Sunday, November 27th, 2016 – Advent 1 Sermon on Matthew 24:36-44

Matthew 24:36-44
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Are you awake?

Are you awake? That’s the question this morning that you and I are being asked by the gospel of Matthew. Are you awake?

Now, this question can be asked for many different reasons.

It’s the question we ask a spouse in the middle of the night, when fear has crept in. Are you awake?

It’s the question we ask a friend at a campsite when it’s time to hit the trail. Are you awake?

It’s the question black Americans are asking white Americans, when it comes to seeing the racial disparity in this country. Are you awake?!

But Matthew…Matthew is asking this question because he doesn’t want his people to miss something. He wants them to watch and pay attention.

Are you awake? Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Don’t miss the arrival of the Lord.

Now, Matthew gospel’s is trying to do something to us here. He is trying to churn up a feeling here in the reader and this call to wakefulness is meant to sound like good news. But too often we hear it otherwise.

But too often the feeling felt is fear. We hear this text about no one knowing the hour when the Lord will come, and what we hear is Matthew saying that when the Lord shows up it will be as violent as the flood in the days of Noah, and as seemingly random as one worker in the field and one woman grinding meal being vacuumed up into heaven, with the others left behind. We hear that it will be as terrifyingly frightening as a home invader.

That’s what we hear.

But that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about fear.

Now, we might think that if these examples aren’t supposed to make us afraid, then Matthew was just terrible at analogies.

But we have to admit and recognize that we bring our own baggage into this one.

We have been taught by society of this moment called the rapture. When “the end” is coming, when Jesus tears through the heavens to take back all of the chosen people, and to leave behind all the rest. It is an image of the world going through a time of trials and tribulations from which the faithful and the chosen (whoever they are) get an excused absence.

And the idea for this comes right from our reading in Matthew that we just heard. “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

And wow, does this rapture idea have a grip on us. Many of you remember Y2K and the excitement around the year 2000. How afraid everyone was of what was going to happen? And then in the last couple of years, there has been prediction after prediction after prediction of the end of the world. It has inspired an entire series of books that people waited hours and hour and hours in line for like it was the next Harry Potter. HBO has a hit show called The Leftovers based on this very idea. And people can be so certain about the rapture and where they fit into it all, that they will proclaim it through their bumper stickers. One bumper sticker says: Warning: In case of the rapture, the driver of this car will disappear. And then others mock this idea saying: When the rapture comes, can I have your car?

First off, the word rapture doesn’t even exist in the Bible. Secondly, much of this understanding of the rapture comes from a 19th century priest named John Nelson Darby, who wrote it into a bible commentary.

He uses this Scripture as a case for it. But if we look closely, I think we can at least poke a few holes in this frightening idea of the end of the world.

To start, we might remind ourselves of the opening words of our reading: But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Jesus says that no one knows. Not even Jesus! So, when anyone wants to tell you that they know when the world will end, you remind them of Jesus’ words – no one knows. Not even Jesus.

But then also notice, if the rapture is about taking away the saved, the elect…look again at Matthew’s examples. In the example of Noah, those who are taken away are swept away in floodwater, surely assumed to drown.

With the workers in the field and the women grinding meal, nowhere does it say what happens to those who are taken. It doesn’t say they are rushed safely off to heaven somewhere.

And that third example, where the one who is asleep will have their home broken into….remember Matthew is saying, “Keep awake!” which to follow the analogy would say, “Keep awake to prevent a thief in the night.”

If we make this text about the so-called rapture (which doesn’t exist in scripture), and the elected Chosen being taken by God, and the leftovers abandoned by God, and the rampant amount of fear, then we distort and miss Matthew’s point.

This isn’t about fear. Remember, God calls us to love and love casts out fear. So this isn’t about fear.

This is about surprise.

This is about anticipation.

Why? To wake up the people! You see, Matthew is writing to a community about 50 years after Jesus’ death. And like many Christians back then, they were expecting Jesus to return to them for quite some time. And not only that – Jerusalem has been destroyed, the temple lay in ruins, the Roman Empire has taken over everything. And nothing changed for a long time.

Imagine what it would be like to keep the faith then?

We get what that’s like. It’s been two thousand years later. Is anyone actively waiting for Jesus’ return anymore? I’m not. And day after day we get lulled by the same old stuff. The same yogurt for breakfast. The same commute to work. The same problems at home. The same rejection letters in the mail. The same medication in the morning, and then again at night. The same dysfunctional government, the same people ranting on Facebook, the same coffee at church.

And day after day after day of that? You’d start to get discouraged and a little sleepy too. Does any of this matter? Will this ever change?

Matthew knows his people are weary and drowsy in the faith, uncertain if Jesus is ever coming back. Uncertain if this life of faith is worth it. So what does Matthew do? He wakes them up!

He uses what are called apocalyptic writings, that are designed to stun and stand out. Writing that make your ears perk up and your eyes open wide. Writings designed to disrupt the predictability of their lives and to inspire hope for a new future. Writings that generate a sense of surprise and uncertainty and wonder that challenge their assumptions about how life will be and then instead open the door to new possibilities.

This about Matthew saying to them, “Something is about to happen here, so keep awake. I don’t want you to miss it because it will be as sudden as the flood of Noah, as unexpected as a person who is there one minute and gone the next, as subtle as a thief in the night. Keep awake!”

Matthew isn’t churning up fear. He’s churning up a feeling of surprise and anticipation and hope, that tomorrow might be different from today. That things won’t always be the way that they are.

Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

And then in the very next chapter, Matthews tells a story about Jesus telling a parable. And Jesus says to his disciples, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” And the people ask, “Lord, when was it that we saw you?” Remember, Matthew’s community is asking, “When will we see Jesus?” To which he said, “Just as you did it to the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Keep awake for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. He might becoming back through a spectacle in the clouds, or he might be standing right in front of you as a neighbor in need. Keep awake, Matthew says.

Jesus might come back some day in the clouds and with the trumpet calling, but don’t go looking for it. It’s a waste of time – no one knows. Instead, be awake now. Which is where God is already present. Before Jesus ever shows up in the clouds, Jesus will first appear just around the corner, suddenly, like a refugee family in need of a car, or like a neighborhood kid in need of a warm welcome, or like a co-worker with cancer in need of a friend.[1]

That’s where Jesus will show up! in the places of suffering in this world to stand alongside, and then to call us to action.

And that’s how it is. God is coming to this place not a second time. But a third and a forth, and millions and billions of times. God is always coming near to us. Always. And when God shows up, God will always ask

something of you. For some bread to eat or water to drink. For pajamas to endure the cold winter nights or for a late-night run to the pharmacy to break the fever. Or take a nod from Isaiah, he will ask us take that which brings death and turn it into that which brings life. Swords into ploughshares. Spears into pruning hooks. Drones into… Handguns into…

Jesus is always showing up. And all of this is to say that you have a part in this. So keep awake.

It’s what we are saying when baptizing Evelyn this morning. We baptize her into a world where Christ is always coming to her. And where Christ is also giving her a part to play in the kingdom of heaven. To do things for the sake of a better world. I wonder what will be the swords and the spears of her generation.

May we teach her not to be afraid of the second coming of Jesus, but rather teach her to trust that God is always coming to her. And may we teach her to be brave enough to respond when God calls upon her in need.

Are you awake? You don’t want to miss this.


[1] Feasting on the Word, Vol 1, Year A, David Bartlett.


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