Matt. 24:34 “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”
Waiting for the painter to paint my house is rather like waiting for the return of our Lord, only more expensive. He took my deposit, and made very specific promises about when the project would be both started and completed, but the dates go by unnoticed. He managed to wash the house, which took about 20 minutes over a week ago, and which I took as a sign that his promised return would be on schedule. In honor of that I gave him his deposit. But alas, his charming face I have yet to see again.
That experience combined with the anticipation that comes from being in the Boston area when the Red Sox are winning made me want to write about the only sports metaphor I have used in my ministry. Apologies to you who have heard this take before, but as I’m sure we will have more times of craziness when people are caught up in worrying about the end of the world, it bears repeating.
In reading the passage from Matthew, it is clear that either there is still a very, very old eye-witness of Jesus’ time on earth hanging about or Jesus’ had his facts wrong. Since two verses later Jesus admits that he doesn’t actually know when it will happen—that not even the angels know but only “the Father”—he’s either talking about something else entirely in verse 34 or making an educated guess. I think a case can be made for either, but since most folks assume he’s talking about the end of the world and see that he appears to have been mistaken, I want to address that.
Most of the end-of-the-world predictions I have heard seem to assume that God has the world set up rather like a game of football. The clock is ticking and although when it says there’s one minute on the clock it still might take five or more minutes to get to the end, the results are time-driven. When the buzzer sounds, it’s over. The amount of time has been allotted ahead of the game and the clock drives the outcome. That is what most people seem to think is the design of the world. God creates the world and starts the clock. Then it’s our job to spread the Word to as many people as we can before the Armageddon buzzer sounds. In that scenario Jesus is simply waaaaaay off the timetable.
But suppose God is playing baseball and not football. I have it on the good authority of my late father that God does indeed favor the Red Sox, so we know that the great American pastime is of more than passing interest to the Almighty. The length of a baseball game is not clock-driven. It is driven by the ability of the players. You start with the general parameter of nine innings and a sense that nine innings usually takes about three hours. But, depending on how the players play, it could be twelve innings or even twenty if they have the stamina to keep a game tied that long. On the other hand, if one player got a home run and everyone else on both teams struck out, you could be home before you finished your popcorn. When you head out to the 1 pm game, you might say, “Truly I tell you, we’ll all be home for supper,” but that’s just an educated guess. With some intense playing and a rain delay it might be after dark.
I think the coming of the Kingdom of God in its fullness is like that. It’s less like “ready or not, here I come!” and more like a nail-biter that goes into extra innings. With all due respect to my Calvinist brothers and sisters, I don’t think the hour was set beforehand with an un-alterable script. I think God made the world, had the birds sing the anthem of the earth, and then said, “Play ball!” Jesus comes into this passage pretty depressed. He has wept over Jerusalem, blasted the Scribes and the Pharisees for keeping people away from God and he’s just a few days away from his death. Maybe the forces of evil seemed so strong right then and his disciples so dense that he figured the game couldn’t possibly go on past the current generation.
But God looked deep into the bullpen and brought the Holy Spirit to the mound. And the players were inspired. The demoralized gained new strength. And the game goes on. Of course life is not just a game, but perhaps the games we play can give us some insight even if only through a glass, darkly.
God of all, may our performance on the field make you proud. Amen.
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