Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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Live In The Day

Romans 13:11-14 and Matthew 24:36-44

 Paul’s message to the Romans was, “Time is running out!”  It’s interesting how people respond to the pressure of time.  None of us really like to fail at any appointed task, but we do react differently to deadlines.  On the wall at my doctor’s office there is a sign that reads, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can put off till the day after tomorrow.”  I think it’s funny and appropriate.  She’s always running late.  On the other hand, there’s the old saying, “The early bird catches the worm.”  But as some people have pointed out, “Who really wants a worm anyway?”  

 I’ve personally been on both sides of this equation.  When I was in high school, I was a serious procrastinator.  I would never begin a writing assignment until the day before it was due.  And it was not unusual for me to be up till 2 AM, 3 AM, 4 AM even, the day before I had a paper due.  Of course, that was when I was capable of staying up till 2 AM.  Was it a good strategy?  No.  But I never got burned.  I always managed to get it done and pass.  

 Then when I got to college, I found religion.  I figured it was more difficult work; I had better start working ahead.  And I did.  I’d start working on assignments the first week of school that weren’t due till mid-semester.  If anything, I’ve gone to the opposite extreme.  I like to work two months ahead on sermons.  I find it helpful because then they roll around in my head for a while and I think of new things.  But even still, sometimes I need a deadline to get me motivated.  

 Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel, “No one knows the day or hour.”  Not to point fingers, but quite frankly, there are some folks out there who need to read that line more than I do!  If Jesus says, “No one knows,” then it is nothing less than an affront to God to speculate.  And there is plenty of speculation out there.  There’s the whole “Blood Moons” thing from the last couple years.  A couple summers ago I received a letter with a timeline for the end of the world with it.  And there have been many people who have predicted the time of Christ’s return.  

 The fact of the matter is that God tells us what we need to know, not necessarily everything we want to know.  And when it comes to the time of Christ’s return, the answer is “We don’t know.”  End of story.

 For that matter, when it comes to our own times, none of us know.  On Sunday, September 25, which was about when I started working on this message (I told you I

liked to work two months ahead!), the sports world was saddened by the death of Arnold Palmer, golfing legend, who died at the age of 87.  Sad, yes, but 87 is a respectable number.  No one was really surprised.  But on that same day, Jose Fernandez, pitcher for the Miami Marlins, died in a boating accident at the age of 24.  No one expected that.  Just one more reminder that there is no certainty when it comes to life and death.  

 It wouldn’t be good for us to know these things either.  I think history has shown us that groups who claim to know “the end is near” tend to disengage from the world rather than engage.  In Jesus’ day, it was the Essenes.  They went out in the desert to wait for the end.  Or there was the Heaven’s Gate cult from 1997.  They went into seclusion before committing mass suicide when they thought the end had come.  More recently, I read about some folks who quit their jobs and sold their homes in anticipation of someone else’s return of Christ prophecy.

 But the opposite danger is real as well.  We can get so caught up in this life that we lose any perspective on eternity.  I think that’s what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of “the days of Noah.”  Noah worked on the ark for 120 years.  That’s a long time.  The Bible doesn’t really tell us anything about what else was happening at that time, but there was an extensive Jewish tradition about all the wickedness in those days.  Jesus just summarizes by saying people were going to weddings, parties, and banquets.  They were enjoying “the good life” right up to the day when Noah went into the ark.  It begs the question, “Didn’t anyone stop to say, ‘Hey, Noah!  What’s with the boat?’”  It appears the answer is no.  Or if they did ask, they didn’t believe or didn’t do anything about the answer.

 Both Jesus and Paul use the imagery of sleeping.  Sleeping was a way of talking about someone who is living without an awareness of spiritual things.  They are only concerned with temporary things.  It is a picture of complacency.  

 Most ancient people believed that history was cyclical.  It just kept going around.  Nothing ever really changed.  But the biblical concept of history is that it is going somewhere.  It has a purpose, a goal.  And on the Day of the Lord, everything will change.  So God’s people need to be prepared.  

 Since we don’t know when Christ will return, or for that matter, when we will die, we need to keep alert and watchful.  Because when Christ does return, it will be like a thief in the night.  No one will expect it.  

 The language of a thief in the night is an image of danger.  According to the Old Testament Law in Exodus, if a thief broke into your home during the day, and you killed the thief, you would be charged with murder.  But if the thief broke in during the night, you could kill the thief with impunity.  Why?  Because it’s dark.  You have no way of knowing if thief is armed or what his intentions were.  

 The return of Christ is dangerous for those who are unprepared.  And obviously, death is a danger for those who are spiritually unprepared as well.  Jesus goes on to talk about two men working in the field.  One is taken, the other left.  Two women grinding grain. One is taken, the other left.  The image is one of sudden judgment.  There is no time to get ready when it happens.  And some people who die have no time to get ready either.  

 By the way, this is one of a handful of passages in the Scriptures used to support the idea of rapture.  Rapture is the idea that Christ returns to take away his faithful people before things get too bad on earth.  Then he returns again a short time later for judgment.  So in the rapture idea, Jesus comes back twice.  I think it’s important to say that before the 19th century, no one believed in rapture.  There is no support in Scripture for Jesus “coming back twice.”  And in this passage, the normal use of the word “taken” means taken away for judgment, not taken up to heaven to escape from difficulty.  

 The real point of the image is that we need to be prepared at all times.  We don’t know when Christ will return or when we will die, so we need to be ready spiritually at all times.  

 When I was a young Christian, I was convinced that Jesus’ return was imminent.  I thought it would happen during my lifetime, and likely within the next few years.  One of the things that I worried about was, “Well, what if Jesus comes back and I’m doing something wrong when he does?  Do I still go to heaven, even if I don’t have the chance to repent?”  I look back on that now, and I realize that was the wrong way of thinking.  The better way of thinking is, “Why am I tolerating wrong things in my life?”  That is not being watchful if we are allowing sin to creep into our lives and find a safe home there.  

 In Romans 13, Paul says, “Don’t live in the darkness.  Get rid of your evil deeds.  Shed them like dirty clothing.”  That is a satisfying image, isn’t it?  Doesn’t it feel good to take off dirty clothes and get into something clean after exercising or working?  

 “The night is almost gone.”  Night here refers to “this present age,” the world as we know it.  “The day is almost here.” One of the descriptions of the age to come, which we find in Zechariah and Revelation, is that there will be no night.  It will be a continual day.  “The day is almost here, so get rid of the deeds of darkness like wild parties, drunkenness, adultery, immorality, fighting, and jealousy.”  

 Those are the deeds of darkness.  Not just because they are sinful, but because they tend to happen at night.  Someone told me one time that “nothing good happens in a bar after midnight.”  I’ll take them at their word.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in a bar after midnight.  I turn into a pumpkin at 9:30.  I don’t wait for midnight like Cinderella.    

 The Jewish people in the first century had a pretty low opinion of Gentile behavior.  They had this picture that Gentiles spent all their time in wild parties, drinking, and carousing.  The truth was that they weren’t far off the mark when it came to the upper classes.  First century Rome wasn’t too different from modern day Las Vegas.  There was a lot of drinking, gluttony, and sexual promiscuity.  

 Paul also mentions “fighting” on this list of deeds of darkness, and I think he means that in the sense of quarreling and bickering and backstabbing.  I find that appropriate since he also talks about “putting on the armor of righteousness.”  Why do people wear armor?  To go to war, to fight.  But we are to fight the good fight, the righteous cause. There is so much evil and injustice and oppression in this world.  That’s our fight, not quarreling with each other.  Unfortunately, most churches do a lot more of the latter than actually engaging with the world around them.  

 I said earlier that groups which think “the end is near” have a tendency to disengage from the world.  The truth is that the nearness of Christ’s return should motivate us to engage more with the world, to fight injustice, to proclaim the truth, to alleviate suffering.  We are people of the light.  So we should live into the light of the day that is dawning, not accommodate to the night of this world that is passing.  Our job as children of the light is to transform the world by our influence.  

Verse of the Day...