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Sermon: Posture

November 28, 2010

Matthew 24:36-44

How many of you have full earthquake kits ready for The Big One?

The American Red Cross recommends a supply of one gallon of fresh water per person per day for two weeks.  That means at my house, I should have 84 gallons on hand.  If you live alone, you only need 14 gallons.  How many of you have that vital supply ready?

The Red Cross says you should have a two week supply of nonperishable food, a flashlight and battery powered or handcrank radio, extra batteries, copies of all your important documents—including the deed or lease to your home, proof of address, a list of medicines and other health information, and birth certificates—an emergency blanket, a multipurpose tool and extra cash.  How many of you have all those items lined up in one easy-to-reach location?

Of course, you should also have an evacuation plan ready.  All members of the household should know how to get out of the house and where to meet up after a major disaster.  You should have a family meeting to discuss this, and you should practice evacuating your home at least twice a year.  How many of you do that?  (American Red Cross.)

We all know that The Big One is coming.  It might happen sometime during this sermon, or it might happen in ten thousand years.  We don’t know exactly when it’s coming, but we do know it’s coming.  There is no doubt about that.  Yet, so few of us are fully prepared.  There are a very few who are hyperprepared.  They are on the edge of their seats, twitching with anticipation, ready to pounce into action and gather up the earthquake kit as soon as the shaking starts.  They are driven by fear and anxiety, but make no mistake about it—they have their earthquake kits ready.  They are very few.  The vast majority of us are not on the edge of our seats.  We have leaned the recliner way back.  Our heads have drooped to one side, and we are mostly asleep.  That’s most of us.  We are nearly completely unprepared.

But then there are some who are somewhere in between.  They are sitting upright, but they are relaxed because they have taken care of the important details.  They may not have every part of the earthquake kit, down to the last matchstick, but they have gotten most of it together.  They are ready.  They are upright and awake, but they are relaxed, not anxious, even though none of us knows when that earthquake will come.

That is the message that Jesus left with us about his return.  Orthodox Christian theology affirms that there will be a Day of the Lord, a time when God will judge between all people, a time when true justice will reign on the earth.  The old, corrupt order of things—the world as we know it—will be swept away, and there will be a new order based on God’s love and justice.  Christians believe that it is Jesus who will come to act as God’s judge and king.  Advent means “coming,” and on the first Sunday of Advent, we don’t look back to the first coming of Jesus, a baby in the manger, but we look forward to the second coming of Jesus, at a time no one can predict, to complete God’s work in Creation.

That’s what Jesus was talking about in our scripture lesson today.  He began by telling us we shouldn’t even bother trying to predict when this would occur.  Jesus said, “You can’t know, the angels can’t know, I don’t even know.  Life will just go on as it has from the beginning.  You’ll eat, you’ll drink, you’ll marry and give in marriage.  And it will take you all by surprise.  And so, in that sort of situation, there is only one thing you can do.  Stay awake, stay alert.  Live your life, but be ready.”

Jesus did not leave us with any elaborate scheme for preparing for his second advent.  Jesus did not tell us to store up food and water, or to plan an evacuation route.  There are no secret contingency plans for that day.  Just keep awake.

There is a story about St. Francis of Assisi that says he was weeding his garden when someone asked him, “What would you do if you knew Jesus was returning tomorrow?”

St. Francis said, “I would finish weeding my garden.”

That, I believe, is the posture for waiting that Jesus intends.  Though the past helps to make us what we are, and we hope and plan for a future reality of God’s choosing, we have only the present.  The best way for us to keep awake is to live in the present God has given us.  It is the only time we have in which to share God’s love, the only time in which to be faithful as we follow Jesus.  There is only now.  To worry too much about the future coming of Jesus is pointless, since we are not in control of his coming.  To be listless and lazy and asleep is a waste of the time and the life God has given to us.

The problem for a lot of people is that it isn’t a very exciting way to think about the End of Days.  Some of us want signs and wonders and spectacular earth-shaking events.  We want secret knowledge and ways to determine who will be taken and who will be left behind.  Jesus just takes the whole drama out of it.  Life will be ordinary.  There will be no way for you to know when it will happen, and then, just like that, it’s all done.  So the only sensible thing is to be ready, but not anxious, nervous or preoccupied with the end because that’s not what it’s all about.  It’s about being disciples of Jesus now, weeding the garden, enjoying your morning cup of coffee, tossing the Frisbee to your cat, reading to your granddaughter, sharing your food with the hungry, your clothes with the naked, a cup of cold water with the least of these and encouraging the brokenhearted.  Do those things and you will be ready for that day.  Live fully the life God has given to you now, and you won’t need to worry that the day of judgment will steal upon you like a thief in the night.

Like The Big One, it’s coming, but when, who knows?  So therefore, the posture of your waiting should fall somewhere in the middle, between two extremes.  Don’t live life on the edge of your seat.  No one can keep that up for too long.  Your nerves will be frayed by the end of the week.  And don’t doze off like grandpa after Thanksgiving dinner.  You’ve been given the gift of life, so you should take advantage of it.  Live life somewhere in between.  Be calm and confident, knowing that you are living as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.  Be relaxed, but keep awake.

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