Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Ready to Wait

Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37, and 1st Corinthians 1:3-9

 Advent is here, and it’s the beginning of a new year in the life of the Church, a time to think about Christ’s coming.  In a way, Advent is kind of backwards.  You see, we begin Advent by thinking about Christ’s second coming, and we end Advent in reflection on his first coming.  That seems a little backwards to me, but since Advent ends with Christmas, that’s the way it has to be.

 There has always been an interest in the second coming of Christ.  Even in the pages of the New Testament, we see people eager for his return.  And that interest seems to grow especially in difficult times.  The American Civil War and the World Wars were times in American history when the interest in the return of Christ peaked.  

 It seems to me that there is more interest in it today, as well.  Just recently we had a new version of the movie “Left Behind” in theatres.  No, I didn’t go see it.  I’ve only been to a movie theater once in the last 8 years!  But, if we just look around the world, we can see why people might be interested in “the end of the world.”  We’ve got this disease, Ebola, that could potentially wipe out a large part of the world population if it were to become a pandemic.  We’ve got renewed threats of international terrorism from groups like ISIS.  And we are still in the midst of a poor economy.  All of those could be seen as “signs of the end.”  

 I also wonder if part of our interest in Christ’s return stems from a diminished place of the Church in society.  We no longer enjoy a privileged place in the American landscape.  People are no longer expected to go to church, and I think we’re seeing the first signs of the Christian faith becoming a persecuted minority in our society.  And there is a level of “escapism” in talking about the end of the world.  We might be tempted to say or think something like, “Things are getting bad here.  So I’m just holding on till Jesus comes back, and then I am outta here!”  

 The idea of rapture especially betrays this idea of escapism.  Rapture theology says that before things get REALLY bad, Jesus will come back and take away all his faithful people, so that we won’t have to endure the really bad stuff, and then Jesus will return a third time on the Day of Judgment.  Here’s the problem:  The whole idea of rapture is built on only two passages of Scripture, Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4, both of which can be interpreted in other ways.  Up until the 18th century, nobody believed in a rapture.  Belief in the rapture really took off during the American Civil War,

no doubt the darkest time in our history.  So, no, I don’t believe in the rapture.  I believe in the return of Christ, but not the rapture as it’s presented in “Left Behind.”  

 But the Scriptures do make it very clear that Christ will return.  That is a promise of God, and God keeps his promises in his own timing.  Jesus tells us that our job is not to know the day or time, or even to take guesses at it, but our job is to be watchful and prepared for his return.  

 Since no one knows the day or time, we must be like those servants minding the house while the master is away.  This idea of household servants being watchful and ready while the master is away was a familiar first century image of preparedness.  There were no cell phones.  There was no email.  So if you were waiting for someone to return, you just had to keep watch.  While he is gone, the servants have work to do.  So they’d best be alert, ready, even if the master returns in the middle of the night.  

 This was especially true for the gatekeeper.  The gatekeeper had an important responsibility.  He was the one who kept track of who and what came into and went out of the master’s house.  And if we as Christians have responsibility to look out for the spiritual welfare of other people, members of our church, our Sunday School class, our family, then we also have a great responsibility.  

 Don’t get caught sleeping.  Don’t get caught falling away from your walk with Jesus Christ.  Don’t get caught straying away from the life of faith and obedience.  Be watchful and ready at all times.

 In 1st Corinthians, Paul has a similar message for the Church.  In verse 7, he says, “You have every gift you need as wait for the return of Jesus Christ.”  You have what you need to be ready.  You are not lacking anything you need to be ready.

 1st Corinthians begins with what is called a “word of grace,” which was basically a form of greeting.  “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The word grace was used as the typical “Greek” form of greeting.  Peace, SHALOM, was the typical “Hebrew” greeting.  Since Paul is writing to a church with both Greek and Hebrew members, it makes sense to use both.

 But more than that, both are always appropriate for the Church.  Peace is always appropriate.  Jesus promised to give us peace.  And if we do not receive peace from God, then we will not find it in this world.  Not with all the troubles out there.  If we

don’t find a peace from God, I’m afraid we’ll only find fear and uncertainty from the world.  And we won’t have peace with God, not as long as we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God.  Peace that lasts is something that only comes from God.

 We also need to receive grace from God.  The prophet Isaiah, whom we heard from earlier, reminds us that if we come to God trusting in our own goodness, we will find that our righteousness is like “filthy rags” in the light of the holiness of God.  Our only hope in the presence of God is to find a righteousness that is not our own, but comes from the grace of God.  We need righteousness from Christ that covers our sins.  

 In light of our need for the grace of God, the most basic posture we can have before God is one of gratitude.  We can never stop thanking God for his gifts.  We can never come before God with anything other than a heart filled with gratitude for all he has done for us.  Maybe this is an appropriate passage for three days after Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is not a day for a follower of Christ.  Thanksgiving is a lifestyle for us. 

 God’s grace saves us, and God’s grace equips us.  Paul reminds the Corinthian Church, and every church, that we are enriched by God.  We are enriched by God to know him and make him known through our profession of faith.  

 The irony of the Corinthian Church is that they spent so much time arguing about which gifts of God were the best that they missed out on the simple wonder that they were so richly gifted.  The Church, the Body of Christ, does not lack any gift that it needs.  We are not lacking what we need to be the people of God and to do the work of God.  God keeps his promises, and he promises to preserve and to equip his Church to the end.  

 Just like that Corinthian Church, the Seward United Methodist Church is equipped by God with every gift we need to accomplish God’s purposes in us and through us.  

 But I’m afraid that today, many churches are more focused on lamenting what they don’t have than being grateful for what they do have.  It’s true that we don’t have some things that we used to have.  We don’t have the influence in our culture as we used to.  We don’t have as many people as we used to.  Most churches don’t have as many young people as they used to.  And we probably don’t have the financial resources that we used to have.  

 At the beginning of the month, I went to pastors’ seminar down at Wesley Seminary in Washington DC.  The opening speaker said something that stuck with me.  He said, “Most churches have three excuses for why they can’t do what God is calling them to do.”

 The first excuse is, “We don’t have enough people.”  But Jesus said, “Where two or three gather, I am there.”  And when Jesus set out to bring in the Kingdom of God, he didn’t gather a 1000 or even a hundred people to do it.  He spent most of his time with just 12 men who changed the world.  

 The second excuse is, “We don’t have the money.”  Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”  And in Haggai 2, God says, “The silver is mine and the gold is mine.”  If it all belongs to God, don’t you think that God can provide it when his people need it?  Besides, many of the things God calls us to do are not about dollars and cents, but about obedience and faithfulness.

 And the third excuse is, “We’re too old.”  Well, God waited till Moses was 80 years old before he gave him his life’s mission.  At 99, Abraham was not too old to become the father of God’s chosen people.  So age is not a good excuse.

 We do not lack what we need to change our community and to change our world for the glory of God.  

 One final note about this passage from 1st Corinthians.  Notice how many times the name Jesus Christ is used.  In one form or another, it’s used six times in seven verses.  That’s a reminder that it’s not about you and it’s not about me.  It’s all about Jesus.  Our excuses are about what we think that we lack.  But the truth is that Jesus lacks nothing and gives everything we need.

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