Every few months or so, Ben, Sabrina, and myself meet to figure out how to take a teaching topic that Ben is preparing and wrap it into a sermon series.
Now if you don't know our lead pastor very well, Ben is a very type A, well-organized, and thorough leader. He comes to these meetings with months and months of future sermon outlines and a pretty good idea of how he'd like to group the Scripture into teaching packets we call "sermon series."
It's our job to take those packets and give them a name.
Theme them. Build a visual narrative around a core message that enforces some Scriptural truth in what we see on screen, what we hear, what happens on stage, what we feel, what is in the lobby, and what's online throughout the week.
Ben says, "I'm going to do a 7-week series about all the well-known miracles Jesus performs in Matthew," and then we go, "Ok, let's call it Greatest Hits. Bands have greatest hits and these are like Jesus' greatest hits. We can run with that metaphor. We'll focus on one musical artist a week, like the one miracle per week, and it can be a surprise every week who the artist is going to be! Our friend, Cora, she's into records, we can film the bumper video with her. And the record on the player, that's the graphic!" Boom. Sermon series made.
Ok, in truth, it takes a lot longer, a lot more thought, and lot more back and forth- but you get the idea. And usually, we try to make these sermon series pretty fun. That's a typical goal for us.
So the end of July, we have one of these series meetings and Ben says, "I'm going to do a series about the end of the world based on Matthew 24."
Here's the thing- Have you read Matthew 24? Let me give you just a few highlights.
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars... They will deliver you to death... Many will fall away and betray one another... Lawlessness.... Love will grow cold... The sun will darken... The stars will fall... The Tribes will mourn...
It's intense. Whatever your (Bible-based) eschatology is, we can all agree that what Jesus is saying here is very serious. The end of the world is not fun. It's bad news for everyone. It's a terribleness never seen before.
Well, most of it.
It ends with the glory of God coming to an all-time high and his chosen people being permanently reunited and whole with him in heaven. So it is good news, in fact! In the end, Jesus comes back and silences death once and for all. He makes all things new. Peace and righteousness fill the new world.
It's a global event. It's bad news first, then really good news.
Rather than running away from the darkness of this passage (trying to make the series seem fun or light), or going with a Walking Dead-esque level of unrelatable dramatics, I wanted to connect the (on some level) metaphorical words of Jesus to the darkness of our world that we are already familiar with.
We are very familiar with the pain of the September 11 attacks. War in the Middle East. Homelessness. Broken families and relationships. Cancer. The continued racial divides and oppression. Natural disasters, such as the Haitian quakes or Californian wildfires.
These are effects of sin and pain that we are familiar with nearly (if not) every single day. Those kind of events feel apocalyptic, especially when we are directly effected by them.
There's a cry in our souls for peace and an end to death. In our hearts, we deeply desire for Jesus to return and silence the suffering of sin.
That is the thinking behind our series, Very Soon
In the video, we hear familiar soundbites from very real events that connect to the type of events Jesus describes in Matthew 24. Wars, violence, betrayal, terrorist attacks, famine, earthquakes, and so on.
We see the earth below as a contrast of darkness and light. These camera shots of earth are real and less than a year old. The video you see is hyperlapsed footage taken from the International Space Station in the last few months. They show our planet as it really is - our shared world suspended between a black void and the heavens above. The cities glow like embers in a fire, lighting their surroundings enough to reveal mountains of ash. Stars of light seem to peer over us as the auroras gracefully dance over our dark landscape like celestial clouds upon a graveyard.
The sounds of war and pain grow, becoming more chaotic and more frequent, until they overwhelm our ability to distinguish them and blur together in a torrent of deafening pandemonium.
Then Jesus returns in a cloud and the noise is instantly silenced. The earth is covered in a radiant, fiery light that drowns out the stars and the form of the earth. All that can be seen is light. All that can be heard is the deep rumbling of whatever just ignited just beyond our view.
It's not an accident that the single constant visual we use throughout this video is a horizon.
The message is both about what we are experiencing now and what is coming. Something is about to happen. Something big is impending.
Jesus is coming.
In Matthew 24, Jesus gives us an insight into not only the future but also into the scale of the end. There's a coming judgement that covers the whole earth and no one escapes it. Then there's a redemption of even greater magnitude.
The goal is to have all our visual pieces work together to achieve a singular message.
The stage set directs to the substance of Matthew 24 every bit as much as the video and graphics, and for that, we have Rachel to thank for her design and construction and Holden for his manual labor. It lends itself this perspective of stepping back from earth a little bit and seeing the movement of God on a grander level.
Having the chance to develop the visual component of these sermon series is always amazing. But Very Soon is unique in its weight and perspective.
Nearly everyone has assumed that the footage in the video is animated. It is not. That's really us down there. Those lights are very real.
The audio is very real, but of course, we knew that. For many of us, we remember most of the audio clips and recall the darkness.
It's not Left Behind. It's not The Walking Dead. And it's certainly not fun. It's real. It's already bad and it's going to get worse.
But the good news is, the light is coming. Peace is on the horizon.