There was a blue moon at the end of July. A blue moon happens when there are 2 full moons in the same calendar month. It happens once in a blue moon. And then there was a super blood moon in September. With an eclipse. And this followed 3 other blood moons over the last 18 months.
And pastors in the US said that this was a sign that Christ was going to return by the end of September. For definite.
Maybe they were thinking of the beginning of today’s Gospel reading. Jesus tells his friends about the signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on the earth a roaring of the sea and waves.
Blood moons and blue moons and an eclipse – are these the signs in the skies?
The book of Genesis tells the story of God creating the world, bringing order out of chaos, starting with the waters, then creating the earth and its vegetation, and then the sun and the moon and the stars of the sky.
Jesus imagines creation going into reverse, disintegrating into chaos. And he says – look out for it. Every generation looks out for it. Every generation finds unusual activity in the heavens, and they say – this is it! Now Jesus is going to come again! Now the world as we know it is going to end for sure!
You could say that the problems with the environment are about the creation going into reverse! The Climate Change Conference meets in Paris tomorrow and they hope to secure universal and binding agreements to prevent escalation of global warming. There are plenty of people who tell us that the way humans treat the earth will lead to its destruction. Armageddon is about ecological disaster. Are these the signs in the sun and moon and starts? Certainly “the roaring of the sea and the waves” remind us of the storms and floods we have experienced in recent years.
But when you pay attention to what Jesus is saying, what he says about the sun, moon, stars and seas is not meant to be taken literally, but is a metaphor for the chaos of our world, the turbulence of the heavens reflecting the troubles on earth. It’s as much a statement about politics, wars and violence as it is about astronomy.
And when you look around you, it’s a very troubled world just now. Europe is still reeling from the Paris attacks, though no one seems to be interested to the attacks that also took place in Beirut and in Mali. The Pope has been saying that WW3 may have already begun, ‘fought piecemeal with crimes, massacres, destructions’. The British Government is just about to vote on airstrikes in Syria. Jeremy Corbyn is getting wrong for saying no way should we be bombing Syria. But the government doesn’t have a plan! Bombing Syria will mean nothing if you don’t have a way of dealing with the aftermath. Violence is not a solution. It only creates more chaos.
Politically, it feels like we are getting into Armageddon territory – the violence that brings us to the brink of extinction.
It’s not the first time. One hundred years ago, as WW1 was raging, people thought that it must mean that the world was coming to an end.
Jesus isn’t trying to work up a frenzy of fear and anticipation. Quite the reverse. Jesus acknowledges that bad stuff happens in our world. Pretty much all the time. But when our worlds are falling apart, we must let Christ into the situation. Look beyond catastrophe and look for Jesus. Focus on Christ who will come again, not on the disasters all around. Jesus says: persevere, hold in there, be patient.
Jesus says: use wisdom and discernment. You need to understand what is happening and you need to be able to weigh up the consequences, rather than barging in with all guns blazing. Be patient. Be perceptive. Don’t act until you really know the way forward.
When you look around at the trees, Jesus says, you can see the signs of growth and new life. Look for the signs of God’s kingdom. Even in times of war and disaster, God’s kingdom is operating. People are kind to each other; people go out of their way to make justice and peace happen; people put themselves out to make God’s world come about here and now. When bad things happen, it’s not an excuse for behaving badly ourselves and adding to the violence and destruction of our times.
Jesus says: How you behave in these troubled times matters. Don’t shut your eyes to the difficulties that everyone else is experiencing. Don’t take a blinkered approach to your neighbour’s distress, even when your neighbour lives in Beirut or Mali.
We are not people of power. We don’t make decisions that affect the world. But we do have a responsibility for the way we live and vote, and the way we conduct our business and our relationships. It all matters.
And we can pray. Jesus wants us to pray, to pray about the things going on in our world, to pray that we may be saved from the time of trial, to pray for those who are caught up in war and violence. Sometimes we make our worlds too small; we close our personal borders so that we don’t need to worry about difficulties in far away places.
In a troubled world, Jesus offers us hope. In all the confusion, Jesus encourages patience and a clear mind. When kingdoms clash in war and violence, Jesus says be rooted in the kingdom of God, and see what God is doing. And Jesus says pray. Above all, pray.
Perceptiveness, patience and perseverance, prayer. When our world is falling apart, that’s what we need: perceptiveness, patience and perseverance, prayer.