Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44 [Jesus said to the disciples,] 36“About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Yesterday, I saw a picture of the evidence of vandalism out on Wisconsin Point. The new bathrooms are part of an improvement project of nearly two million dollars that was completed just this summer. I wish I could say I’m surprised at the vandalism, but such things rarely surprise me anymore, they just add to the realization that we live in a world in which people will act with disrespect toward others. People will vandalize. People will abuse others. People will steal, lie, and cheat.
I also saw an article that said that intelligent people are messy, stay awake longer, and swear more. The part about swearing was actually at the beginning of the article, and the main point said, "those who don't use any swear words are the ones who limit their own vocabulary, because they intentionally use fewer words than others."
I beg to differ. I believe SOME intelligent people purposefully use DIFFERENT words because words many people use to curse are empty (or vain). In other words, when people swear or curse, they really don't mean to damn anything or to “F” around or to reference male puppies. Mostly, they need to vent, and a great number of people vent by cursing... I believe there are better ways to vent than by cursing... or by vandalizing…
This, of course, recognizes that we will at times need to vent, and we will need to find healthy ways to do so (even if our venting is not necessarily exactly productive outside of relieving the pressure assailing us).
Today’s Gospel urges us to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. What does that mean?
I realize that many people use this text as a scare tactic, to urge people to declare their faith with prescribed words and activity requirements. Let me say I believe that’s a misinterpretation…
The whole, “Get yourself ready so that you’re not left behind,” is selfish and misplaced as we consider God’s coming into this world as savior and shepherd. After all, God doesn’t need us for validation. God doesn’t need us to give God purpose, or reason for being. God existed before us, and will continue after us, and enters into this creation at God’s own will and not because of our insistence. God doesn’t need us… that’s backwards. We need God.
God is the creator, and gifts each one of us with the breath of life. God will answer prayers for healing in this life, or for the next. God enters into this creation and shows us how to love one another even when the other has different ways of worshiping, a different shade of skin tone, a different nationality, or different ways of speaking.
Jesus answers the question of the greatest commandment by referring to those that reference love of God and love of neighbor. As we love God and one another, we find all the rest of the Ten [Commandments] falling into place naturally. We find ourselves resisting the temptations to steal and destroy because we recognize in others those whom God loves, and we find ourselves desiring to participate in God’s love for others—and for all creation.
I’d like to share with you a cartoon in which I’ve put my own picture over the one of the flabbergasted preacher who’s certainly not smiling like I am. I’d not be smiling either, but I have to, because there is so much truth in the placards people [the people sitting in the pews] are holding. We do want the message in church to be relevant. We’d often rather focus on things other than the cross. Good news is easier to hear, and some really believe that riches are equivalent to God’s favor. We want to be entertained in our own way, and wonder what’s in it for ourselves. We might want to control things with the threat of withholding our giving, or demand particular ways of doing things. We may have particular desires for how God’s word comes across, and we may not always be happy with what we hear. (These describe most of what's printed on the placards in the cartoon that would have been shown on the slide.)
On the other hand, what we hear in a sermon may not be exactly what the preacher was trying to say.
It’s quite common for preachers to share stories among themselves of times when someone responded to a comment in the message the preacher doesn’t recall making. It’s not that the preacher is so absent-minded that we don’t know what we said. The truth is that God might influence the way we hear things, so that each person is inspired in a way that is most needed.
Of course, sometimes we are so focused on our individual desires that we block out anything that doesn’t mesh with what we want to hear. Does that mean that God cannot reach us?
No. What it does mean is that we might be less effective in promoting God’s will and God’s love for this creation. We might fail to express the true joy of God’s coming into this creation as we reduce our conversations to rants about “Happy Holidays” and what the real reason for the season is supposed to be.
Being ready for God’s presence is really less about ourselves, and more about how we interact with the world around us. What’s the best way to live God’s presence for this community, and for the world? How might we influence people away from that which destroys, and toward that which cares and builds?
In the end, though, our salvation depends not on our being ready. Our salvation depends upon God’s love and mercy, and that is never in doubt. God loves you, and will always be ready for you.
In Jesus’ name. Amen