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Yale 62

Is ‘The Day’ Approaching?
By Peter Sipple

“The Rapture: One at the Mill,” from the Bowyer’s Bible, was etched by the Dutch artist Jan Luyken in 1795.

Sermon – Proper 28B (11/14/21) Trinity, New Haven

The writer of Hebrews includes a sentence that might serve as a mission statement for us latter-day Christians: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together… but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The verb “provoke” is, well, provocative; it comes from the Latin “to call forth.” Provoking one another to love and good deeds becomes all the more important as we see the “Day approaching!” The “D” in our text is capitalized; we can take the word “Day” as a metaphor for end times, or at least for cataclysmic events that will affect the future of the human race. It’s at times like this when we are especially called upon to provoke one another to love and good deeds.

The most terrible, unthinkable of “Days” in Jewish history occurred in Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, when Roman legions demolished the Temple of Solomon, destroyed Jerusalem and parts of Judea, many thousands of Jews died and other thousands were taken into bondage. It had to feel like the end of the world for Judaism. Nearly four decades earlier, Jesus foretold those events; his prophesy appears in today’s passage from Mark. As the year 70 approached, Jesus’ followers, still years before becoming a church, anticipated the disaster; most of them had fled Jerusalem a couple of years earlier. Eusebius, an early Christian scholar, reported that the Christians in Jerusalem, “having been commanded by a divine revelation… removed from the city and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan called Pella.” Luke’s chapter 21 expands on Jesus’ prediction with this warning: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Let those in Judea flee to the mountains; let those in the city depart.” Though Luke’s Gospel and perhaps Mark’s were written after the destruction of Jerusalem, the earliest Christians had received the warning, for it had remained salient within their small house-church communities. And here’s something else worth noting: most scholars date the Epistle to the Hebrews around 65 AD which would place it very near the time when Jesus’ followers realized they needed to vacate Jerusalem. Sounds like they did try to provoke one another to love and good deeds, recognizing that the Day was approaching!

Is our Day approaching? Many climate scientists are warning that our planet is responding to changing conditions with dramatically different weather patterns—a phenomenon, they say, that was brought on by our industrial way of life. The prediction of more floods, fires and hurricanes may leave some of us wondering whether we are growing close to the end time when life on our planet will become untenable for millions if not billions of people. This past week I took part in a zoom meeting with forty or so college classmates to discuss climate change. After opening statements by those closer to the science, we were asked whether we are mostly optimistic or pessimistic about the impacts of climate change. The group was close to even on that question. Though one shouldn’t draw conclusions from such a small sample, it did seem that the pessimists focused on the dire circumstances whereas the optimists cited specific ways they were addressing the crisis. They described small incremental steps toward greater awareness and positive action. One example cited was an initiative called “Living Wisely and Well on Planet Earth.” Working out of Trinity Church, Branford, a group there has developed a series of lectures and on-line information on topics such as recycling, safe water, home energy and land use. Of course the obstacles to progress are daunting; ultimate solutions will have to be global. The question is, can human beings around the globe find ways, small incremental steps as well as major ones, that will contribute to the earth’s recovery and sound health?

What’s your take on all this? Is our Day approaching? Like the early Christians, we have received warnings. My reason for remaining optimistic grows out of a conviction that we are especially called on to provoke one another to love and good deeds. That may sound Pollyanna-ish, but here’s something to consider: fear poisons whatever progress we might otherwise make. Fear was abroad during two world wars and a harsh Depression that our parents and grandparents weathered. Even in the halcyon post-war years of the 1950s we children were taught to scramble under our desks at school in response to the fearsome sound of air-raid sirens. Fear is abroad today as it surely was for the residents of Judea in the first century. But along with the faithful of the world’s other religions, Christians place their faith in a higher source, an antidote to fear, a creative impulse living within the environment we inhabit and in our very own hearts. We call that source God, and we call on and try to follow God’s guiding principles. With God’s help, we must work with God’s creation we call nature to bring about healing. Historical examples abound when the future appeared dark—in fact, looking back on it, we define a whole age by its darkness. But out of that darkness emerged a rebirth, an enlightened new age when human genius flourished, when many of the values we take for granted today were first articulated. And so it is today: out of dark predictions new life can emerge, a new rebirth of God-inspired human creativity.

The journalist Margaret Renkl includes in a recent NYT article lines by the Anglican poet George Herbert. Grief melts away / Like snow in May, / As if there were no such cold thing. / Who would have thought my shriveled heart / Could have recovered greenness? “Who would have thought, indeed?” asks Renkl. “But given enough time, we do go on, somehow. Like the stems and branches of springtime, our shriveled hearts can recover greenness, too. And now in age I bud again, Herbert wrote, and so it is with us. With so many disasters upon us…a sentiment like that might sound like wishful thinking. And yet the accumulating decades almost always offer proof that fear and darkness do pass in time. Proof that hard work can open doors so wide, it later seems as though they had never been closed.”

We welcome your comments below.

5 comments to Is ‘The Day’ Approaching?

  • Peter – Thank you for this history lesson. My take on our current state: dark becoming darker. We came of age as America peaked. Its fall has been astoundingly quick. In particular, our politics have failed us. That heart – the political heart – has shriveled to the size of a pea for at least half our country.

  • Russell Douglas Floyd

    As you point out, many attribute the growing climate threat to …”our industrial way of life” … and then pretty much keep their narrow focus on that one issue. Electric cars vs. gas powered ones. Windmills vs. coal and oil burning generators.

    I think that is a dangerously narrow perspective in that it misses the real problem: soaring human populations.

    In the year 700 AD some scholars have figured the entire planet had approximately 700 million humans. Over centuries until 1940 when most of the members of the Class of ’62 were born, humans grew to 2.3 billion. Today 7.8 billion already.


    Yes, our ” industrial way of life” is one factor enabling that population explosion, but without modern medicine, vaccines, antibiotics, etc. todays human population would be far, far smaller.

    An additional driver has been our capitalistic economic system where the core mantra is more, more, more. More and more people … great … we’ll sell more toilet paper, wine, socks … whatever.

    Another contributing factor is the fact that family structures have not adjusted in recent years to the fact that those born have over time, tended to have better and better survival rates. Instead most societies continue to regard child bearing beyond mere replacement levels as a good thing. Yes, back in cave dwelling and later tribal times, when most religions were invented, couples had to reproduce frantically if the tribe was to survive. Half of those born would be dead by age two, and half of the rest would be gone by age ten. So yes, reproduce aggressively otherwise your tribe or religious group would cease and that tribe on the other side of the river would take over. Most religions around the world have continued to perpetrate such views as they favor high reproduction rates in order to see their religion become more and more widespread.

    My parents had only three children and were considered a bit strange. (Well, yes, they had me!). But even today 3 to 6 kids are not unusual. Heck, my cousin in South Africa until recently ran a fleet of corporate aircraft … the man whose job it was to clean out the planes when they returned had 21 kids. You know he was not paid enough to put them all through college!! But that’s what his religion dictated.

    Nowhere is there a “tax” or “planetary burden assessment” for child number 3, 4, 5 — 10 etc., even though each additional human does require an enormous amount of food, water, minerals, forest products, shelter, transportation, etc. over a life time.

    So what we have is a species …. humans … enabled by all of the above … soaring in numbers …. on this petrie dish called Earth.

    If humans numbered 2.3 billion today, climate concerns would not even be a matter for discussion.

    While we need to be creative moving forward and to try to find less harmful ways of meeting the needs of us humans, it really looks like time to reign in human population growth. Birth control. Set up systems to discourage more than two children per couple. A limit of two with an occasional mistake # 3, and over decades there might even be a gradual decline in human pressures on all of the life forms that surround us. Otherwise, build all the windmills you like, soaring human populations will prove Earth and all life on it to be just a bigger petrie dish than you experimented with back in the high school science class.

    • Jim Wechsler

      You are correct that population is the basic problem. Modern civilization enables that population growth to a level which consumes the environment at an unsustainable rate. Looking back, Zero Population Growth was right but had an unfortunate stridency in its message. The stridency was disliked, so the message was ignored.

  • Ken Merkey

    One might suggest that we reached the zenith of our culture sometime before the passing of the Welfare Reform Act and other “Great Society” programs in the mid-60’s. The liberal mentality created an ever-growing and self-perpetuating welfare class that is now generations old. Liberals assume that you can cure any problem, no matter how large, by throwing money at it. For every problem, there is a government program.

    Government is far too large; larger than any of our founding fathers ever dreamed. Our constitution is a fairly good document. Unfortunately, the founders did not put in term limits for Congress. We have created a corrupt swamp as a result.

    Our founding fathers came to this country with a work ethic and a sense of probity together with strong religious beliefs that formed the bedrock for our culture. We became the envy of the entire world. We had no peer.

    Now we have open borders, profligate spending, no bail, defunding of police, BLM charlatans, and liberal prosecutors. Has anyone examined closely the list of nominees for senior federal jobs that the Biden administration is putting forth? It is a rogue’s gallery of wild liberals (Vanita Gupta, Rachel Rollins), cross-dressers (Rachel Levine), and many other second-rate people. If we populate our government with these kinds of bureaucrats, we are sure to fail as a nation.

    Climate change is an issue, of course. We need to do everything that we can, including a major nuclear power focus, if we are going to save our nation and the planet. But one needs to ask – is it worth saving if all that we are creating is a more liberal Pollyanna?

  • Abel A Mestre

    Peter Sipple’s sermon is very refreshing and wise because with all the problems humanity, and the Jews in particular, as he mentions, have survived. as “ the accumulating decades almost always offer proof that fear and darkness do pass in time.”
    The USA is undergoing an extremely difficult and dangerous moment as our moral values have deteriorated in large part due to the disintegration of family life, the less important role that religion and our belief in God play, an awful public education system, a biased and partisan media that gives us false information and a political class, particularly now the one in power, that is corrupt, deceiving and that will do anything to stay in power.
    But, I have faith that in the long run, we will surpass our current problems because we are still a free country, with a great Constitution drafted by our wise forefathers, a free economy which has provided us with more upward mobility than any other country in the world, a rule of law that still supports us plus a desire, which is very strong in many, to do better morally, work hard and be more productive.