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Sermon Series: Be Ready!
Ready, Set...WaitNovember 24, 2011 - November 27, 2011 Printer-friendly version
“Hello darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping in, Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remain, Within the sound of silence.” Simon and Garfunkel’s classic “The Sound of Silence” echoes still with its prophetic tone.
Being a prophet has never been easy. Since I first heard Peter Drucker, the great student of American business, name the four most difficult jobs in our society, I have not let go of what he said. Drucker said the four are being president of the United States, being president of a university, being CEO of a hospital, and being a local church pastor. I haven’t been the first three, but I know the fourth one well (and the first three get paid a lot more than a pastor). Drucker didn’t name being a prophet, probably because it is not a job in any normal sense. Prophets don’t sign contracts, draw regular paychecks and benefits, and answer to voters, boards of directors, or church officers. At best, they speak God’s searing truth, which most people don’t much want to hear. Back to Simon and Garfunkel:
“And the people bowed and prayed, To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning, In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls. And whisper'd in the sounds of silence.”
That sounds prophetic to me. God calls and uses prophets throughout the Bible. And God warns against false prophets. False prophets may tickle our ears with sensational words and images, but their words are not accurate and bear no fruit. The Lord warns through Micah: “Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them.”
(Micah 3:6.) The true prophet of the Lord will speak truth, which often makes the prophet of the Lord unpopular. The false prophets will bring darkness on themselves and those that listen to them.
The disciples always wanted Jesus to tell them when. “Tell us when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3b.) It seems to be part of our nature to want to know when. When will Christmas day come? When can I open my presents? When are we going to Disney World? When will I get that job? When will Jesus return in power and glory? We can’t be too harsh on the disciples; we would like to know too. But we do note that they didn’t learn this lesson readily. When Jesus has risen and finished his earthly ministry, about to return to his heavenly ministry, here they go again: “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.’” (Acts 1:6-7.)
Jesus does answer, but doesn’t tell them when. Jesus answers what they need to hear, not what they wanted to hear. Isn’t it frustrating when Jesus does that to us? We want to know what we want to know and he tells us what we need to know. Bummer! No, it is far better that we hear what we need to know than what we want to know. Waiting is good. It seems much of this journey of following Jesus is like being told, “Ready, set, wait.” Good. I don’t like waiting either, but I need to wait. God does good things in our waiting.
Matthew 24 is before us today and will be next Sunday. It is often called the little apocalypse, reminding us the Revelation. It is filled with images, signs, wonders, and warnings. And it never answers just when, but instead, far better, calls us to live in readiness, alert and watchful. “Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you.’”
(Matthew 24:4.) When people like Harold Camping try to tell us when Jesus will return, daring to name dates, we hear this word from Jesus: “Watch out that no one deceives you.” The call is to be ready, alert, and watchful.
We live between his two great comings: Bethlehem in our past and his great appearing in our future. How do we live in the tension? Jesus tells us: Be ready; watch and wait. Global events often feel the fulfillment of these words of Jesus about wars and rumors of wars, and international conflict. Since last Advent there have been any number of earthquakes, some major. Governments along the Mediterranean coast of Africa have suddenly been overturned before cries for freedom: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. How do we interpret these? We watch and wait, not knowing the when of God’s working. “All these are the beginning of birth pains,” Jesus said. (Matthew 24:8.) I know enough about birth pains—second hand, to be sure—to know that they do not accurately tell exactly when the baby will be born. Before the birth of our first daughter we had the car running in the driveway for two hours! And that did not hasten her birth. Neither did my sleep-walking. The birth pains led to something glorious, but not without waiting and watching. And the pains were painful.
Advent slows us down and calls us to resist the call to the crass commercialization of holy time and space. There will be time for some shopping, decorating the tree, stringing the lights, and serving others. There will be time, even as the days grow shorter and the darkness longer. There will be time for all that is important. And there will be time for waiting. Waiting and watching in readiness.
Every Advent I find myself drawn to a little poem called “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon. It draws on everyday images, simple and routine, finally bringing them together before God. Notice the repeated use of the refrain, “let evening come,” reminding us that darkness need not frighten us.
Let the light of late afternoon shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing as a woman takes up her needles/ and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den. Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop in the oats, to the air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don't be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless,
so let evening come.
A couple of months ago the son-in-law of John and Carol Goodermote, members of this body, was in a terrible accident out west. John Ramstead wrote this week: “It has been over a month since my last brain surgery. . . . On September 9th when I awoke from the accident on the ground next to the corral fence, panic, fear and overwhelming pain consumed me. Surrounding me were people saying that I was going into shock. I could also hear a few people praying. At that moment the spirit of the Lord came over me and a peace and comfort that knows no bounds descended on me. The Lord spoke to me not to fear and that he would heal me and be with me every step of the way. At that point all my fear dissipated. Those that were there told me that I relaxed and waited patiently without complaining for the full hour until the helicopter arrived. It has been life changing having Jesus visit me personally, reach out, and put His hand of love on me. . . . I can say without reservation that God has transformed a tragic accident into a blessing.”
Earlier this year I become enthralled by a short section of Psalm 139. “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:11-12.) So now we get ready and set . . . and wait. But our waiting is without fear of darkness. The light of Christ shines in the darkness.
To contact Harry Heintz about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180