Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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Keep Watching

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 and Mark 13:24-37

 The Christian year begins and ends with the same focus:  The return of Christ.  And that’s where we are right now.  One Christian year ended last Sunday with Christ the King Sunday, and the new one begins today with the first Sunday in Advent.  So there’s a reason pretty much all the lectionary texts in the last month or so have dealt, in some way, with the return of Christ.  

 I think our focus tends to gravitate to one thing when we talk about the return of Christ:  When?  When is it going to happen?  Especially when Scripture puts talk of his return side-by-side with talk of turmoil, wars, natural disasters, and the persecution of believers.  Every time we think we see those things on the rise in the world, we wonder, “Could this be it?”  

 And then of course, people start making predictions.  I think it’s important to point out that, so far, they’ve all been wrong.  

 In my clergy study group that I’ve been a part of since the beginning of the year, we got talking one time about the return of Christ.  One of the pastors, who just retired, told the story that, many years ago, he was given a copy of a book about “88 Reasons Christ why will return in 1988.”  He never read it, but he kept it.  And year after year, he pulled that book out when it came to this time of the year and the lectionary texts dealt with the return of Christ.  It was his object lesson to make the point that no one knows, so stop trying to guess.  

 I think the guesses do more harm than good, especially since there have been so many wrong guesses.  They’ve lost all their impact.  They’re just laughed off now.  I don’t think many people give them any credibility anymore.  And I think they make us Christians look just a little bit like nutcases.  I mean, I know the Bible says that the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but I don’t think that means we’re supposed to help make that case!  

 I don’t think many people are convinced by “end of the world” predictions.  Over the years I’ve heard a few stories of people who give their lives to Christ out of fear over some prediction, but not many.  And I wonder what happens to those who hear a prediction, believe it, and then go overboard with it.  I’ve heard stories of people quitting their jobs, selling their houses, and so on.  I’d have to think a lot of those folks get pretty jaded toward the Church.  

 And of course, some people right now are again predicting it’s going to happen.  So let’s go to the authority:  Jesus, what do you have to say?  “No one knows the day or hour.  Not the angels or the Son but only the Father.”  That should settle it.

 “But what about the fig tree?  Don’t we know his return is near when we see these events happening?”  

 Yes, these kind of events; wars, disasters, and so on; show that Christ’s return is near.  But these kind of events have always happened.  And I think that reminds us that his return is always close at hand.  It’s been close at hand for almost 2000 years, and it will be close at hand until it happens.

 The prophecy that sets the whole chapter in motion is the predicted destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  Some people think we’ll know the end is near when the Temple is rebuilt, because then it can be destroyed again.  I doubt it.  That’s our way of thinking.  We think in terms of time.  If two events are mentioned side-by-side, we think they’re going to happen side-by-side.  The Hebrew mind was more likely to associate events according to type than time.  The destruction of the Temple was emblematic of the kinds of events that will happen in the last days.  

 The focus of this chapter is not on the when, it’s on the what.  What do we do while Jesus is away?  It’s like a man going on a long journey.  He tells his servants what to do and he tells the gatekeeper to be watchful.  

 We know what to do.  We make disciples of Jesus until he returns.  We work to transform the world according to the goodness, the grace, and the justice of God.  

 And we are to be watchful.  We are to keep our faith strong.  We are to stay away from sin and grow in our relationship with God.  

We know what to do, and we have the tools to do it.  In 1 Corinthians, we read Paul’s “eucharist,” his thanksgiving for the Church in that city.  These are the nice words Paul has for the Corinthian Christians so that he can gain their ears.  He puts them first, because not all the words he has for them are quite so nice!    

He says to them, “God has been generous to you.  You have been gifted and enriched.  You have the gift of speech to proclaim God’s word.  You have the gift of knowledge.  You know the truth.  It has set you free.  You have all the gifts you need until he returns.  And he will strengthen you.  His Spirit will sustain your faith and your

labor.  And his grace will cover over your sins so that you will be blameless when he appears.”  

We don’t know when. But we know what.  We know what to do until Christ returns.  And we know how.  We will do it through the gifts of God.

Friends, we are not in Corinth, but every word of that message rings true for us.  We have the gifts we need to do God’s work.  We have the knowledge of the truth and the skill to proclaim it.  We have the help of God’s Spirit to do his will.  We have no excuses.  

The real question is not, “When is Jesus coming back?”  The real question, “Do we believe that we are able to do his work until he does?”  

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