Sermon Dec. 3, 2017

“I would like a wake-up call, please”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC

Mark 13: 24-37
December 3, 2017

And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.Mark 13:37

We have covered this, right? On November 12th I preached a sermon entitled “Ready.” I talked about the Second Coming and how it is not central to my faith. Indeed, I own life insurance. So how much do I really believe Jesus is coming again before I die?

So why are we picking up on this theme yet again? Three reasons. First, this is the gospel lesson for this Sunday. It was selected for us by the folks who put together The Common Lectionary. So I didn’t select it. It was selected for me. Second, it’s the first Sunday in Advent – a time of expectation and waiting for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. This scripture tells us of a promise God made and a promise God will keep. To ignore the promise is to ignore God’s purpose. Third, because it is a promise to be kept, it provides us directions as to how to live into the future. This, my friends, is our wake-up call.

God’s wake-up calls are all around us. They are woven into the events of our lives. Some are deeply personal. Those caught up in addiction know about wake-up calls as their lives unravel. Those who allow lust to blind them to love find that intimacy is lost in the embrace of the superficial. The abuser who abuses because he or she was abused, knows, perhaps more than most, that abuse has no excuse, that there are countless others who though abused themselves have risen above the pattern. These are God’s wake-up call and though I have spoken of the most egregious, we have all had wake-up calls in our lives – moments of decision when the choice between doing what is right and what is expedient is set starkly before us. Am I right?

And note that Mark 13:24-37 sets the fulfillment of God’s promise within the context of history. It speaks of the end of time when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light…” of stars falling from heaven and of “the powers in the heavens…” being shaken (whatever that means). Now I know. This is pretty bizarre stuff. You might ask, “Is this really going to happen?” I don’t know. But I don’t lose any sleep over it. What is important is the broader reality. God’s wake-up calls take place in history.

The Biblical portrayal of God takes place within the annals of history. For the Bible, God is not some philosophical abstraction detached from the workings of our lives. Far from it. God brought creation into being. God brought Israel out of Egypt. God brought David to the throne. God brought about payment of Israel’s sin by the rise of the Babylonians. God brought forth prophets who spoke of justice. God found virtue in Mary and brought forth the Second Person of the Trinity. God brought a baby into manhood. God brought hope to the hopeless. God brought forth the cross and the empty tomb. Since the beginning of time, God was found within the warp and woof of history.

Modern humanity has a hard time seeing this. The idea that God can be found in the events of history is foreign to our ears. Moderns think that history is the discernment of cause and effect, not the result of a Divine hand. And there is much to be said in favor of this view. It places responsibility at our feet. But there is more at stake than the fulfillment of human destiny. That is why Karl Barth, one of the seminal theologians of the modern era, said that people of faith must have the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other. Simply put, God is not done yet. The “inbreaking” of God happens in the course of history. That is what is being said in Mark 13:24-37.

Look now for contemporary wake-up calls. These are the places where God expects Christians to respond.

  • The systematic annihilation of the Rohingya in Myanmar where torture, murder, rape, and the burning of villages has caused 600,000 (250,000 of whom are children) to flee their homes.
  • One in seven Americans are hungry.
  • “According to The New York Times, the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.”
  • It is projected that by the end of this year, global carbon emissions will reach 41 billion tons per year.
  • More than 33,000 people die in firearm-related deaths in the United States every year, according to an annual average compiled from C.D.C. data. (Nov 4, 2017) If we say the population of Bradford is approximately 3,000, it would take the death of 11 Bradford’s to equal one-year’s total.
  • War and rumors of war abound. Just this past week North Korea launched a missile with the capability of striking anywhere in the United States.
  • Our government is mired in corruption. Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Richard Gates – all indicted.

The world is giving us God’s wake-up call.

It is for you and me to decide how we will respond. Clearly, on a personal and global level we need to awaken. We can’t blame the front desk for forgetting to call. Let us pray…

Mark 13:24-37  “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 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.”  28From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 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.  35 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, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.  37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”