Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pop Goes The World

Sermon, November 22, 2009
by Katie Mulligan

In the beginning, the Universe was created.This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Many races believe that it was created by some sort of god, though the Jatravartid people of Viltvodle VI believe that the entire Universe was in fact sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizuer.

~Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: 

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

First Scripture Reading: Daniel 7:9-14
Second Scripture Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8

(Friends, an experiment. I recorded my sermon today. You should be able to download it here. It's an mp3 file, the scripture reading & sermon start at 18:11.  If you mock my singing, my mother will be sad.)

I hope that you will forgive my casual attire today, but we are talking about the end of the world, and if it’s going to be the end of the world then I am going to wear jeans and a hoodie and a pair of waterproof boots...

There’s a lot of theories as to how the world came into being, and we have ours. And there’s a lot of theories as to how the world is going to end, and we also have ours, as Christians. This is not new, but it’s also not old. There are a couple of pop songs from when I was in high school, which was a while back. “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “Pop Goes The World”, a surprisingly cheerful song, given that it was talking about the end of the earth.

Douglas Adams, in the first Hitchhiker’s book, killed off the earth in the first few pages. One human and alien escaped by hitching a ride on a spaceship. Adams had a couple of pieces of advice. One was that the meaning of life is 42 (and if you ever understand that, let me know). The other was that you should always carry a towel with you, as they are apparently helpful for hitchhiking on spaceships. I have extra towels here this morning in case you forgot yours.

Also this morning, I was talking about the end of the world with a friend on Twitter (you know me and Twitter). @gideony tweeted a link to this article:
The Milky Way's neighbourhood may be teeming with invisible galaxies, one of which appears to be crashing into our own.

In 2008, a cloud of hydrogen with a mass then estimated at about 1 million suns was found to be colliding with our galaxy. Now it appears the object is massive enough to be a galaxy itself.

Called Smith's cloud, it has managed to avoid disintegrating during its smash-up with our own, much bigger galaxy. What's more, its trajectory suggests it punched through the disc of our galaxy once before, about 70 million years ago.
Well, there we go—I had no idea, but apparently we have a galaxy colliding with ours this morning, and hence the picture on the front of the bulletin.

Also, in that same tweet, my friend mentioned the movie “Mansquito” or “MosquitoMan.” It is one in a long series of science-fiction films that talk about the end of the world, and I’ll just share with you a little bit from the plot summary.

The film begins with a news reporter in Africa talking about the sudden outbreak of a new super virus called the West Nile Virus, the virus is spread by mosquitoes and this leads Dr. Jennifer Allen (Musetta Vander), a scientist, to come up with an experiment that could potentially kill the bacteria that creates the virus. Allen and her colleague find mosquitoes that have been infected with the virus and start to give them small doses of radiation, she explains to her friend that the levels have to be exact and if the mosquitoes receive too much radiation, the results could be more devastating than the virus itself.
There’s the scene set...Further along in the movie...
At the research station, Allen discovers the awful truth; she too is changing into a mosquito/human hybrid, but more slowly as she received a smaller dose than Ray. Mansquito appears but doesn't try to kill her, and after she faints, the monster leaves. Tom appears and takes Allen to a doctor as Mansquito watches on. At the hospital, the doctor decides to give Allen a blood transfusion to slow down the transformation, but she tells the doctor that it won't work because the genes of the mosquito can adapt to any kind of blood, so nothing can stop her mutation...Outside, a guard falls victim to the monster and Tom leaves to investigate. Mansquito then undergoes another transformation, this time growing wings.
The human mind has so many ideas about how the world is going to end! I have also with me this morning a list from the internet (I love Google) of 220 end of world predictions. Here’s a sample:
• In 1970 the late Moses David, formerly David Berg, was the founder of a Christian religious group, The Children of God, and he predicted that a comet would hit the earth (probably in the mid-1970’s) and destroy all life in the United States.

• In 1977, we had a killer bee scare. One prophecy prognosticater. linked the bees to Revelation 9:3-12. “After 20 years of progression, and the bees are still in Texas, I’m beginning to think of them as killer snails.”

• In 1982 it was all going to end when the planets lined up and created magnetic forces that would bring Armageddon to earth. Scientists forecasted that soon our solar system would experience some unique and sobering events. This forecast concerning 1982 comes from the scientific investigations of astronomers, and is in no way [they said] related to astrology and fortune telling.

• In 1983 the guru of Rajneesh predicted massive destruction on earth, including natural disasters, man-made catastrophes, floods larger than any since Noah.

• There was a harmonic Convergence planned for August 16-17, 1987. [and still we’re here]

• In 2000, there was the Y2K scare; our computers were all going to crash in the year 2000, and that civilization as we know it would all end completely, and we’d be back to subsistence farming in Iowa. The year 2000 came by and our computers worked just fine, and we’re not farming. In fact, we are more dependent today on our computers than ever before. My own community of pastors on twitter I don’t know what I’d do without them.

• Sometimes our disasters are man-made, though. A few years ago there was a computer virus that was really an e-mail. “Warning, your system may have been infected by a certain file. In order to figure out if you have this virus, go and look in this place on your computer and see if it is there.” You’d go and look, and sure enough the file was there. Then it said “If you have this file on the computer, delete it immediately. That will take care of the problem, and if you don’t delete it your computer may blow up or spam other people.” People actually did this, but it turned out that the file was essential to the operation of the system, and every computer had it. The e-mail itself was just a spoof, but it got a whole bunch of people to delete an essential file. Turns out we do this to ourselves sometimes.
The two most recent novels I’ve read in the last couple of months are both end of the world, end times sorts of stories: Mercury Falls (by Rob Kroese) and Just a Couple of Days (by Tony Vigorito). One is an apocalyptic story (God did it) and the other is our own fault (we made a virus and it took over the earth). We have this wonderful imagination about the end of the world, about the end times, about how the earth is how it is now, but it’s not always going to be how it is now. And that we’re moving, somehow, towards something. And as Christians we believe we are moving, somehow, toward something magnificent. And we express it in our scriptures in magnificent ways—in prophecies and dreams. Do I literally think there will be thrones and courts and angels? I don’t know! But i do know that something--some kernel of that imagination--tells a truth about the magnificence of God, and the magnificence of the end, however it comes. And then truly the magnificence of the new creation and whatever it is that comes next.

And so I confess to you that I am feeling rather silly about this whole apocalyptic enterprise. So many predictions, imaginations, wonderings about how this world will end. Somehow scripture, science and literature seem to agree that the world will end at some point. Perhaps spectacularly, perhaps with a whimper. How do we really know? We don’t.

My son went to Baptist camp a couple of months ago. The children were talking about how God made the earth, and my son said, “God didn’t make the earth, it was a comet, silly!” We have so many different ways of understanding how things came about. Some of us picture God making the earth with God’s own hands, piece by piece, carefully, breathing life into it. And some of us, like my son, imagine moons colliding into the world, galaxies colliding together.

I confess that there are days when I long with all of my soul for the world to end and for all injustice to cease. And yet most days, I am eager for the world to end AFTER my lifetime, thank you very much. I like it here, even with all its sorrow and pain—even with all the sorrow and pain I cause other people, I still like it here. I’m certainly not ready for judgment time, that’s for sure. Our 2 minute prayer of confession this morning was a little short on details—maybe for you too?

When I hear warnings from the pulpit about end times and judgment, the Rapture and the like, all I can think of is the bumper sticker that says “In case of Rapture, can I have your car?” Somebody even made a joke web site creating a company that will take care of your pets after the rapture—it’s Rapture Insurance, and for a small monthly fee they promise that when you rise to heaven, your pooch or kitty will be well cared for.

So what does it mean for the end of the world to be coming? We’ve been imagining it for thousands and thousands of years. Longer since when Jesus told us it was ending. Longer back before then, we’ve been imagining how the world came to be and how the world will end; it is such an innate part of our humanity to think about what comes next. What does it mean for us who don’t really believe it? What does it mean for a world where those who preach the end times on street corner soap boxes are locked up in psychiatric wards? Because we think that they’re crazy—well maybe they are, or maybe they had a vision. And somehow they’re trying to express to us, “The end is coming, get yourself in order.”

I think it means this, that we are to live like there is no tomorrow, like Christ is coming in an hour. We are to let go of the future as best we are able, because the future might not come. This is more than we might get hit by a bus or the earth might fall into the sun; it’s a frame of mind and a way of living, a freeing up of who we imagine ourselves to be, to allow God to create how we might become.
This frees us to love one another as if the time is short. If you have ever been with someone whom you love so dearly and they are leaving tomorrow, then you know what that night is like. That time of being together, sharing meals, laughing like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t. Because your loved one, or you, is getting on a bus or a plane or a boat and it might be the last time. And so we love one another as if the world was going to end tomorrow.

It frees us to give what we have to comfort others in the moment, because we might not need it later. I mean, if the world is going to end tomorrow, who cares about a 401K? I’m not saying go out and get rid of it, I’m just saying it frees us to give what we have in the moment, because tomorrow might not come,. And because the need is here, now, today, and tomorrow will take care of itself.
It frees us to imagine “What if Jesus comes back right now? What will he catch me doing?” Do you ever think about that? Not “What would Jesus Do?” but “What if Jesus walked in right now?” It frees us to marvel in every second, every moment of creation, to love the beauty of this world. And to know that the pain of this world will not last forever—we are promised that. We are moving ever forward towards an end—an end we cannot quite see or grasp, but an end, nonetheless. And what we hope for and pray for is that this end is glorious, and beautiful, and loving—as magnficent as the beginning and the middle of creation have been, and continue to be.

As we come to the end of our liturgical year, let us marvel in the wonder of God. Next week we begin our Advent season, we start out small, awaiting the baby Christ. But today is the day we look forward to the colliding of planets, the ripping apart of the space-time continuum, the end of all as we know it, folding into the new creation that God has promised us. And as we dream of such things, we enter into creativity, and imagination and the power of our hopes, and we join together with God, knowing that we are not alone in that dream. Come, Lord Jesus, come. We long for you.


  1. This is another excellent sermon. Our time is precious, but cannot be saved like pennies.

    Your mention of “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” reminds me that not all apocalypse scenarios end in what I sometimes call the "Charlie Brown's Halloween" (as in "I got a rock" - meaning in this case a comet or asteroid, but more broadly referring to any total planetary destruction.) Sometimes it is a way of life (the world as we know it) that comes to an end. I'm sure it must have seemed pretty apocalyptic to the Romans when the Visigoths were sacking Rome. Even being in a Roman frontier town (like Londinium) when the garrisons were withdrawn as the empire dwindled must have felt like the world was falling apart. Today, I would point to resource depletion and climate change as looming world-shakers (at least for some, I don't know if everyone sees it that way.) So I guess the question of the end depends a lot on perspective. And whether or not a large rock lands on you.

    My Monday morning musings.

  2. (haha I read this right before I bed) I'm actually not a subscriber to apocalyptic prophecy (say that 3 times fast). I came from a community of Revelations barkers who told me with every president and national disaster that the end was here (just for a count, Democrat politicians scored higher on the 'evil' roster) and that I'd better get saved again for good measure, "just in case". I just read somewhere that the new interpretation includes the Swine Flu.

    There is also an ongoing conversation in our house of 2012 as my conspiracy loving boy brings home the latest developments in the eclectic prophecy his middle school friends regurgitates. This is, of course, the same boy who was told by his peer that his rescue of another who had been picked on by bullies, which included a shove, meant he was 'violent' and needed to get saved. To my surprise, he bought the logic and proceeded to ask me when/where he could be 'saved'. That one took a lot of unraveling and redirection of thoughts.

    Its everywhere, and will always be. This world may fall into a hole in a couple of years, or, it may just limp along with our every increasing struggle to stop population growth before plagues do our dirty work. It really doesn't matter, for in the end, its all about how we spent our time, not how long, and where.

    I know have a slightly mentally twisted friend who insists that our demise lies in the flu heading for us from the Ukraine; far worse than Swine. I told her that I don't really care to hear the warning anymore. What can I do, other then bring the act of fretting to a new level. Live your life. We all are going to die sometime.

    And for the record, it better not be before our very planned beach vacation in July!