"A Call to Action"

Date Sunday December 03, 2017
Service First Sunday in Advent
Text Text: Mark 13:24-37
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Will we Meet Jesus or Miss Him while we Wait?"
Next Sermon "Walking the Level Road"

     A few weeks ago the congregation sang the hymn “Soon and Very Soon.” It’s a fun one to sing with it’s old-timey Gospel music beat; some of the choir were dancing on their way out! We sang about no more crying and no more dying because soon, and very soon, we are going to see the King.

     I’m not sure what Andrae Crouch meant when he wrote those lyrics. Is it that we are going – as in we’re doing the moving – to see Jesus, or that Jesus is coming to us, one day in the future, and that’s when we are going to see him? Perhaps Mr. Crouch purposely wrote those lyrics so they speak of death and Jesus’ return. In both cases, the song’s message is to look forward to seeing our Lord.

     Well, today’s Gospel reading is certainly about Jesus’ return – his second coming or second advent – and it does not have the same upbeat feeling as Andrae Crouch’s song. But, if we look at it closely, we’ll notice that it’s not all doom and gloom either. Its purpose is to encourage us – the believers – to look for Jesus’ return, when he will usher in the final revelation of God’s kingdom. This is the happy ending that never ends.

     Many of you, like me, are aware of various times when people were sure that moment was at hand. There was Y2K at the end of the century, and then May 21, 2010. When that turned out not to be the day, the preacher who got lot of attention promoting it changed to October 21, 2010. (Darn, wrong again!) When the ancient Mayan calendar ran out in 2012, some predicted the end of the world then. Five years later we are still here.

     All of which is ironic because the clear message in the Gospel is that no one knows the hour or the day, not even Jesus. New Testament scholar and seminary professor Mark Allan Powell points out something interesting about the way we view this “no one knows” message, as compared to the Gospel-writer’s point-of-view.

     People today seem to think that because the time of Jesus coming cannot be known, we do not need to think much about it. Mark draws the opposite conclusion: since the timing is unknow, we should think about it all the time. It could be hundreds or thousands of years from now, think modern-day Christians, while Mark’s writes that since the timing is unknown, it could be today. Maybe this evening, or at midnight, or when down breaks. (1)

     So, says the Gospel of Mark, we need to keep a close watch. The situation is compared to that of servants who do not know when their master will return and yet are expected to be prepared for it. Constant vigilance is in order.  But, remember last week’s parable too. Certainly, we’ll see Jesus when he returns, but he also is with those who are suffering, and when we serve them, we serve him. So, we can see him now.

     Another way to interpret the parable is this, quoting Pastor Dennis Sanders, “This week’s text offers a twofold message: Be busy with Jesus has called us to do as you wait for his return. And be alert to how and where Jesus appears in your life.” (2)

     This reading offers not a threatening message, but a call to action. It’s what Pastor Russell Levenson, Jr. calls living in a heavenly way. He quotes Christian scholar and author C.S. Lewis, “Aim at heaven, and you get earth thrown in; aim at earth and in the end, you get nothing.” If we aim at earth, our focus is on me: on what I need and what I want and what I can accomplish and possess.

     Let me quote Pastor Levenson’s description of aiming at heaven: “But when we aim at heaven, life takes on an entirely different meaning. We begin to see ourselves as servants of God – preparing for his return. We live in an awareness, perhaps even a constant awareness, that each minute is an opportunity, a gift, to receive, to give, to live in a way that say I believe in more than what I see on earth – I believe there is something bigger, someone better, more powerful than any darkness we humans can devise. It says, I believe that someone is Jesus and He has come, He is here, and He is coming again.” (3) We might think of this as letting Advent happen in our hearts; it’s a way of life for all seasons.

     I believe I’ve mentioned before that, other than the news, the only program I consistently watch on television is 60 Minutes. Last week’s episode moved me, perhaps because I had preached that morning on Matthew 25 in which Jesus makes it clear that when we show mercy to those who are in any need, it is the same as offering mercy to him.

     There were two episodes on the show that featured people who were living in a heavenly way. I do not know whether they would identify themselves as people of faith, but they certainly seemed to be.

     There was a famous California Chef, Jose Andres, who after Hurricane Maria in PUERTO RICO gave of his expertise, time and money to feed people there. He marshalled the food and staff to feed thousands of Puerto Ricans – American citizen – hot meals, which many of them had not eaten in weeks, due to lack of electricity. At one site, a church, people who were suffering themselves helped others who suffered, and when they prayed before the food distribution they thanked God first, and then Chef Andres, because without both of them the meals would not exist.
     Also aiming for heaven were doctors who came from the United States to Syria to treat victims of the war there. They not only shared themselves and their training, they also risked their lives and emotional well-being. Since 2011, there have been more than 450 attacks on hospitals in Syria, which is a war crime. Those who are wounded, some severely, are subjected to further suffering as bombs fall on places of healing, which are now going underground – literally.

     The sacrifice of the doctors, and the pain of the people, was inspiring and unnerving. One young doctor who had seen unfathomable suffering said he was there because 30 years from now he did not want to look back and deal with the guilt of not helping. I suspect there was more to it than that.

     After the program was over, I was thinking, “My life is so easy.” That’s true. Still, regardless of our situation, today’s Gospel calls us to action: to aim toward heaven here and now, while we wait for his return, and to be alert to how and where Jesus shows up in our lives. There’s good reason for us to keep awake! Amen

 

(1)   “Commentary on Mark 13:24-37” by Mark Allan Powell, www.workingpreacher.com

(2)   “Living the Word” by Dennis Sanders, Christian Century, November 8, 2017, pg. 20

(3)   “Two-Minute Warning” by the Rev. Dr. Russell Levensen, Jr., St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston, TX., November 27, 2011, www.day1.org