(by request, my homily from Sunday)
So, where are you going?
I ask, because even if you didn’t know that next Sunday is Christ the King, the last Sunday before Advent, you can tell from the readings that we’re almost done with the church year.
Because it’s all about the last things. Death and resurrection. The Final Judgment. Heaven and Hell.
Some of the more well-known parts of the Bible that talk about the last things are full of allegory and symbolism. Which means that they are often misunderstood. Sometimes in fantastic ways.
Especially as predictions of The Apocalypse.™
Growing up Protestant, it seemed like every few years somebody would come out with their own unique interpretation of Daniel (today’s first reading) and Revelation.
Usually they would add in some other readings. Things like today’s Gospel. To create a detailed description of events, laid out in the order that they would happen. Including references to different Bible verses.
Taken out of context, of course. Like you do.
Different signs and symbols would be connected to specific historical events. Allegorical characters in Revelation would be identified as various political and public figures.
Usually, the Pope was the Anti-Christ. ‘Cause why not?
And the best ones? The best ones put the cherry on top. With dates.
They didn’t just describe The Apocalypse.™ They gave you the calendar for The Apocalypse.™
Which is kind of amazing. Because The Apocalypse™ calendar almost always comes from someone who proudly announces that they read the Bible literally. That they go with the plain meaning of Scripture.
I bring this up, because at the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus directly speaks to when The Apocalypse™ is going to happen when He says:
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
If I’m left to choose between some guy’s pet theory, and the unambiguous words of God Incarnate… I’m going with the Second Person of the Trinity.
The Apocalypse™ calendar is real a problem. Actually, its two real problems.
First, there’s the danger of getting caught up in it.
Of being so focused on interpreting allegories and figuring out who the Anti-Christ really is this week. That you miss the real point of all of the stuff in the Bible about the last things.
Second, there’s the silliness of The Apocalypse™ calendar.
When you see clearly just how much wild speculation, and outright nonsense, is being passed off as the very word of God.
And then throwing the baby out with the bathwater. By dismissing the whole thing, including the truth about the last things, as a fun hobby for conspiracy theorists. And not giving it another thought.
Both problems are equally dangerous. Because either of them will do the job of separating you from the truth.
So what is the truth? It starts with one basic fact about us as human beings. And I’ll go with the plan language of Hebrews on this one:
It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.
What does that mean? It means that death is inevitable. Nobody gets out of here alive. Not even God’s Son.
But death is just the beginning of the last things. After death, there’s judgment. Heaven or Hell.
Which means what?
It means that death isn’t the end. It means that you and I are going somewhere after we die.
Each of us will either go to the place that God prepared for us from all eternity. To become fully and completely what we were created to be. To become exactly who God always meant for us to be.
Or we’ll go to the only other option. A place that was never meant for us. To become something that God never meant for us to be.
Even though Jesus repeatedly warns us about Hell in the Gospels, a lot of people are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of eternal separation from God.
Good. You and I should be uncomfortable with it.
It is the most unnatural thing. The thing most in contradiction with our natures, with each of us being made in the likeness and image of God, for us to separate ourselves from God.
One of the most common objections to Hell? That it contradicts the love of God.
Actually, that is the entire point of Hell. It does contradict the love of God.
And only people who first set themselves in contradiction to the love of God can get there.
Let’s be clear, God sends no one to Hell. The only people who get there are the people who go there. If you reject the love of God, if you put God as far away from you as you can, that’s the choice that you are making. The choice to put yourself as far away from God as you can be. The choice for the place that is as far away from God as you can be.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock, it is opened.”
This is precisely why our choices are so very important. And so very powerful.
Our choices not only make us who we are. But our choices also determine eternity. Because everything we do is a moment, either say to God “Thy will be done.”
Or to place ourselves a little farther from God, by saying “No. My will be done.”
That, by the way, is the original sin.
Done consistently, that is how you put yourself as far away from God as you can be. That is how you get there.
There’s one more thing you should know. You and I? We’re not doing it alone.
Like it or not, you and I are helping each other towards one place. Or the other.
Everything you and I do. All of your choices. All of my decisions. Every day, by our lived example, by our choices. You and I are leading people, whether we mean to or not, towards one place. Or the other.
Because there are no private decisions. There are no actions that you and I can take that will impact us alone, and no one else.
This is why you must always ask. In all of your choices. In all of your decisions.
Where are you going? And where are you leading others?