I appologize to all who watch my weekly services, but I was out sick this and am unable to even talk, let alone preach. Therefore, I am posting the reading for this First Sunday of Advent, as well as my sermon. I hope it touches hearts, and I hope I am much better by December 7th, especially since I am giving the mail service in church that day. <grin>
November 30 2014 Sermon Advent 1 Mark 13:32-37
The disciples are told they are to be on the watch, for they do not know when the Sovereign will come.
But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Child, but only God. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like some one going on a journey, who, upon leaving home, puts the servants in charge, each with a particular task, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore—for you do not know when the sovereign will come, in the evening or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest the sovereign come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.
How ready are you?
How often to we go to great pains and lengths to plan carefully ahead, for a vacation, or a critical job interview, or buying a house. In fact, such planning can go into any number of activities. Even in the military, great care goes into the planning of an attack or major offensive. But even the greatest of generals or admirals will tell you, once the battle starts, all planning goes out the window and events as they unfold are not always in their command.
Oh, sure, we can do everything we can to mitigate problems. On a vacation, we can make sure we have plenty of money at hand, the RV is mechanically sound and checked out, a first aid kit is packed, plenty of clothes and food are stored. But there is always the unforeseen, that mishap along the road that nobody could plan for. You have a spare tire, but what if you get two flats? A child gets sick on something he or she ate and you have nothing handy to help, so it is off to a nearby hospital. It rains or snows when it was supposed to be sunny weather. Your tropical getaway gets hit with a hurricane.
But that is life. It is filled with unknowns, things we can never fully prepare for, but we still try out best. But when it comes to our souls, do we really try hard enough? How many of us truly feel in our hearts, that if God called us home NOW, TODAY, we would be prepared? Is our earthy house in order? Have we lived the kind of life that God expects of us on a daily basis, in how we treat others in compassionate love?
Last week’s sermon, on the warning to all nations, sets the tone for today. Being fully prepared to meet God is not something you can cram for like a final exam in school. This is not a last minute action after a life lived away from Christ. Being prepared, always vigilant, is to live as Christ Jesus taught us on a daily basis, to the best of our human abilities. Like the bridesmaids who brought enough oil for their lamps, not knowing when the bridegroom would come, they were prepared for that event at any hour.
Very few of us can plan for the moment of our deaths, unless you are dying of a terminal illness. In that case, you know the end is near, and you have some time to put your house in order, shall we say. You make sure all will documents are done, you have said your goodbyes to loved ones, and you pray to God you have lived a good life. You forgive those you need to forgive, and ask forgiveness of them.
I went through this with my own brother in 2008. Even though he hoped he would survive the serious medical ordeal he faced, deep down I believe he was also prepared for the worst. He summoned the courage of character to forgive in a manner I had never known him to do before. He openly accepted me in the end as well, something his son still can’t do, even though his father did. He also asked for forgiveness for the wrongs he had done, which I had never known him to do before either. In short, he was prepared. I know, that when he finally passed, his heart was ready.
What made this so important though was his life lived to that point. My brother was not a very easy person to deal with. He distrusted many people, and was often cruel and mean to those he should have showed greater love and compassion to, including our parents. His own domination of his children was a significant contribution to the early death of his eldest son.
So this transformation when he was facing death was important. He watched, and he prepared. But life is not always this accommodating at the end. In times of war, you never know when death comes, or even with violence in the streets, even in America, where people are killed in random acts of violence daily. From shootings to vehicular accidents, death comes quickly and without warning. It was in this manner that I lost my daughter.
My daughter died in a single car rollover car accident. There was no warning, no time to prepare to meet God, no period of planning. It just happened. But I also know that in her life, and in her heart, she lived the kind of life on a regular basis that was filled with grace and love. She cared about people, and she put that compassion into daily practice. She might have had no warning at the end, but she was already prepared in her heart, and through her life.
And how many other people in this world face such a tragic and swift end, who are unprepared. How many people are there out there who are not watching, not prepared, but living day to day in a selfish and hedonistic manner, taking only for themselves and caring nothing for others? We do see it daily, on the news and on social media. Angry people who are determined to take from others, whether it is a mob in the streets following a verdict they object to, or the avarice and greed that plays out on Wall Street, that rage is there.
They care not for anybody but themselves. They ignore what the Bible teaching us to forgive and to love, to turn the other cheek, to share our bounty with the less fortunate, and they instead deny the least of God’s children in their own rush to take for themselves. It is even more tragic when they take from others who already have so little, and they themselves already have way too much.
Do we prepare for God, or act like Christians, when we loot and burn and destroy what belongs to another? Do we prepare for God, or act like Christians when we commit acts of violence upon other people, letting our hate and anger override all common sense and reason? What is most tragic is that this also happens from the same people who claim to be Christians, and at the same time, reject any call for peace.
As the reading today states, God has given us this planet to live, left us in charge if you will, but also expects much of us in return. We are to take care of this world, and all that lives upon it, each to their abilities and skills. But we also do not know when God will return for an accounting of how we did. We have no clue of the time and date. God will come when God will come.
Oh, there have been any number of people who claim to know the secret of Christ’s return, and they are all wrong. Even starting with the Apostle Paul, who believed Jesus would again come back in his own lifetime, at first preached a theology based on that notion, but in time he came to realize there was no way to plan ahead for that, other than live a good and righteous life.
But that has not stopped fakes and frauds from twisting scripture to find their own secret code to set the date of the return, of the rapture, of Armageddon. Personally, I laughed and made light of the latest of these, with Harold Camping, who picked his date to happen back in 2011, so firm in his number crunching, and yet, like all the rest, wrong. He failed in a very basic and fundamental point, even mentioned in scripture, by Jesus himself, when he told his followers that not even Jesus knew the day and hour. And if Jesus does not know, nobody knows, or could know.
Even the Mayans seem to have been wrong, and I wonder just how many were all set and prepared for the great cataclysm that was expected, and never came on December 21, 2012. Personally, I think the Mayan calendar makers just ran out of the right kind of stones and decided to drive future cultures crazy, wondering if there was anything coming up next.
But small minds through the centuries have gone to such extremes as to sell all they own, even kill their own children to spare them the trauma, and wait for the end that does not come about. We just don’t know. For this reason, you don’t cram for that final exam at the end, but you study and prepare and live each day as it if will be the last, but also live each day as if it is the first.
You live a life build on love. You treat everybody the way you want to be treated. You forgive those who wrong you, and hope they do the same, even if you have no control over that. You share what you can, give where you should, comfort those who need it, and seek peace at every turn.
The Beatitudes are a wonderful guide to how we should live in harmony with God through Christ, and with all humanity. When we live as best as we can by these loving principles, we are always watchful, always prepared, always ready to once again meet God.
Is this easy? No. At least it is not for most of us. I have known some where all this does come with ease, but they also seem to possess a loving innocence that fills their lives and the lives around them. For the rest of us, it is a daily challenge, to overcome our baser nature and to strive to be better than we are. But while it is a challenge, any worthwhile accomplishment always is. As we live such a life though, it becomes easier as we go, finding it is easier to smile than it is to frown, easier to laugh with joy than cry in anguish, and easier to love than it is to hate.
When we adopt such a lifestyle, even the differences between people becomes a mute point, because you stop being fearful of what is strange, and you embrace it with wonder and enthusiasm. We seek to learn, rather than close our minds to change. Race, color, language, lifestyles and religious differences cease to matter. We do not become blind to it, but rather we embrace it and learn from it. We accept such differences in people and understand that we are all diverse and unique in our own ways.
This is how we watch, and prepare, on a daily basis, hour by hour, minutes by minute, so when that end comes, expected or unexpected, we are ready. We are also unafraid of that ultimate unknown, because we have made it a known in our soul, and we welcome it freely and with loving grace.
May the grace of God always filled your hearts with loving light, and make no room for hate.