariest thing I could imagine. I don’t know how many nightmares I had over the Second Coming. My little-boy sins loomed large and shameful. Lying to my principal about dumping all the newspapers I was to deliver into the Chattahoochee River. And telling her I had delivered every one. Hoping that I would not be caught reading that porno comic book that my neighbor had filched from his Daddy’s collection. Just knowing that if I went to the picture show on Sunday or smoked a filthy cigarette—that I would be doomed forever. And I had done both. This was pre-pubescent time before the specter of sex and booze and rock and roll would sneak into the picture. I just knew that we might not know “the day nor the hour” but surely if I was doing something I had no business doing—Jesus would catch me and I would be zapped. We would sing lustily,

“ Jesus is coming to earth again, What if it were today?
Coming in power and love to reign, What if it were today?
Coming to claim His chosen Bride, All the redeemed and purified,
Over this whole earth scattered wide, What if it were today?”

That gospel song only heightened my anxiety. So much of my childhood was spent trying as best I could to avoid all those nasty things that would send me into perdition. If Jesus did come back I did not want to be left behind. Why if you weren’t ready—those left would be subjected to months and months of torture. Not to speak of plagues, pestilence—whatever that was—earthquakes and stalking everywhere the Mark of the Beast and the Great Whore of Babylon. Nobody back then set the date--we just knew that we better watch out, we better not cry-- Jesus, and not Santa Claus was coming to town.

This was followed, of course with The Late Great Plantet Earth whose author predicted the imminent return of Jesus. At the same time he was grinding out his book he was investing in long-term real-estate projects. Go figure. There were a few church members in every church I served that would sidle up to me after the service and whisper, “When are you going to quit preaching about these so-called social issues and warn us about what Hal Lindsey says in his book about the coming apocalypse. I forget what I muttered but I escaped as soon as possible. But this was followed by the plague of the Left Behind series. Thinly disguised ultra-right-wing politics—we us in book after book that if we were not “ready” and probably politically on the right side—that we surely would be left behind. A friend of mine who was battling cancer asked me, “Have you read the Left Behind books? That’s all I’m reading since I’m taking chemotherapy.” I told him, “Why would anybody scared to death of dying wade around in all that depressing “Jesus is coming soon and I just might be left behind stuff.” He looked at me like I had struck him.

So here we are on May 22, 20l1. Harold Camping, civil engineer turned Biblical scholar has set the date for 6:00 PM. I’m not sure if that Eastern Standard or Central Standard Time or what. Based on his calculations this day is 7,000 years since Noah’s flood. Believers will be transported up to heaven while all the others will endure terrible suffering and general torment. Here and there a few folk have quit their jobs, cashed in their savings and just sit waiting for the Rapture to come this afternoon.

Now let’s be clear. Most of the creeds of the church say: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead...” One of the doctrines of the church has always been the Second Coming of Jesus. When our Lord was asked when he would come he said, “No one knows the day nor the hour but the Father.” Somehow Mr. Camping missed that verse. The Bible sets no timetable for Christ’s return.

How do we prepare for such an event today or any other time? I love the story that one day St. Francis was digging in his garden. A man came up and said, “Francis, if Jesus was coming back today—what would you do?” Without looking up St. Francis said, “I would continue to hoe my garden."

Doomsday talk for me is really an escape from reality. Seems like we Christians have been called to hoe whatever gardens we have. Lord knows we have enough weeds to go around. If we do our work the world will be a much better place and if Jesus decides to come in our lifetime he will find us doing the work that he called us to do. I remember hearing Tony Campolo saying one time that Jesus left no one behind. Jesus puts his arms around us all and we do not have to fear.

(The stained glass window can be found above the altar of the Methodist Church which is one block from Coventry Cathedral. It is a beautiful representation of the Christ who comes for a second time.
The second photograph is a picture of the huge tapestry of the Triumphant Christ which hangs over the altar and is the centerpiece of the new Coventry Cathedral which was built after the first Cathedral was destroyed by bombs in World War II. )

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