“Little children, it is the last hour” (1 Jn 2:18). On us “the end of the ages has come.” That is the constant message to us in the New Testament. It’s not meant to pinpoint the precise moment of the end of the world. It’s a call for us to live our life in the light of eternity. It’s a warning to us that the day of judgment is coming.
Have you ever noticed how efficient we can be when a deadline is approaching? If I’m going away on vacation, or I have to travel, suddenly work gets reprioritized – some things can wait, other things must get done. That’s when I realize I should have had different priorities all along.
Why do we get a surge of dopamine when we are rewarded on social media, but the thought of reading God’s Word makes us dull and lethargic? Why do we know more about the lives of actors and politicians than we know about the lives of the saints? I think we all know that when our last hour comes we will wish we spent more time praying and less time on foolish pursuits. So why don’t we act upon it? Are we walking unawares toward disaster? “Little children, it is the last hour.”
In today’s epistle reading, from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he tells us one of the purposes of Scripture: Scripture is a warning to us. “These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”
“Little children, it is the last hour.” The Corinthians were secure. They lived as though there was no impending judgment. They argued. They divided into factions. They abused alcohol. They indulged their flesh. They dishonored marriage. They did not believe God could become angry with them.
What about you? Is there reason for God to judge you? Do you live as though it is the last hour? Do we as a church live as people who believe “the end of the ages has come?”
The Scriptures apply to you. These are “examples for us, that we might not desire evil.”
What is evil? Each of us has a conception of evil. But we have to step outside our own ideas and ask what is evil in God’s eyes. God establishes what is good, and what is evil. God’s Law shows us the eternal good, in self-giving love. So the Ten Commandments are more than a list of prohibitions and requirements. They identify the eternal good: God, His Name, His Word, and His establishment of human life, marriage, family, our stewardship of created things, and our speech. God made us embodied creatures; “You shall not murder” reveals what is good—human life—and what is evil—death. God made us social creatures; “Honor your father and mother” shows what is good—the family—while “You shall not commit adultery” shows us the foundation of the family, the permanent and selfless commitment of one man and one woman in holy marriage.
Society’s problem is not immigration, or the minimum wage, or health care, as though if we could just come to the right political solution we would have peace. The core problem with the world is the problem in each human heart: the desire for evil; the rejection of God’s eternal good. In our reading from 1 Corinthians Paul gives a few examples: idolatry, fornication (the Greek there is porneia), and also grumbling!
The parable in today’s Gospel shows us another form of evil – squandering the Master’s goods. That’s you and me; we’re the stewards; what has God given you that you have wasted, squandered, misused? Your talent, your intellect, your time, your money?
Suddenly the steward begins to act in light of the judgment. Today God’s Word tells you and me to live in light of eternity. “Little children, it is the last hour.” On us “the end of the ages has come.”
To live in light of eternity means rejecting the false views of history the world peddles. One false view of history is that time is a wheel. All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again. We cycle through time, we get reincarnated and try again.
Another false view of history is that we make progress—or evolve—toward perfection. You might remember from school the philosopher Hegel, who taught that history moves from thesis to antithesis, the struggle between the two resolving in a synthesis, which becomes the new thesis. This is popularly reflected in talk about being on the “right side of history.” If you go to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in the District you’ll see one of his quotations etched in stone: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The saying has its roots in the 19th century, from Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist. In an 1854 sermon he said,
Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
Parker was an abolitionist, and I hope I would have been in that same camp had I lived at that time. Yet agreeing with his cause, I can’t agree with this idea of “a continual and progressive triumph of the right.” Everything is not going to turn out all right in the world. We won’t save the world through sufficient education or social action, better government, or wars to effect regime change. We might do good—or harm—with our actions, but as Christians, we know that history has a different story.
When St. Paul says that on us “the end of the ages has come,” the Holy Spirit is telling us that world history centers on Jesus Christ, His cross and resurrection. Hebrews 9:26 tells us, “Now, once at the end of the ages, [Christ] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” In the death of Jesus, the moral arc of the universe came shooting like lighting into the Savior. In that one great cosmic event, the last age of man was ushered in. We are not building a great society, we are not building a legacy for ourselves, we are not moving history toward a perfect future. “Little children, it is the last hour,” and it is given to us to repent and see in Jesus the end of the age of man. “It is finished,” in Jesus the perfect man.
Repent, and do not desire evil. Take heed, you who think you stand, lest you fall. Temptation has extraordinary power. You cannot stand on your own power. But St. Paul will say later in the letter to the Corinthians, “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand.” The gospel—that forgiveness and life is in Jesus—is what you stand upon. So as the fire of history and the end of the world rains down upon us, infants torn limb from limb, China rising and America divided, your body declining and fear sets in on every side, be not anxious!
At the conclusion of the letter Paul says, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” God will give you the power to resist temptation. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Pt 4:7). What shall we pray? In today’s Introit, Psalm 54, is our prayer at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world: “O God, save me by Your name.” Jesus is the incarnation, the enfleshment of the name of God. Jesus means “YHWH saves.” Jesus is the answer to the prayer, “O God, save me by Your name.” Jesus’ death is your death. Jesus’ resurrection is your life. “Little children, it is the last hour.” On us “the end of the ages has come.” And that’s good news! For Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He will make all things new.