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Advent 1 2019 – Coming, ready or not!

READING: Matthew 24:36-44

SERMON

I WONDER IF YOU EVER PLAYED “HIDE AND SEEK”?

Most kids seem to have.

You see it in movies too – the seeker counts to 20 and the hiders scramble for cover.

The key line is supposed to come after the counting to 20 – or whatever period is agreed upon by the players.

Do you remember what it is? “Coming, ready or not!”

Tom Wright tells the story of when he was a bishop living in this historical house. And one Saturday when the family were all at home having a lazy day – reading and snoozing, with lunch bits and pieces not yet put in the kitchen and a general muddle everywhere, the doorbell rang. He answered the door and found a delegation of 30 people from overseas who had arranged to visit the place for a tour.

He’d forgotten all about them.

He hastily took them to the garden to have a look around, and the family quickly charged around and tidied up.

You see it in adverts. Young people shoving all their things in a cupboard because the parents have arrived. And then of course the whole lot comes tumbling out on the floor.

Coming, ready or not?

Are we ever really ready for the Christmas visit by the interesting relatives we seldom see or cope with?

Jesus says in the last verse of today’s Gospel reading:

Mat 24:44  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Matthew 24 is all about readiness. So is Matthew 25. Because stuff is going to happen.

  • The destruction of the temple is foretold.
  • Signs of the end of the age are spelt out.
  • The abomination of desolation is discussed. The desecration of the temple foretold in Daniel 9, 11 and 12.
  • The coming of the son of man is explained.

Then comes a simple warning – learn from the fig tree. When its twigs get tender and its leaves come out – says Jesus – you know that summer is here.

Read the signs!

He continues: Mat 24:33  Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.

People get very excited about this business of the end of the world or the day of Jesus’ return.

We had a couple years ago called in our parish. He was a tough old bloke. And every time there was another earthquake, he would get so excited because the end was nearer – he would say. And she would say – but what about all those poor people!

We get excited too sometimes. Occasionally I hear it in peoples’ prayers. And there have been a whole lot of dramatic things recently haven’t there – earthquakes and rioting, unrest and chaos. Its not helped by the fires and floods too – and the climate change debate.

People would have got excited reading Matthew’s gospel too.

The prediction of Jesus about the temple was fulfilled. This happens within Matthew’s lifetime and probably before he writes his gospel when Titus and his legions destroy the temple. They separate stone from stone – because the gold from the roof melted in the fire seeped into the walls. As a matter of interest, the western wall that Jews pray at today was not part of the actual temple but an outer kind of retaining wall

Readers of Matthew 24 might still get excited about all the other things Jesus lists. All that apocalyptic stuff. BUT – then comes verse 36 – it’s so close, but no one knows!

Mat 24:36  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

We’re in between the “right at the door” warning with all the signs – and this unknowing.

In between his first and second coming.

  • And that’s Advent in a nutshell.
  • It’s about coming. Celebrating a past coming and looking out for another coming.

We think mainly of Christmas preparation really. “Are we ready for Christmas?”

On the first Sunday of Advent when we’re all really thinking Christmas – there’s always a reading about getting ready for Jesus’ second coming.

  • We already know that he will come again. After all he tells us so.
  • Should we worry about when?

Verse 36 makes it clear: Mat 24:36  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Jesus before his ascension in Acts 1 makes it clear again: Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Like knowing the date of your death, this knowledge would not be helpful.

The best illustration is one Mark and I talked about this week. Take for example a deadline that you have. And exam or an assignment due. So often we put things off.

Cramming is not on.  You don’t have to cram to be ready for Jesus’ coming. You can’t.

Tom Wright reflecting on that day when the 30 visitors turned up writes:

You can tidy a house in a few minutes, if you put your mind to it. But you can’t reverse the direction of a whole life, a whole culture. By the time the ring on the doorbell happens it’s too late. That’s what this passage, and the next one, are about.

To quote Mark – that’s our St Mark, you don’t have to be burdened if you haven’t done enough.

  • You can finish an assignment just before the deadline.
  • When you know when the end comes – like an assignment date – you can fall behind early and try to catch up later.
  • You can cram for an exam. But not for his coming.

Our interesting old man in our parish who loved earthquakes didn’t see the second coming. He did die however. As Jesus said in John 14: Joh 14:2  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.

Joh 14:3  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. Jesus came for him.

Did he have to wait on edge? Afraid? No. Neither should we.

Just don’t be caught out oblivious of the real issues in life. As in the days of Noah – says Jesus.

Jesus continues: Mat 24:37  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:38  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; Mat 24:39  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Mat 24:40  Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Mat 24:41  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

I don’t know if you remember the Left Behind series? I remember the movie “A thief in the night” years back.

Larry Norman had a song which is unforgettable:
“Life was filled with guns and war… I wish we’d all been ready.” Remember it?

The verses included “two men walking up a hill – the one disappears and the other’s left standing still…” Teenage kids ran out the hall when we watched the movie. People wanted to know whether it was helpful to have Christian pilots flying the planes they were in. In case they were taken and they were still on the plane.

The interesting thing about this passage is Jesus’ line: “As it was in the days of Noah”

And in Noah’s case – the flood took the unsuspecting sinners away?

It seems to be saying that when the son of Man comes, people will be taken away too.

Question: Are the good ones or the bad ones going to be taken away here? Commentators are divided on this. The context seems to hint at the good ones (cf. Math 24:31). But in Noah’s day the ones left behind are Noah’s team. That the bad guys were taken out by the flood. Others reverse it – and say that Jesus will take us away – like the Ark rescued those few families. Whicher it is, it sounds pretty serious.

We need to live in readiness – which is not a paranoia that we might die tomorrow so we’d better somehow cram – do last minute prep. Or be like Constantine who waited until just before his death in May 337 before he got baptized – as he didn’t want to be polluted by last minute sins and not get to heaven.

When you know when the end comes – like an assignment date or exam – the danger is you can fall behind early and try to catch up later.

When you don’t know – you have to be ready at all times. Like some of our spot tests in Hellenistic Greek or Biblical Hebrew.

HOW DO WE GET READY THEN?

Our Advent readiness is one part of this.

  • For me it’s getting ready for various services.
  • For many of you its shopping and gifts and sorting the house out BEFORE the 30 guests are at the door.
  • Pastors should be intentional in figuring out what our response to the traditional way of doing Christmas should be. How we should do things this time.

You have to be ready and watchful daily – not cramming for the exam.

It’s all about how you wait – especially when it gets hard. It’s not about perfection, but about attitude and relationship. About living in a way that honors God’s character and purpose. Abiding in him.

And don’t try to predict. V36 – is key – no one knows except the father.

As we wait the solution is to be intentional – choose to be different even if it’s just between now and Christmas as a starter. And beyond of course.

Call it Advent intentionality for now.

V42 is a second reminder to 36: Mat 24:44  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

– you don’t know! Therefore keep watch!

  • Be ready for Christmas – sure
  • Be ready to move house – ask people moving house about that
  • Be ready for your wedding day – talk to those planning way ahead of time.
  • Be ready for exams (probably too late now – better luck next time)
  • Be ready to die because it’s only a matter of time. But do it without fear – Jesus said “in my father’s house are many rooms, chalets, mansions, baches…” – you choose the term.

The readiness is about being ready for what?  Good question!

Ready for the final accountability which we will face.

It’s not necessarily hell, fire and damnation – but a sense that we want to honour God in our lives in response to his love.

When we come to Jesus and are yoked to him, he walks with us through the challenges. And gives us rest when we need it (See Matthew 11).

But the preparedness is still our responsibility.

For homework (being prepared takes effort) – read the rest of Matthew 24 about the faithful and wise servant which follows. When the master comes, he needs to find him doing his job.The wicked servant is in trouble because “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.”. His fate is pretty grim in verse 51.

Read Matthew 25 to see what preparedness means.

Preparedness involves oil for your lamps – using your talents he gives – and caring for the people listed in the judgement scene where the goats and sheep are separated.

  • The foolish maidens are locked out. There too Jesus reminds his listeners: Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour
  • The man who doesn’t use what God has given him is sorted out in verse 30: – Mat 25:30  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth
  • The goats hear these words: ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Read the warning labels or face the dangers listed. Be alert. Be awake. Be ready.

No paranoia please. Just prayer, praise and preparedness.

Happy Advent.

Sunday sermon 17 November – Temples, Troubles and Testimonies

churchReading:  Luke 21:5-19

Sermon

A story to begin: So Jesus comes to Browns Bay Presbyterian. And it’s just before the 50th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone here. 2015. The anniversary committee has worked hard to refurbish the place. We celebrate the lives of all who have put their money into the work here. Generous and hard-working people. And Jesus says in a rather offhand manner – “It will all be destroyed one of these days. Not one block or brick will be left standing on another”. All gone!

Spoiling the party? Maybe. That’s basically what verse 5 and 6 of Luke 21 says: Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God.

As he said back then: (But Jesus said,) 6 ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’

The altar of the temple would have been beautifully adorned, and each stone carefully cut. He had watched the rich give their offerings and the poor widow who gave her all – jus before this.

And that temple – well it took longer to build than our church building has been standing here.  When Jesus refers to it in John’s gospel – it had been undergoing 46 years of rebuilding begun by Herod and was not yet finished.

Jesus had already alarmed them when he said in John 2:19-20: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

And of course in Matthew  – in the context over a discussion about the Sabbath – he also said:  “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.” (Matt 12:6)

Like people today – they are really interested in the timing of these things. v7 ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’

How do we know when this will happen? All those movies about the apocalype and the end of the world speak of our facination with this theme.

How do we know WHEN? Well that’s a tricky thing really. By the time Luke wrote this down (remember that initially everything was by word of mouth) the temple would have been destroyed by the Romans – in AD 70. Part of these words were fufilled back then – and part speak of things yet to come (like the book of Revelation).

Jesus is happy to give them an answer:

v8 He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. v9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’

v10 Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. v11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

v12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.

For years ever since these words were spoken – people have been speculating about the end times. All kinds of people have sold everything up and waited in white robes on a hillside for Jesus to beam them up – only to come down cold and hungry after a few days to look for a job or apply for a benefit.

Mark 13:32 is a key verse here:   “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  This verse has fascinating implications and raises interesting questions for the curious. Jesus didn’t know back then – as a human being. Does he know now? Or does the Father still keep his cards close to his chest.

Speculation about when is not helpful if this knowledge is such a closely guarded secret.

There are important points that we can be sure of however.

1.      Here’s the first key thing that comes out of all these passages:

  Watchfulness! Be alert! Mark’s passage goes on:

Mar 13:33  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Mar 13:34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Mar 13:35  “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

Mar 13:36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.

Mar 13:37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!'”

One way or another – this could be your last day – and you should always keep short accounts and be ready!

2.      Here’s the second key thing: Nothing is permanent. The temple – built so carefully with all those beautiful gifts – is only a shell – what happened in it matters.

So too this church. It’s all temporary. Ask the people of Christchurch. Ask the people washed away by that Tsunami in Japan. As the people of the Philippines today. They will testify to the temporary nature of things material.

I know last week we acknowledged those who have been faithful in stewardship and support of the ministry here – and that we benefit from the generosity of others in having use of our facilities.

But don’t place too much emphasis on stuff – like buildings. The whole lot will eventually come down. Like the Temple.

The Kingdom of God is about other things. People – relationships – love – and mostly worship of God and seeking to do and be what he wants us to do or be.

Our home group shared about faith and action this week – about random acts of kindness – about serving others – like last week’s message about sacrificial love  – that’s what matters.

3.      And the final key point – is this. This is an opportunity to testify! Here’s the rest of the passage:

12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me.14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

The third point is in verse 13.

13 And so you will bear testimony to me. – in the NIV. A better translation in the NRSV is this:

13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.  This is about opportunities to testify.

And the context is not a church service where people give a testimony. Rather it is when we are brought before the authorities – because of our faith.

Christendom is dead. Christianity is no longer the religion of the Empire – from the Roman Empire to the British Empire – it was fashionable and socially acceptable to be a Christian. It is no longer. One of the hardest places today to be a Christian is in Britain – where many of our ancestors came from. And in Post-Christian Europe. And it is becoming progressively harder in our country.

Instead of lamenting this – we need to see that like the early church we have an alternative story – a different narrative – a God-perspective on life.

Testifying for them – back during those phases before Constantine where Christians were persecuted on and off (depending on who was Emperor at the time) – bearing testimony was closely related to martyrdom. In fact the word in the original text is marturion.

What we say under pressure is the key witness to Jesus.

Some bonus points aregiven by Jesus here:

a.      Don’t prepare in advance (14-15) – he will give us words and wisdom. That may seem risky, but it is a faith and trust thing.

b.      Family and friends could hand you over (16) – this is messy and you could be killed. It is risky for many who leave their family’s faith or non-faith to follow Christ.

c.      You will be hated because of Jesus (17) – by everyone! Clearly courage was and is reqiured.

d.      You will keep your hair on (18) – what does this mean?  * This reflects the extent of God’s care for us and his knowledge of us.

e.      Stand firm and win life! (19) – endurance is the key! “Endurance” appears more than 30 times in the letters of the NT.

* The hair thing may also be about safety and destruction issues – not the risk of baldness or an obsession with hair counting! People who served God did not cut their hair as a sign (the Nazirites – like Samson in Judges 13 and 14) – and judgement and destruction were symbolised by shaving and therefore losing hair (See Isaiah 7:17-20). (Nazir = consecrated, set apart.)

Nothing will touch those set apart for God! Which leads logically to the last point:  v19 By your endurance you will gain your souls. (NASV) Or in the NIV: Stand firm, and you will win life.

  • Be watchful and  alert!
  • Keep perspective – because nothing is permanent!
  • There will be an opportunity to testify! And stand firm – endure. And you will win your life or your soul.

Amen.