When I read that the world is going to end with the rapture and subsequent apocalypse on tomorrow, I flashed back to my 16-year-old self raised in a fundamental North Carolina “hellfire and brimstone” Baptist church. I really didn’t expect to graduate from high school because Jesus was expected anytime. The truth was that this 16-year-old really didn’t want Jesus to come back because I hadn’t had sex yet. Surely God wouldn’t play that cruel of a joke on me?
But the preacher said (no, he pounded his fist on the pulpit and yelled), that the rapture might–maybe probably could–even be tonight. You best not delay and walk (no, run crying and sobbing) down that altar call church aisle, get down on your knees, and get right with the Lord. That involved repenting for every sin you could have ever possibly committed, and then repent some more just to be on the safe side of things come judgment day–which, remember, was coming tomorrow at the latest.
Perhaps only partially joking about the judgement day, I once heard of a Baptist evangelistic comedian (talk about oxymoron!) who told the tale of a new minister who paid a visit to the Ledbetter farm. The minister introduced himself and asked Mr. Ledbetter if he was a Christian.
Mr. Ledbetter replied, “No sir, I’m a Ledbetter.” The minister said “No, what I mean is are you lost?” Mr. Ledbetter laughed and said, “Naw sir, I don’t reckon I am as I was born and raised right down the road a piece.”
Frustrated the minister said, “No, no, I mean are you ready for the judgement day?” Mr. Ledbetter took off his hat, scratched his head and asked, “When is it?” To which the minister, thinking he was finally getting through, said, “Well, it could be today, could be tomorrow.”
Mr. Ledbetter wiped his brow and said, “Please don’t tell my wife–no, husband. He’ll want to go both days.”
Sadly, in my youth, this southern Baptist sissy lived more in the fear of God’s wrath and judgement than learning about the loving compassionate God of forgiveness I believe in today. This kind of love taught me not to be afraid of God, and to not obsess over doom and gloom prophecies, end of the world theories, the rapture, or the “left behind” scare tactics.
The Holy Scriptures teach we are all children of God, that there is no condemnation for those who try as best we can in our humanness to faithfully live out and share this love.
I’m talking about a love that tears down rather than builds up walls; a love that does not hate and knows no race, ethnicity, gender, age, or sexual orientation; a love that is not in denial about our responsibility to take care of this earth; a love that will not only speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, but acts and lives with compassion, justice, and kindness for all.
This love and calls and empowers me and us all to do the same. I don’t know about you, but that’s plenty to keep me busy for a lifetime. Rather than worry when the judgment day is coming (today or at the latest tomorrow, or both days), I encourage you to join us in church on Sunday and share in love and compassion for your fellow men and women. Blessings for now.
Reverend Mark Byrd is the Senior Pastor of New Life Metropolitan Community Church of Hampton Roads in Norfolk.