Today I want to talk about the last things… The fancy church word pastors and scholars use is called “eschatology.” It literally means the study of the last things.
A saying that is sometimes attributed to Martin Luther helps me to frame my comments – “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!”
The Nicene Creed declares that Jesus Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” From the beginning of our history, Christians have been living with the realization that Jesus will come again to bring a new heaven and a new earth. Lutherans start with the assumption that this is good news. All that is wrong with this world will be restored by God’s grace.
In the last several centuries there has been a renewed interest in eschatology by certain parts of the Christian church. On its own, that’s not a bad thing. To grossly oversimplify things, how we think about the end makes a difference in how we live in the present. Lutherans haven’t really been having lots of conversations about these sorts of things.
But to have a brief conversation I think we need to start with the Bible. Lutherans read the Bible with Jesus Christ as the center. He is God’s Word made flesh. While some Christians look at Scripture start with the assumption that God’s Word is a road map that predicts history or gives us propositions to believe or accept, Lutherans talk about how Scriptures center on Christ, the Living Word, who speaks to us through these ancient words.
Because Jesus is at the center of our reading of Scripture and because we stress God’s grace, we start with the understanding that all of life is in God’s hands. God keeps and protects us as a shepherd keeps sheep. This means that we don’t have to worry about the end of the world because it’s all in God’s hand. Our job is not to spend inordinate amounts of time preparing for the end of the world by doing things like predicting the end of the world. Our job is to be signs of the new creation that is springing up around us. It is to do things like work for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2) and to trust that God’s kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven in/around/through us. The daily tasks we do are signs of God’s kingdom breaking in that will culminate with the second coming of Jesus.
In other words, we Lutherans are much more interested in the signs of new creation that are springing up on earth than we are about when the end of the world will be. Our job is to live in hope and to trust that God’s desire for the world is good and gracious.