Today I went to the final lecture in a series by Rev Prof William Willimon, an American Methodist Bishop. I was made to read one of his books during my training to be a minister. I went back and read it again when I got out into the parish once I realised he knew what he was talking about.
His final lecture was entitled ‘The end of the world’. I hadn’t paid much attention to the titles of the other lectures, because he wasn’t sticking particularly tightly to them, but he said enough to make this one stick in my mind.
He spoke about apocalyptic literature in the Bible, books like Revelation and Daniel, that we never know what to do with. He talked about apocalyptic writing finding its voice among the voiceless and the oppressed. It gains traction among those who have lost faith in the way the world works, and are prepared to let it go to the dogs, in the hope that God might bring something better along.
The flip side of this, is what about those of us who haven’t lost hope in the way of the world? What about those of us are doing alright from the systems and set ups that make up our societies? If you are able to ‘work’ the system to your advantage, then why would you want Jesus to come and disrupt it?
Quite simply, you wouldn’t. Willimon explained that in reworking the communion liturgy for the Methodist church in the US, the part people were most uneasy about was at the end of the historical confession: Çhrist has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’
It was the affirmation that Jesus was coming back that made people uncomfortable, and a belief that many affluent believers seemed eager to do away with. Is it because we know Jesus will not endorse the world we live in but bring it to an end?
It struck me that meeting Jesus is ‘the end of the world’ – or at the very least, the end of my world. It’s the end of the world that I have made for myself, where my needs are primary, and my thoughts are most important, and my feelings are the ones I consider first. It’s the end of the world which I have arranged so I am comfortable at the expense of others, where I have enough and embarrassingly more than enough while others go without. That’s the world Jesus is working at to bring to an end. The trouble is, right now, I’m not sure I’m on the same side as he is. Because I really like that world. I’m fond of it, and how nice it is to live in. I’m a million miles away from writing or reading anything apocalyptic right now, because I have a lot invested in the way of the world.
On the way home, Ness and I were talking about what Willimon had said. We were out of the city by now, heading toward my folks farm where we’re staying on holiday. In the darkness we past a figure walking beside the road in the darkness. We drove past in silence. A minute later I asked, ‘Did you see that person back there?’ Ness had seen them, but neither of us were sure if they were hitching. I hadn’t seen a thumb stuck out, so maybe they were just out for a stroll.
Yes, out for a stroll in the dark without a torch, miles from the nearest town.
So we turned around and went back. ‘Would you like a ride somewhere?’ I asked. ‘Oh my goodness yes!’ came the response. She was our age. She’d be working in the last town we’d driven through and was walking home, having no ride. Home was at least 10 k’s further down the highway. She didn’t have her thumb out because she’d already walked for ages and nobody had stopped. So she was knuckling down and doing her best. We gave her a lift. She was having a tough time of it, custody issues with her ex over their 4 year old daughter, and having to work a hard job to pay the bills, or ‘most of them’ as she told us.
My prayer is that Jesus will bring an end to the world where its ok for me to drive past someone in the dark on a freezing night. I pray Jesus will end the world where people can work hard and still not have enough to support their families. I pray Jesus will end the world and every world where we esteem ourselves and demean others – and bring a world where he is Lord of all. In my best moments, that’s the world I want to live in.
Lord I believe, help me with my unbelief.