Are you Ready

A sermon for Advent 1: Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

 

It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It is after I spent some time at the Thanksgiving feed, here I Blytheville, where some 1,000 meals were shared all over Mississippi county. And later with family & neighbors, where there was food, food and more food. There was some conversation about family traditions, and then a little bit of football. After that ~ I was ready to be home alone. Then there was Black Friday and all the shopping hordes. But we skipped all that and after a short trip down the road for a second, Thanksgiving feast with more family, and desserts more numerous than I can count followed by a short drive after which I was ready to be home alone. After all that ~ I recovered enough to be reminded that we have much to be thankful for even when we do not think we do. And now ~ now I am ready to use this time to teach myself to see the abundance of God and to share the abundance of God.

Today is also 1st Sunday of Advent it is the 1st Day in a new church year. There were no late-night fireworks or morning concerts; there were no parades of floats, and marching bands, or giant balloons and no celebrity-studded commentary. There was this morning there is a hopeful proclamation of the days to come we heard from Isaiah prophecy. There is a psalm celebrating going to the Temple, and prosperity, and unity and peace. We have to back up several verses to get here, but there is the story of disciples with Jesus at the Temple, seemingly pointing out its grandeur, followed by Jesus’ reply “It is all coming down.” A little bit later and in private they ask him “When?” And  Jesus answers them with a warning not to be lead astray, he tells them about persecutions, sacrilege in the Temple, false prophets, and false messiahs, and the darkening of the sun, and the moon and the stars; and then Jesus tells them “no one knows the day or the hour when” and cautions them, cautions us to be alert and remember that the people of Noah’s day were not so alert, and he ends with some puzzling stuff about one being taken and one being left and a home owner knowing when the thief will come. Paul follows Jesus’ example by telling Christ’s Roman followers to stay alert because salvation is nearer now than when they became believers (Romans 13:11b).

By the way none of what Jesus or Paul has to say supports the Left Behind series’ idea of rapture (Boring). And if Jesus’ and Paul’s warnings and their less than gentle encouragement to be prepared don’t have anything to do with the rapture what are we to learn from all this? Why do we read these lessons as we begin a new church year? What are we to see as we seek to continue a renewed Christian life, as we look forward to the coming of Christ not only as the baby born in a stable but also as the Son of Man with Angles and Trumpet calls (Matt 24:30-31). Well, it just might have to do with how we answer the simple question “Are you ready?”

So, are you ready? Are you ready to live knowing that Advent is not a countdown to Christmas? What Advent is ~ is time to reminder to be as ready as you have ever been for the most unexpected thing you can never imagine (Bowron). Isaiah’s introduction “In days to come” is not a prediction but an affirmation; and while it is definitely unspecified and clearly far-off, it is in no way vague (Tucker). So ~ are you ready? Are you ready to trust that God, Jesus, and the Spirt will not be ready someday, but are ready now, and have been since before Jesus’ birth? Are you ready? Ready to learn (once again) that being ready for the Kingdom of Heaven is not about determining who goes and who stays, but is all about being together. Together in the field, or in grinding meal, together in school, or in lanes, or at sea, or at church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; together in all of life trusting that God is already ready (Scott). Are you ready to ask your neighbors, those you like you and those you don’t like, those who look and speak like you, and those who don’t look or speak like you; are you ready to ask them “How can I help you get ready?” (Lewis). Are you ready to live knowing, to live believing, that God has not and will not abandon you or us, or anyone at all, or the world? Are you ready to stretch your imagination, so you can see that there is a real alternative to the violence and abuse in the world, and then work together to reconcile ourselves to each other and live as if God in Jesus by the Spirit are right here right now (Bratt)?

Are you ready to follow Torah, that often translated “law” but here is an invitation to learn (Gaventa and Petersen Isaiah 2:2)? Are you ready to learn that keeping watch by being faithful to the Lord in our mundane everyday routines is a holy watchfulness? Are you ready to learn how such a watchfulness witness means to live the best lives we can for our great God in Christ (Hoezee, Advent 1 A | Matthew)? Are you ready to give up going along through life as usual (Boring)? Are you ready not be surprised by, or to at least accept God’s invasion into everyday life (Harrelson)? Are you ready for God to be all in your stuff?

Knowing that there is no rapture with Christ’s return and that the coming of the Son of Man will reveal the hidden reality that is already present are you ready for mercy; are you ready for forgiveness; are you ready for peace (Micha 6:8) (Boring). Are you ready to do believe as C.S. Lewis once said

I believe in God for the same reason I believe in the sun that shines in the sky.’ ‘Not just because I can see the sun but because by it I can see everything else. (Hoezee, Advent 1 | Romans 13:11-14).

Are you ready for Christ’s return to reveal the hidden reality that is already present and commit the next four weeks to recommit to living life as if the Kingdom is right here right now? Are you ready do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Micha 6:8).

Are you ready?

Well, are you?

Come on   ~   are you ready?

Then let’s light it up!

An acolyte lights the 1st Advent Candle


References

Allen, Ron. Commentary on Matthew 24:3644. 27 11 2016.

Boring, M. Eugene. The Gospel of Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Bowron, Josh. “Be Awake and Ready – Advent 1(A).” 27 11 2016. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Advent 1A | Isaiah 2:1-5. 27 11 2016.

Chan, Michael J. Commentary on Isaiah 2:15. 27 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Advent 1, Cycle A. 17 7 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 27 11 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Advent 1 | Romans 13:11-14. 27 11 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

—. Advent 1 A | Matthew. 27 11 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Kirk, J.R. Daniel. Commentary on Romans 13:11-14. 27 11 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Are You Ready? 27 11 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Scott, Lisbia. “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Hymnal 1980. Church Publishing, 1980.

Tucker, Gene M. The Book of Isaiah 1–39. Vol. 4. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. OliveTree 2016.

 

Time, two times and half a time

There is a lot about time in this week’s Lectionary readings. Isaiah is speaking about a time to come. Paul writes you know what time it is. And Jesus says no one knows what time it will be!  We might as well include Chicago’s Does anybody really know what time it is, just for good measure. (And no its meter isn’t half time; least wise I don’t think so.)

With all this talk about time, it’s a good time to remember there are two times in scripture: chronos, the time our watches, phones, tablets and time-cards keep,  the time by which we order our days, our lives. There is also kairos; likely best described by example: It was their time. or It was the right time.  We know the difference by the context of ‘time’ use.  

Robert Lamm’s lyrical dance, while phrased with questions of time, actually ponders human relationship subsumed by everything else; we are driven by what time it is, we’ve all got time enough to cry, we are pushed and shoved trying to beat the clock, we’ve all got time enough to die, everybody’s working, does anybody know what time it is, does anybody really care? [i] It seems Lamm explores the danger of valuing humanity by measured time rather than experience of time; of valuing humanity as commodity rather than relationship. In the vocabulary of this week’s readings, Lamm explores the danger of confusing chronos and kairos.

Sunday is the first day of Advent when we prepare to look at the time that was, and to experience the time that will be; Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ return. I wonder what Advent would be like if we prepared to explore our relationship with our incarnate Lord as it has been, and how it can be.

 

Ordinary rapture

Up at 6:30 or 7:00, make the coffee, put the dog out, pour the coffee, on the way to the living room to read, remember to let the dog in, settle in to my chair, read the daily papers, review the night’s emails for family, my self and both churches, preview the day’s to-do list, shower and dress, morning errands, travel to church, morning prayers, stop by the office, then off to a rehab home visit, a lunch meeting in Memphis, including an inconvenient phone call on the trip there,  back to office, more email, a task or two, set up an evening appointment, finish reading commentaries for Sunday’s lectionary, the evening meeting and home. All in all it is an ordinary day, full of ordinary events in the life of a priest.

 

Arland Hultgren’s commentary on this week’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel put’s an emphasis on the ordinary. [i] “… eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” are normal; that’s what people do; working in the fields and at the grist mill, that’s what people do. He notes there is no moral judgment between who is taken and not; though there clearly is divine distinction. The story about the thief in the night is Jesus prompting the disciples to be ready, all the time, in the midst of everyday normal activities. Jesus will come when you do not expect it, when you are not ready; so always be ready.

I’m generally not a fan of rapture stuff; however in writing I recalled a bumper sticker that reads In case the Rapture this car will be vacant. We can argue the theology expressed another time; however, it does express a degree of preparedness that Jesus is teaching. His teaching also reminds me of the Boy Scout Motto Be Prepared.

My day was ordinary. There is nothing that intrinsically is being prepared for the end of days. That, I think, is a matter of heart, a matter of fundamental motivation of life. I.E. Why we do what we do? I make coffee at 6 am in routine stupor. (I am not a morning person.) The discernment for tomorrow is: of what I did today, what was done in Jesus name, i.e. motivated by God’s love for me or my love for the other beloved of God? and what was motivated by anything else?

 


[i] Arland Hultgren, Working Preacher, workingpreacher.com, commentary on Matthew 24:36-44

 

Unexpected thanksgiving

Quite unexpectedly yesterday ended up being dedicated to plumbers, well almost half the day. It seems tree roots really like the water in the waste water line. Why on a day it is half raining and half sleeting I haven’t a clue; what’s new? In any case, I am thankful for plumbers, and thankful for the ability to call for and receive help in times of need. (There was a news story last night that told the story of some people whose genuine need for electricity and heat is being lost in a legal battle between land lord and the utility.)

The second influence for this blog is from a colleague’s blog announcing his family’s trip to homelands for Thanksgiving.

The third influence is our own plans for Thanksgiving, which includes starting the day serving meals at a local Thanksgiving Feast providing sit-down, to-go and delivery meals to anyone who asks. I had the privilege of serving there a couple of years ago and missed it so much we scheduled this year family gathering around it.

Matthew’s Gospel story for Sunday is Jesus teaching that the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Moving from the specific to the general, Life is unexpected. Jesus’ teaching is to be prepared for life. And since we cannot know what life will bring, [i] we cannot be prepared for an endless list of specifics (like power, plumbing, family, others) we must then prepare by having developed and continuing to develop, resources for all eventualities. The only one I know of are the teaching of the Lord. [ii]  We may know them as light, or unity or peace, but they are all the results of an awareness of the Divine Presence.

I am thankful for the gift of being able to back and see the presence of the Divine, and to look forward to Divine presence, not in the hereafter, or even the morrow, but today, in ways yet revealed. 


[i] Matthew 24:36 ff
[ii] Isaiah 2:3