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Put On Your Apocalypse Jacket / Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 21:5-19

8And He said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.

Let me see your hand if you are a fan of disaster movies. [Well, somebody must be.] Disaster movies tend to do well at the box office, whether they feature frightened people battling floods or volcanos or Godzilla or zombies invading major cities.

Speaking of zombies, there’s a company in Wales that manufactures what they call an “Apocalypse Jacket.” The Apocalypse generally refers to the ultimate disaster drama, the complete final destruction of the world, as described in the book of Revelation. The Apocalypse Jacket is meant to protect its wearer from such things as extreme heat and chemical attacks. They advertise it with the tagline, “Zombies will hate it”, assuming you run into any zombies.

The Apocalypse Jacket uses a special fiber created for NASA that’s incredibly strong and has no melting point. This fiber is then blended with the cloth fibers used in “ballistic-rated body armor.” It may be the sturdiest piece of clothing on earth, nearly indestructible. It can withstand exposure to black lava from volcanoes and sulfuric acid, assuming that the zombies that you run into are equipped with those weapons. These jackets have 23 pockets with hidden zippers all throughout the interior jacket, so you can carry everything needed for escaping a natural disaster or a zombie apocalypse.

There’s something thrilling about facing down an impending threat, isn’t it? I think that’s why disaster movies do so well at the box office. We like to sit on the edge of our seats and feel our hearts pounding as the hero and heroine overcome nearly impossible odds.

In case you’re wondering, the highest-grossing disaster movie in the U.S. so far is Independence Day, the movie about a worldwide alien invasion. The director claims that disaster movies are therapeutic. They allow the audience to release tension over their fears of the future. As he says, you see all this destruction but at the end the right people save the day. People go to disaster movies to prove to themselves that they can go through the worst possible experience but somehow, they’re immortal.

That may be the perfect tagline for today’s Bible passage from Luke 21: People can go through the worst possible experience but somehow, they’re immortal. And if we understood that, and if we really believed it, that should change how we live in these disturbing times. By the way, if there’s anyone here today who has any fears about the future? Then this message is for you.

Our scripture lesson opens with Jesus and His disciples standing in the temple in Jerusalem, admiring its strength and beauty. The Temple courts sat on 36 acres of land. The giant stones that made up the Temple were dazzling, blinding white marble, and on some of the stones was gold plating that reflected the sunlight. From a distance, the whole complex looked like a glowing jewel. Up close, it seemed like the most impressive building in the Roman Empire.

And Jesus had the unenviable task of telling His disciples that one day this beautiful Temple would be destroyed, which it was in 70 A.D. To make matters worse, Jesus said, false prophets will preach in My name and turn people away from the truth. Then there will be wars and famine, earthquakes, and pestilence. And before the worst of this can happen, Jesus’ followers will be arrested, put in prison, betrayed by their loved ones, and some will be put to death. And yet, Jesus promises that they will still have a reason to hope.

This brings us to the first thing that needs to be said today:  Vision without hope is a dangerous thing but with hope all things are possible. When we envision a hopeless future, we become fearful, angry, anxious and controlling. These qualities are not just the opposite of the fruits of the Spirit, they are the enemies of those fruits. Fear, anger, anxiety and the need to control can’t co-exist with the true fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5: 22-23).

The apostle Paul shares a vision of eternal hope in his letter to the church at Ephesus, in Ephesians 1:9-10. He writes, God has now revealed to us His mysterious will regarding Christ, which is to fulfill His own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ, everything in heaven and on earth. In other words, someday everything in creation will be under the authority of Jesus Christ. If we understand this promise, we will view the future with hope.

Jeffrey Immelt became the CEO of General Electric on September 10, 2001. The next day, September 11, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, sending our nation reeling and causing a worldwide meltdown of financial markets. Also, the World Trade Center towers were insured by one of General Electric’s subsidiaries, GE Capital. The company experienced tremendous financial losses over the next few weeks and months. There could not have been a worse time for a leader to take over the helm of a company.

Looking back on his leadership during this time, he said, “I think what you learn in a crisis is that good leaders absorb fear. They’re not accelerators of fear, they know how to manage a sense of calm while still being really clear about the challenges ahead. You learn to hold two truths. You learn to say, ‘Things can always get worse, but here’s a dream that I have for the future, and I’m not going to give up on that.’”

In this Bible passage, Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us, to hold these same two truths: things can always get worse, but here’s a dream I have for the future, and I am not going to give up on that dream. And so, in spite of these fearful events, Jesus can say to us, do not be deceived. Do not follow false prophets. Do not be afraid. I’d like to zero in on verses 14-19 of our Bible passage: but make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish.  Stand firm, and you will win life.

But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. Stand firm and you will win life. Vision without hope is a dangerous thing but with hope all things are possible. We can have hope if we make up our minds beforehand to see the future through Jesus’ eyes.

In First Corinthians 2, the apostle Paul writes that followers of Jesus take on the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2: 16). That’s why Jesus spoke so much about the coming kingdom of God. It’s God’s promise that the work of the kingdom includes restoring and redeeming creation, bringing justice, peace and righteousness to undo the evil and oppression and hopelessness of our world. Keeping our focus on God’s promises and God’s love lets us view the future with hope and courage.

The future is as bright as the promises of God. When we see the future through Jesus’ eyes, we can say with confidence, the future is as bright as the promises of God.

Jesus tells us that we can have hope in difficult times if we make up our minds beforehand to view trials as an opportunity to witness to the truth of God. A faith that has been tested is a faith that can be trusted. Hard times and opposition to our faith both serve as testing grounds to show us what we really believe, whether we truly base our hope on the character and promises of God, and whether we put our faith into action when it costs us something. If our faith isn’t a source of hope, peace and strength in difficult times, then others will have a reason to question whether Jesus is real.

A pastor tells of sitting at the bedside of an elderly parishioner who was dying. The man said, for 87 years, I’ve been feasting on the promises of God, but this morning I couldn’t remember a single one of them. The pastor asked, do you think God has forgotten?

In times of fear and hardship, it’s easy to forget the promises of God. When our faith is shaken, when we see news reports of impending war or financial or environmental collapse, it’s easy to react with fear, anger, anxiety or a controlling attitude. But God hasn’t forgotten His promises. God hasn’t abandoned His purposes. And God will never forsake His people. Don’t wait until difficult times come to figure out what you believe or how to respond. Make up your mind beforehand to see the future through Jesus’ eyes. Make up your mind beforehand to view trials as an opportunity to witness to the truth of God. And in this hope, stand firm, and as Paul said, “you will win life.”