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Worship and Sermons
December 3, 2017

“Living In Between Times” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, December 3 2017, Year B / Advent 1 –  Isaiah 64:1-9  •  Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19  •  1 Corinthians 1:3-9  •  Mark 13:24-37

THEME:  Keep awake, preparing for Jesus’ return by sharing his love.

 

          Do any of you remember where you were on Monday, August 21st at 1:00 in the afternoon?

          If you do, then it’s certainly because you were one of the millions who went outside to get a glimpse of one of the rarest astrological events any of us will ever see:  a total solar eclipse.

          If you were viewing it here in Mechanicsburg as those of us here in the office were doing, you had a partial experience.  That was amazing enough. 

          Some of you were among the millions who were fortunate enough, or determined enough, to travel closer to the 70-mile wide arc of total darkness that ran from Portland, OR to Charleston, SC.  If you were one of those folks, you got the full experience:  a total darkening of the sun, midnight at mid-day.

          Wherever you were, living things reacted strangely.  Nocturnal animals like crickets started chirping.  Owls and other predatory birds woke up and went hunting.  Other day birds flew back to their nests like it was evening.

          Some animals had no idea what to do.  Bees buzzed around furiously.  Hippos hid underwater until the whole thing was over.

          But it wasn’t just animals whose lives were disrupted. We human beings were deeply affected as well. 

          People all over America stopped what they were doing and stepped outside to watch this remarkable sight.  In amazement, we looked through funny dark glasses to watch the moon move between us and the sun.  It looked fro all the world like the moon was taking a Pacman-sized bite out of the sun, gradually gobbling up the whole thing.

          Astronomers were positively giddy about this rare opportunity to observe an eclipse.  Meanwhile, sociologists and psychologists had their eyes on the human response.  

          They were fascinated by the way it drew people together, like no other event in recent times.  In an age of fractured and hyper-personalized media, communal experiences like this one have become rare.  There we were, alongside complete strangers together, standing in awe of the events in the heavens.

          But there was another side to this experience.  Maybe you felt it, too.  Frankly, it was a little frightening - especially for Christians who know what the scriptures say about the end times.  Passages like the one we just read.

          Jesus is talking with Peter, Andrew, James and John.  He’s just told them the Temple will be completely destroyed.  Naturally they’re alarmed. They want to know when this will happen and what signs to look for.

          So, Jesus tells them.  “False prophets and fake Messiahs will come, but pay them no attention.  They’ll only lead you astray.

          “Then will come wars, earthquakes and famines. You yourselves will be persecuted for their faith.  You’ll be beaten and betrayed, even by your own family members.  The suffering will be intense, but those of you who endure will be saved.  

          “After these times of tribulation have passed,” he says, “Look up to the sky.  You’ll see signs in the heavens - eclipses and shooting stars.”  That’s when the Son of Man will finally return to bring his elect home to Heaven. 

          Like this summer’s eclipse, that is a heavenly vision that is both terrifying and wonderful, disorienting and awe-inspiring, all at the same time.

          The problem is no one knows when it will happen, not even Jesus himself.  So his disciples have to stay alert.  That means us, too.  We have to be ready no matter when he comes back, knowing it could be any time. 

          But that’s easier said than done, especially when Jesus is not here to coach us.  As one commentator puts it, “Jesus is not here as he once was, and he’s not here yet as he will be.” 

          That’s the challenge for you and me.  How do we live faithfully in these uncertain, in-between times?

          Jesus gives us two warnings.  For starters, we shouldn’t become obsessed trying to predict when he’s coming back.  No one knows the day or the time, not even Jesus.

          There are plenty of folks trying to do that, of course.  There’s a web site called unsealed.com. It’s dedicated to this absolutely fruitless endeavor.  They’ve created a numerical rapture index based on signs pointing to the apocalypse.  As you can imagine, this summer’s eclipse was for them yet another sign that Jesus’ return is imminent.

          On the other hand, we can’t fall asleep.  Of the two, this is, by far, the greater danger.

          From time to time, we all feel the hopelessness of living in a world that seems fundamentally broken, so utterly alien to life as it should be and will be in God’s Kingdom.

          In our worst moments – when the world’s violence, corruption and abuse threaten to overwhelm our faith, it’s tempting to throw up our hands in despair.  Afterall, we know we are part of the problem!

          So, as we wait for Jesus to return, we’re tempted to switch over to spiritual auto-pilot.  We grow to accept the sin of the world and the sin inside of us as things that can’t be changed. 

          So, instead of trying to combat the world’s evils, we find ways to navigate them in our daily lives.  We insulate ourselves from them.  We learn to compartmentalize our faith, to put it behind a pane of glass that says, “Break in case of emergency only”.  

          Spiritually speaking, we go to sleep.  That’s the real danger.  None of us are immune to it.

          But every once in awhile, some particularly heinous and tragic event happens, something like a shooting or massive disaster.  It jars us awake, like a nightmare.

          Like the prophet Isaiah, with a heartfelt prayer we cry out to God, “C’mon, God, get back down here.  Do those awesome deeds you used to do.  Make the mountains quake!  Make your enemies tremble!  Set things right!”  

          It reminds me of a story about two friends walking out of church.  As they pass by a homeless mother with two small children on the sidewalk, the one friend says to the other he really wants to ask God a question.  “Why does God allow so much suffering and evil in the world?”

          The second friend says, “Well, why don’t you go ahead and ask him?”  The first one pauses and says a little sheepishly, “I’m too scared.  I’m afraid he’ll ask me the same question.”

          If we’ve learned one thing from reading all those judgment parables in Matthew over the last several weeks, it is exactly this.  This is the message of Jesus.  Since he’s not here with us as he once was, and not yet as he will be, it’s up to us to do it, with his inspiration, guidance and power.

          As Teresa of Avilla famously wrote, “Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. . .  You are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

          Friends, she’s right.  God doesn’t want to change this world without us.  We are indeed the body of Christ.  This Advent, let’s make sure we exercise this body, even when we’re preoccupied with other things.  

          What are you planning over the next month?  I’m sure you’re as busy as I am – finishing up year-end work assignments, Christmas shopping, buying a tree, maybe going to a holiday a party or two?  Decorating the house – and the tree.  Going to church, of course.  

          Maybe you’re planning a family Christmas dinner, or at least making a dish or two to take to somebody else’s house.  There’s no question:  Advent is a busy time.

          But along with all our other preparations, let’s make sure we make the most important preparation of all:  serving the least among us as we would Jesus himself.

          That’s how we stay awake – not only in Advent, but all year long.  Just as Jesus promised, from time to time, we’ll see signs in heaven and on earth that we’re indeed in the end times. 

          When we do, let’s not fall prey to those who would try scare us by their false deciphering.  Nor should we dismiss them.

          Let’s take them as God intends them:  reminders to serve others in his son’s name.  Because his return is nearer than we think. 

          May we all be blessed in this Advent Season.   Even more so, may we all be a blessing to others, especially the least.  

          Amen.

Last Published: December 4, 2017 3:21 PM
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