Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Catching Fire

 Romans 12:9-13    (NRSV)
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

In 2008, Suzanne Collins released the first book in a trilogy that has sold well over 50 million copies and has surpassed HARRY POTTER as the best selling series on Amazon.

Next Thursday night, people all over America will line up at theaters to be the first to see the newest installment of the series: CATCHING FIRE.

Last year saw the first film in the trilogy released called: THE HUNGER GAMES and it has taken in over 1 billion dollars in sales.

For the few of you who have never heard of The Hunger Games, let me give you a brief synopsis. 

It is set in post-apocalyptic North America.
A country called Panem now exists where the government is corrupt, and 12 poor states, or districts, are oppressed by a wealthy, ruling class who live with indulgence in the nation's capital city.

The heroine of the series, Katniss Everdeen, has become the hope of a hurting people after winning the country's prized "Hunger Games". 

The Hunger Games is a horrific reality TV show in which members of the districts fight to the death, with the sole survivor winning a path to prosperity and fame.

However, in this second installment, Katniss learns that she's not only won the hearts of her fellow citizens but has inspired a national attitude of revolt against the powers of oppression.

Katniss now finds that her country is on the verge of a civil war ignited by the frustrations of an oppressed people scraping against the anger of an evil government.

One of the genius of author Suzanne Collins is she forces us to decide, along with Katniss, just how one can navigate such a volatile landscape.

The other thing that the Hunger Games has done, is helped a new generation to begin to think about apocalyptic themes --- a theme that is prevalent in our Bible.

The Gospels were written, for the most part, following the tragedy of 70 CE in which the Roman's had utterly destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. 

They lived in a time, not much unlike that of Katniss Everdeen --- wondering if there was any future, any hope for themselves or their people.

Jesus seems to warn of this time when he says:
Mark 13:1-8   (The Message)
As he walked away from the Temple, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at that stonework! Those buildings!”

Jesus said, “You’re impressed by this grandiose architecture? There’s not a stone in the whole works that is not going to end up in a heap of rubble.”

Later, as he was sitting on Mount Olives in full view of the Temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew got him off by himself and asked, “Tell us, when is this going to happen? What sign will we get that things are coming to a head?”

Jesus began, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One.’ They will deceive a lot of people. When you hear of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history, and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. But these things are nothing compared to what’s coming.

When one reads this, and the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke, it has to pull you up short! 

Doesn't it sound just like today?

It's almost as if the world today is groaning as it awaits the end --- the return of Jesus.

We wait amid:
·         typhoons in the Philippians
·         hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico,
·         embassy raids in Benghazi,
·         shootings in schools and suburban malls
·         and bombs at the Boston Marathon.

We find ourselves in a world where we have much in common, at times, with Katniss Everdeen.

How are we, as followers of Christ, to navigate such a volatile landscape?
          We wonder how we are to live in a world that seems to be on fire at times.

Jesus, it seems, gives us pretty clear instructions on how one is to live in a world much like our own.

And the most interesting part of Jesus recommendations to us is that NOWHERE in his instructions is the suggestion that we live in constant fear

He doesn't recommend that we
·         stockpile food
·         or weapons
·         or build a bunker in the back yard

Jesus approach is really all about us!
Dealing with our head and our heart and not about digging holes and stockpiling nonperishable food.

What Jesus does first, by outlining in broad strokes what is going to happen, is to encourage us to live with a sense of awareness and readiness.

One of the ways that many of us deal with unpleasant things is through the coping mechanism known as denial.

As you read the newspaper in the morning, or scan the headlines on twitter --- it is pretty common for us to think to ourselves:
          "Nope -- that's not going to happen here."

As followers of Jesus are to realize that ---- the tragedy, the evil, the persecution --- can happen here.

But while I say that --- let me state emphatically again, Jesus is not calling us into a state of paranoia, fear or hyper-vigilance.

Jesus is calling us to be honest
to recognize that this world is groaning and churning under the weight of sin and despair,

and that such groans will only get louder until Christ returns to quiet them.

I believe that Jesus is not, with these words, giving us permission to spend our days wringing our hands and wondering when the next apocalyptic shoe will drop.
          If anything, he's telling us the opposite.

He seems to be saying to us that we need to live with our eyes wide open but our heart at peace, confident that God will give us what we need to tackle the troubles of a deteriorating world when it comes knocking at our door.

The second lesson for us --- which coincidentally is found in both the movie and in the Gospel is that Jesus reminds us that adversity often creates a platform for us.

A platform in which we (as disciples of Jesus) can stand as a force for good.

One of the attractions of The Hunger Games series is that the heroine --- Katniss --- is so unlike a hero --- and yet the perfect heroine!
          Katniss transforms from a whiny awkward girl --- with an amazing talent for hunting into a woman of incredible skill and character --- and one who uses those talents to bless her oppressed people ---- even at great cost to herself.

Isn't that what it is to be a Disciple of Jesus?

Jesus challenges us to remember that our struggles in this broken world are platforms.

Jesus says to us:  (Luke 21:13)
"This will be your opportunity to bear witness"

When we understand this --- we can better navigate a world that's on fire when we realize that each time we have been singed by its fires that we have an opportunity to show those without hope that despite our circumstances there is always a reason to hope.

I really believe that we can find a mission and a purpose behind every evil we experience in this world.
Not that God causes that evil or bad to happen, but that we can transform it into something good.

People are watching how we --- as followers of Jesus --- navigate the tragedies and difficulites that confront us on our journey.
          Do we do it in God glorifying ways?
                   That is the platform that we all have as followers of Jesus
                             Because we cannot escape the difficulties of a world on fire.

Jesus also urges us to live with a focus on the end of the story.

As followers of Jesus we know how the story ends
          Not in tragedy or destruction
                   But with the coming of the Kingdom of God

Jesus wants us to live with our hearts and heads anchored in that fact!

Sure, the world may seem scary at times, but we, as followers of Jesus know the Good News --- that in the end --- GOD WINS.
          Which means we all win too!

So let me ask you a seemingly simple question.
          What would you do if you know you couldn't fail?
·         What would you be willing to try --- if you knew with certainty that it would turn out just fine?
·         How would you walk through life if you had assurance, a deep, abiding assurance, that when all's said and done you'll be safe and satisfied?

What a powerful question!

Sure, the world around us is insane, but in the middle of it all, Jesus is inviting us to ask this question:
          "How should you live in light of the fact that I've guaranteed your survival?"

One way to stay sane is to keep flipping back to the "end of the book," so to speak.  To see how it is all going to turn out.

And what do we find at "the end of the book"
·         An empty tomb
·         God's promise in Revelation
“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new.

We need to keep those promises in mind as we try to navigate some of the scarier more challenging parts of our lives.

If you go see this movie --- and get all worked up as Katniss is fighting for her life, just remember this: she lives in the end.
          And so will you.

When Catching Fire (the second book in the series and upon which the latest movie is based) was released, it was praised by many critics.

They argued that a good middle story leaves one satisfied with how the characters are developing, but ultimately clamoring for how the whole thing will be resolved in the final installment.

Catching Fire does just that.

The same could be said of how we are to view our own lives.

Sure, the world is on fire.

But through it all God is utilizing and developing us.

God is transforming us into Disciples.

And while the world seems to be on fire all around us ---
May we be ready and aware, but not obsessed and afraid.

May we make the most of our platform when our time of trouble comes.

And may we keep our hearts tied to the promises of tomorrow so that we are not overwhelmed with the temporary troubles of today.

That's how we live when the world catches fire. Amen.

No comments: