— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~ First Sunday of Advent ~~~
“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
There are certain situations that put me to sleep. There are times when the journey from wide-awake to drowsy to slumber is short and sweet. And you might be saying to yourself – Me too, and one of those times is just getting started.
For me after a long day of work, if I come home and sit down on the sofa with a magazine or book and the family is otherwise engaged, I start to nod off. After a holiday meal, if there is a football game on the television that only interest me a little bit, well, a long winter’s nap is not far behind.
I don’t feel guilty about sleeping. We all need the refreshment that sleep brings us. And, in fact, sleep can be seen as an act of faith, an acknowledgment that the world will survive without us for a few hours. Sleep can be understood as an affirmation that the world is in good hands not our own. There is a beautiful prayer in our Book of Common Worship that is used during “Prayer at the Close of Day” service. The second part of the prayer is this:
…As your creatures are lying down in the wood,
as the bird is quiet in its nest
and the wild thing in its hole,
as the stream is still in its bed
reflecting the great expanse of stars above,
may we in our sleep reflect our confidence in you,
and our assurance in your constant peace.
In our sleep give us that deeper communion of our souls
with you who restores unto health.
For your name’s sake. Amen
This is gospel; so, understood with a faithful mind and heart, sleep, like Sabbath rest, is a reminder that God is ultimately in charge of the universe and the stillness of our activities in the world will not lead to an unraveling of God’s wonderful creation.
This parable, then, …like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch…therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come… this parable is not encouraging us to live our lives in fitful pacing and sleepless anxiety over just when will all hell break loose because the Lord will ride into town any minute and I may be asleep at my watch.
I think many of us during this pandemic have had to consciously make time for calm. Worry and anxiety about keeping loved ones safe, about keeping work place safe, about keeping worshiping communities safe has led to rising levels of unease and insomnia born of the uncertainty of the virulent virus inhabiting our world and our bodies. COVID-19 is forcing us to find ways to slow down our worrisome minds and to rest in a peace that passes understanding. It is possible and necessary lest we find ourselves in even greater dis-ease.
This parable is not promoting fitfulness and anxiety in the face of concerning circumstances in our world.
And the story is most assuredly not encouraging us to be consumed with fear as to the date of the second coming of Christ and the end of the world as we know it. There are far too many preachers, writers, and others making a pretty good living by playing on the fears of the crowds that the end times are here. Too many people are bunkering down for the battle of Armageddon – stock piling food and ammunition, and all with the preachers’ blessings and encouragements.
I think these verses in Mark are helpful for us anytime someone is trying to sell us on fears of the world’s end. Jesus, according to Mark, says this: But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. There is no reason to panic about the end times. God holds the future in God’s loving hands.
There is a problem here and I realize it. The few times in my life that I have preached using the phrase “the Second Coming of Christ,” without fail I have had people come up to me after the sermon and say something along the line of “do we still believe in that?” or “I don’t believe in the Second Coming…” etc… I understand this problem with the language. It does seem a little fundamentalistic or apocalyptic to speak of Jesus returning in the clouds on a moonless night and sunless day with stars falling from the sky. After all, it has been 2000 years. And we just don’t believe, do we, in such primitive mythology?
Well, I guess I don’t believe it in a literalistic way, but I do believe there are important truths captured in the language.
I do believe that God holds all of history in God’s hands!
I do believe that ultimately God’s purposes will be worked out!
I do believe that Jesus remains in love with this world
and will continue to work to bring the world
into peace and wholeness!
And, for me, that is what it means to speak of the Second Coming of Jesus. I don’t know when it will be, what it will look like, or even how it will be. In fact, the Second Coming may be a series of six billion partial second comings in the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, the naked, the broken and in those who reach out in compassion to the least of these. I don’t know. But I trust that God remains at work in the world!
We don’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, but Jesus does say “keep awake!” Jesus is telling us to keep awake spiritually by loving God and loving our neighbor. We are not to become drowsy or apathetic or listless or indifferent or lazy in our attempts to be in closer relationship with God and neighbor. Unlike the one talented man who buried his talent in the ground and wasted his gift and his time, we are to be vigilant in our development as faithful followers of Jesus – never indifferent to our spiritual walk with God and our call to serve our neighbor, especially the hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, strangers, sick and unattended. This parable invites us to be spiritually wide-awake to the presence of God in this world.
Here’s a story from this week’s news
that captures what might be one of
many second comings of Jesus in glory …
a reminder that God is still present and working among us.
In 1990 Paul Winestock was arrested and indicted as the head of a loose-knit drug organization and sentenced to two life terms, without the possibility of parole. More than two decades later, with a change in federal sentencing rules and good behavior, Winestock was released from prison in 2013. He decided that when he got out of prison he wanted to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
What he did was get a business license and he started an industrial cleaning company. He also created a non-profit organization called “Saving Our Next Generation” to connect youth, people reentering society from prison, and members of the LGBTQ community with mentoring and job training. He’s been successful in these endeavors.
This past Sunday Winestock was scooping mashed potatoes into plastic to-go boxes, drizzling gravy onto slices of turkey, and shoveling green beans into each box. He was also out distributing free masks in front of his restaurant and the Family Dollar Store across the street in Ward 5 of Washington, D.C. He then went down the street to his event space called “Fun It Up” to check on a group of women learning how to apply eyelash extensions. Winestock had dreamed of all of this while in prison and when he came out he went to work. He and a group of volunteers he organized will distribute over 3000 meals by Thanksgiving day and thousands of masks to his community disproportionately ravaged by the Corona-virus.
Rodney Elmore, 57, helped fill a minivan with boxes of Thanksgiving meals. He was released from prison three months ago – he served 20 years for armed burglary – upon getting out of prison he met Winestock. “I didn’t think the door would open up, but it did,” Elmore said. “I’m doing something for the community. I like that.”
Arnetta Jackson, 50, works for the Clean Team, Winestock’s cleaning service that contracts with various District government agencies. She’s cleaning the same streets on which she once used PCP and heroin. She hasn’t touched drugs in 19 years. “It feels good to give back,” Jackson said while encouraging people passing through the neighborhood to take a mask. “You never know who you might be saving. Just because you say, ‘hello’ or ‘I love you,’ you never know who you might save.”
The group’s first stop delivering meals last Sunday was Langston Additions – a public housing complex in Northeast Washington. Winestock shouted at the brick houses – “Family, come on out!” And they did! (Lauren Lumpkin, Washington Post,11/23/2020)
Keep awake for you do not know
the day or the hour of the master’s return.
He might be an ex-convict loading meals into a mini-van.
She might be a recovering heroin addict handing you a mask
while saying “I love you.”
He might be an ex-inmate who had dreams of service to his brothers and sisters in his community shouting
“Family come out!”
So, on this Sunday of Advent, we pray: “Lord, keep us awake!”
May we be always alert to your presence in our lives
through the touch and care of others.
May we always be alert to our opportunities
to be part of the second coming of our Lord into the lives
of those who need a hand of compassion and grace.
May it be so. Amen.