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ST. Paul’s. – Palm Sunday – April 5

Last Tuesday, the clergy met with Bp. Hunn over Zoom. One of the things he asked us to ponder was a What If….question brought on by this pandemic……He asked us to think about What if we don’t return to life as it was….What will we do if we don’t return back to normal? How will we be the church? We discussed this also at the Bishop’s committee meeting. We will also discuss it at our church Zoom meeting on April 26th….you will hear more about this after Easter.

And then a song, a rock and roll song about three decades old came to mind. And then I head a little devotion by Rev. Jim Keats on this same idea on Friday. Here is some of what Rev. Keats had to say.

First, what is the song? You probably do not remember all the lyrics to this song written over 30 years ago by the rock group R.E.M.  One line you probably do remember to this song is:

It’s the end of the world as we know it. It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

Let’s start with that first part of the phrase It’s the End of the World. Now according to Wikipedia, there have been 191 predictions for the end of the world. They go back to the first century where a Jewish Essene sect believed all the uprising against the Romans in Judea was the final End time battle that would bring about the arrival of the Messiah.

The 191 predictions includes among others, Pope Innocent III …Martin Luther who predicted that the end of the world would occur no later than 1600. Christopher Columbus made it on the list. And John Wesley the founder of the Methodist Church called dibs on the year. 1836. Jim Jones went with 1967. Chuck Smith chose 1981 and Pat Robertson picked 1982. And then in 1990 when Pat realized he was wrong. He changed his mind and went with 2007. Should someone tell him that he was wrong about that one, too.

Of the 191 end-of-the-world predictions listed on the oh, so trustworthy Wikipedia page… 17 of them take place in the future most of which fall into the far future predictions like an asteroid Collision in the next five hundred thousand years. But come on, We’ve already survived one of those.  These predictions go to 7.5 nine billion years away. I love how accurate they are with that decimal point when the earth and the moon will be destroyed by falling into the sun.

Now all this brings us to the next part of that line. It’s the end of the world as we know it.

The As We Know It part is key because when we think about the end of the world, we typically don’t think about the seemingly infinite distant date in the future when this hypothetical heat death finally happens. We think about the world as we know it ending. And from this point of view the end of the world as we know it has happened again and again and again and again when the first group of homo sapiens shifted from hunting and gathering to herding and farming— for some of them it was the end of the world as they know it— when the Family Farm became unable to sustain itself in the shadow of agribusiness and Monsanto’s patented seeds. Then there was the printing press, the Industrial Revolution, the assembly line, the internet, every new ideology and invention ushers in A Brave New World and is the end of the world as we know it.

And so that last line and I feel fine.

This is the one that makes me think of the apocalypse we are currently experiencing around the world with the coronavirus and covid-19. This current moment is the end of the world as we know it and the problem is that too many people feel fine. I don’t mean they’re not taking it seriously, although that still might be a case here and there but I mean the people who are showing no symptoms, but highly likely to carry and potentially transmit the virus. I mean, I hope you don’t just feel fine. I hope you are fine completely healthy with nothing to worry about…AND you’re washing your hands for 20 seconds every 20 minutes, right. And while some people might want to value our economy over our elderly. I just want us to sit with the severity, the reality of this situation.

This is not the end of the world as in humans are going extinct or the planet will be destroyed or half the universe will be snapped out of existence but it is the end of the world as we know it with drastic changes happening everyday. To the ways we go to work, go to school, the ways we gather for worship and connect with one another.

This is a Brave New World that none of us have experienced at least not in the past hundred years. This is the end of the world as we know it and to be honest, we’re probably not feeling fine. We’re exhausted. We’re scared. We’re stressed out with new challenges or uncertainty about our next paycheck and we’re all paranoid about every cough we hear especially when it comes from our own chest.

There’s nothing easy about a time like this when thousands have already died and we know the number has not stopped climbing. And I say all this not to scare you any more than you  already might be but to simply remind you that you are not alone.

Physically distant does not mean alone.

And in your fear in your stress in your grief in your lament, we are all experiencing this end of the world as we know it and we’re all in this together. 

Now, you might be expecting me to conclude all of this with something like…we’re going to make it through this and the God who brought us through the Red Sea can bring us through this pandemic. But that seems entirely inappropriate right now because… What about the people who don’t make it through this? Where was God then? 

During this week, we might be asking the same question…Where was God? In some ways this is what this week we call Holy is signifying to us and our current society….The end of the world as we know it. This week we are facing a drama of humiliation and exaltation, getting a new mind, a new opinion, a new readiness, a new heart in which we as followers of Jesus into Jerusalem are challenged to not pursue our own interests, but look to the interests of others.

The old for the young and the young for the old,

The wealthy for the poor and the poor for the wealthy

Liberals for conservatives and conservatives for liberals

Gays for straights and straights for gays.

Asylum seekers for those in safe places to live and those in safe places to live for asylum seekers…

The included for the excluded, and on and on.

Our world today, in the midst of this pandemic requires on our part a big change of mind, a renewed mind, a different opinion than what we normally have. The mind our society usually has , the mind that reflects the values and passions and fears of our society,Is to have our way as the only wayIs to exercise controlIs to imagine that those unlike us are a threat to us.

The world in which we live, the world of greedy accumulation (empty toilet paper shelves), fearful tensions, on the turmoil of individualism (people on our beaches and in parks, not keeping a safe distance), rude social media interaction…all this leads to a toxic public life…even without a pandemic. And if this week has anything to say about the end of the world as we know it..We have Paul saying something similar in his letter to he Philippians.  Paul says, do not be so mindless. Do not be like sheep that 

imitate the world. Do not act like fearful citizens of the Pandemic. In a sense, we can help end the world as we know it. Paul is calling on us today to be deeply and intentionally different. Paul is calling us under these dire circumstances to be an exhibit to the world how our common life can be ordered differently. Since as we say, we are all in this together…even as we find ourselves in the midst of the great public questions of welfare and health and education and housing due to this pandemic. All of that requires a different mind of obedience. We as a community gathered around Jesus this week are called to be as odd in the world as he himself was such an odd Messiah. The end of the world as we know it.

So here is my bid for you for Holy Week. As we walk from Palm Sunday to Easter through the Thursday arrest and the Friday execution and the long Saturday wait in the void, imagine the end of the world as we know it….imagine all of us, in the wake of Jesus, changing our minds, 

renewing our minds, altering our opinions concerning self and neighbor and world in this pandemic. The clue to the new mind of Christ is emptying of our need to control and our anxious passion for security. And it just might be that this week, as our minds change, we come to new freedom. The end of this world as we know it. It is Easter freedom, unburdened and fearless, freed for the interest of the neighbor and love of God. So we worship this Jesus who was dead and is alive, who was humbled and is exalted. AND we are to replicate his life in our own life. We find ourselves with Easter liberty to be our true selves as he himself was his true self.  As we walk with Jesus, as we walk right next to him in self-emptying obedience, then this will be the end of the world as we know it and become the world in which we live and move and have our being…..the Kingdom of God.

Let us pray: From BCP:

O God, 

you made us in your own image 

and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: 

Look with compassion on the whole human family; 

take away the arrogance and hatred 

which infect our hearts; 

break down the walls that separate us;

unite us in bonds of love; 

and work through our struggle and confusion 

to accomplish your purposes on earth; 

that, in your good time, 

all nations and races may serve you 

in harmony around your heavenly throne; 

through Jesus Christ

our Lord. Amen.