Homecoming or Going-Away Party? Questioning the Rapture through the lens of homelessness

This is the sermon I gave at Patchwork Central’s Sunday evening worship on July 26, 2009. Of course, these texts are not the only ones pertinent to discussion of the so-called “end times,” but 1 Thessalonians in particular is of major importance since it is the text most-often used to discuss “what the Rapture will be like.” Judging by the number of bumper stickers and t-shirts with stupid slogans like “in case of Rapture, this car will be UNMANNED,” it is a matter that is sorely in need of an injection of good, contextually-informed Biblical theology in the popular arena.

As this is the full text of a sermon (approximately 30 minutes in length), it’s considerably longer than my usual entries.

First reading: Isaiah 40:9-11
Second reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

[I started the sermon by recalling a story from my time at Harlaxton, when I spent the better part of an afternoon in Cambridge having dinner with a homeless man named Ian. Rather than try and recall exactly how I told the story on Sunday, here is my description of the event upon returning to Harlaxton that evening.]

Of course, as we all know, homelessness is not just something that happens in England. I remember growing up in Petersburg, a town of considerably smaller size than Evansville, and every few months I would hear advertisements on the radio for programs to benefit Street Relief and other efforts to serve the homeless in Evansville in some way. Now, being from a small town and having never seen a real, live homeless person before it was all a bit of an abstraction for me. It was hard enough for me to just get my head around the notion that there were people out there who didn’t have a stable place to go every night to sleep. Homelessness was something that, for me, only existed on the radio or television, or maybe I would have a teacher mention something about it in class. By the time high school rolled around I had a little better grip on things, having taken a few trips to cities such as Washington D.C. and seen first-hand people whom I knew would be sleeping under the stars that night – and not because they were on a camping trip with friends.

When I moved to Evansville for college I began to get a fuller picture of things, though being a dyed-in-the-wool Reaganite conservative I assumed homeless people, or at least most of them anyway, were there because they wanted to be, or because they were just too lazy to get a real job. Needless to say, since then my thoughts on the matter have changed a bit. I have had a few rather significant interactions with homeless people, like Brian whom I mentioned earlier, a guy named John who used to hang out with us around what is now the art colony, back when it was still Synchronicity, who fancied himself a bit of a traveling preacher for one. He and I used to sit on a bench either on Haynie’s Corner or on Main Street and talk about all kinds of stuff, and boy did he have some good stories to tell. I’ve been a part of the crowd at the Rescue Mission, both during times when I volunteered or coordinated groups that wanted to volunteer, and during times when in fact that was the only place I could afford to eat. I’ve never actually been homeless myself, but there have been at least 3 occasions when I’ve been anywhere from a few weeks to a few days away from not having a place to call home. Perhaps some of you have been in the same boat, eh?

There’s been a lot in the news lately about foreclosures and people not being afford to stay in their homes and all that kind of stuff. Not just people on the lower end of the economic ladder, but increasing numbers from the middle and upper-middle classes as well. No doubt the number of certifiable homeless has increased in the past year, though I have found reliable statistics predictably hard to come by. But even before there was talk of a mortgage crisis, a housing sector crash, Wall Street shenanigans, and the “R-” word (not to mention the “D-” word, which you’ll never hear out of any politician’s mouth unless he’s talking about how we’re not going to have one), the fact of the matter is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 1% of the US population, depending on what studies you cite and which methodologies you accept, went from day to day not knowing if they were going to be able to have a shelter to sleep in that night. That’s around 3 million people, if you’re counting. Continue reading

“Green energy” and Amazon rain forests

People need to to read things like this before they ignorantly ramble about how great biofuels are.

At the bottom of page one it talks about the possibility of the Amazon rain forest turning into something like a savannah or even a desert. It wouldn’t be the first time human deforestation has caused a vital and robust forest into a desert-like area. You know all those references in the Bible to the cedars of Lebanon? Lebanon used to be absolutely COVERED in the things – massive, ancient trees. They grow in Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, and surrounding areas. Today on Cyprus, only small trees up to 25 m tall survive, though Pliny the Elder recorded cedars 40 m tall there. Because of massive deforestation, only small remnants of the once-extensive forests survive. Not only that, but due to hundreds of years of erosion much of the terrain in once-forested areas is now desertized. It took the ancients several millenia to deforest Lebanon… it may only take modern people a few decades to do the same in the Amazon.

It also just happens that deforestation currently accounts for 20% of the world’s carbon emissions – and deforesting the Amazon destroys one of the most important carbon sinks on the planet.

Even the junipers and the cedars of Lebanon
exult over you (the king of Babylon) and say,
“Now that you have been laid low,
no one comes to cut us down.” (Isaiah 14:8, TNIV)

This is not even to go into the potential effects on agriculture being diverted from food to fuel on the ability of the world’s poor to be able to feed themselves. As the article says, A UN food expert has recently called biofuels “a crime against humanity”. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says that biofuels “pit the 800 million people with cars against the 800 million people with hunger problems” – and that figure of 800 million has been predicted to increase to 1.2 billion in the wake of the growing use of agricultural products as fuel instead of food.

No type of “green consumption” is the answer. As one blogger from Portland, Oregon put it, we need to commit our allegiance to the story that will express God to the world around us.

boldly entering the new world we have created…

Absolution Revolution has moved! You can read this article at http://absolutionrevolution.com/blog/2006/09/28/boldly-entering-the-new-world-we-have-created/

Peak oil, alternative energy sources, infrastructure, and the future of America

Absolution Revolution has moved! You can find this article at http://absolutionrevolution.com/blog/2006/09/14/peak-oil-alternative-energy-sources-infrastructure-and-the-future-of-america/

ABC news story on global warming

Absolution Revolution has moved! You can find this article at http://absolutionrevolution.com/blog/2006/08/29/abc-news-story-on-global-warming/