Suddenly it seems that everyone is preaching or thinking about eschatology - I've even been guilty myself, talking about history and eschatology. So why is that and what are we trying to get from it?
Telos - 'end' - can mean 'finish,' as in termination, but it can also mean 'aim' as in goal or target. This filters through into how we understand teleology and eschatology - is it "now", "not yet" or "now and not yet" or what?
Today I was preaching for World Leprosy Day. We had reached our goal of raising enough money to pay for a TLM sponsored house for a leprosy affected family (£360), so there was cause for rejoicing. We used the slides supplied by TLM which focussed on past, present and future, and I then used the three supplied readings - Leviticus 13: 45 - 46, Matthew 8:1 - 4, Revelation 21:1 - 4. These readings have a past-present-future feel to them too. From a primitive past when isolation and exclusion were the only effective means of controlling infection, through Jesus' day when practical wisdom had become a means of social exclsuion, stigma and taboo, and on to a day yet to come when infectious diseases and their consequences will be no more. I drew parallels with our own times, asking what illnesses or conditions function as leprosy (from the isolation of MRSA affected hospital patients, to taboos about mentioning cancer, to rejection and stigma associated with mental health issues, addiction and so on). I encouraged people to be like Jesus, to be like TLM, and ignore or break the taboos that isolate, enslave or stigmatise people, even in our own fellowship. I pointed to the vision of a day when all this would be no more, but fought shy of expressing a view on whether that was this world or the next!
I did speak of TLM as an incarnational mission - a lived expression of faith and of eschatological hope (though not in those words!). I did say that we are called to be incarnational - the 'body of Christ in this place.' This makes me wonder if I am advocating some sort of 'inaugurated realised eschatology' (thank Kez for the phrase) or 'futurist realised eschatology' (which I got from reading about theology of history). In other words, that the Kingdom of God (or Christ) is come on earth but is still inbreaking and will only find its fulfillment at the eschaton - the 'end.' In such a model, the work of TLM is 'hastening the day' by its work to eradicate leprosy and its effects.
This is not about salvation by works (that none may boast, as Paul would say) but about faith working a holism of salvation that extends to practical as well as spiritual matters.
If this is so - and I'm making this up as I type - then the end, as in goal, and the end, as in finish, become one and the same. Whether God will wind up time in a flash or whether we will simply slide into eternity only God knows. What I do know is that I think that TLMs work to eradicate leprosy and make itself redundant at some future date is a fantastic example to the rest of us.