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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 6 November 2011 – Ready or not?

(A sermon from the 2011 archives following the Revised Common Lectionary on the same passage as that of 8 March 2015. This passage is placed in a different position in the Narrative Lectionary).

Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

Mat 25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Mat 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
Mat 25:3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.
Mat 25:4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.
Mat 25:5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
Mat 25:6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Mat 25:7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.
Mat 25:8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
Mat 25:9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
Mat 25:10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Sermon
We are a rechargeable generation! Everything we used can be recharged and carried around with us! Even laptops have portable chargers which you can pre-prepare and have with you to top up your batteries when you work out on the road or in the bush – or even better on the beach!

As an aside – one of my predecessors in my last African parish used to prepare his sermons on the beach and then come back to the church and have a shower – they put a shower off his study! I never did know whether he wrote anything down. These days you could write the sermon on a portable device.

The 10 maidens – also translated as virgins – were all out on the road, so to speak. They were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive – and this was a normal procedure for a wedding in those days! The wedding was not a one hour business – but took place over a couple of days and was a great celebration (remember that Jesus did his first miracle at Cana in Galilee – at a wedding.)

And when the bridegroom came back – presumably after negotiating matters with the bride’s parents – the bridesmaids would be waiting with torches lining the path.
At least that’s how I think it happened! There seem to be conflicting views as to who would go where! It seems that once the groom arrived the whole lot would process back to his house for the ceremony!

Either way it was a big occasion described by William Barclay as “the gladdest week in all their lives” – and of course with no other entertainment in their fairly ordinary lives the people knew how to party! (Remember the astonishment of the people at the wedding in Cana of Galilee – that the best wine was produced last – as usually you would start with the best wine and people wouldn’t care later in the feast!)

PREPAREDNESS
This was the key issue – half of the team were not organised and prepared.
They assumed things would be fine just with the oil in their lamps.
They were foolish. Literally – morons – in the New Testament language.
The problem was that five of them did not bring their chargers with them – no spare batteries either! No oil for their lamps.

They weren’t properly prepared! (Maybe Baden Powell would have helped them – seeing that BE PREPARED is the motto of the Cub-Scout movement!)

Are you prepared for ANYTHING? It’s a great question.
Are you ready for anything?

Matthew 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

All ten are appropriate people for the task. People of integrity – ten virgins. Sadly you would battle to find suitable candidates today in our overly free society.

There is no question of their qualifications – their standing. But five are literally morons (in the bible language) – foolish, and five are wise.

Reminds me of another time Jesus taught on wise and foolish people. Do you remember that one? It was about what they built their lives on! Yes – they were to build their lives on the words of Jesus.

The houses built on foundations – sand versus rock: Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Now when it comes to weddings there are no short cuts. Well there is always the option to elope. I saw a picture of drive-up weddings – like driving through a restaurant!
We would love some (cheaper) short cuts to weddings. THAT SELDOM HAPPENS!
Unless you run away – your particular culture will determine what kind of wedding you have (and your in-laws!)

I thought of talking about the key issues – in one of those rhyming sermons that slick preachers produce. Like these: the KEY ISSUES are:
1. Wedding gear
2. Watchfulness
3. Waiting
4. Weady for anything…  🙂
Clearly that didn’t work!

So I thought of the KEY PEOPLE: So who are the key people in the story?
Bride
Groom
10 maidens
That’s probably enough! The key people and who they represent (there are few debates about this in the interpretation of the parable).

Bride – the church as the bride of Christ
Groom – Jesus
10 maidens – we who are waiting for his second coming.
Or are we? I sometimes wonder whether we really believe He will return?
Do we really live each day as if it were our last? How prepared are we?

And is this just about being prepared for death – or the second coming of Jesus?
Or is there an added layer of expectation that we are missing here?

The delay is in THE FULLNESS OF THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD.

It’s about preparedness – yes
It’s about patience – although they were all waiting!
It’s about alertness – although they were all pretty sleepy and in fact fell asleep!

So what made the wise ones wise and the foolish ones headed for disaster?

What made them foolish?
Not being prepared essentially
The wise ones?
Thinking ahead
In it for the long haul
They had THE OIL

I love the song we did with the kids today – “Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning” – it’s a great song but like many songs its theology is a bit dodgy.

Why? Because while we are dependent upon God for our energy – like your supplier of electricity and gas at home – you have to get it connected and pay for it!

No we can’t earn salvation.
But we are responsible for our discipleship – our learning and getting equipped.

The 5 foolish lasses could not blame anyone else but themselves for not being organised – not thinking ahead – and not being in it for the long haul.

I only found one person who made a strong link between the symbol of the oil in this parable and the Holy Spirit!

What I did find is a lot of people referring to the need for preparedness and spiritual discipline – of living our lives with the right kind of orientation
– The wisdom that comes from building your house on the rock – on the words of Jesus
– Of hanging your door on the right hinges (loving God and neighbour)
– And faith IS linked to the oil –and there is good evidence for that as the foolish ones cannot get into the wedding banquet on the strength of someone else’s oil!
– Some link FAITHFULNESS to the oil – that while waiting for the Kingdom to be fulfilled – while waiting for Christ’s return – we should faithfully listen to his words and do the works that he prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2).

And of course SERVICE which we talked about last week is part of faithfulness. It is the sign of the Kingdom that Jesus seeks – that we be great by serving and being there for others.

– And living HOPEFULLY is a good thing too – because the expectation of the wedding feast – means that we are prepared for the long haul KNOWING that its worth it!

THE TRAGEDY OF THIS PARABLE
Mat 25:10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. PP9-1
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ PP9-2
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ PP9-3
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. PP10
How do we do as a church – when it comes to keeping watch?

What do you think we as a church should do to be be watchful? (3 MINUTES DISCUSSION)

My thoughts to conclude:
1. Being watchful does not mean being obsessed with predicting the end of the world. Too many people have tried that.
2. Being watchful means appreciating each moment and each day with gratitude. Note what Paul writes to the Thessalonians. After telling them this:

1Th 5:1 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,
1Th 5:2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
1Th 5:3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
1Th 5:4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
1Th 5:5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
1Th 5:6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.

He says this – some very practical things as they were watchful:
1Th 5:16 Be joyful always;
1Th 5:17 pray continually;
1Th 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

And in addition: 1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;
1Th 5:20 do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1Th 5:21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.
1Th 5:22 Avoid every kind of evil.

It’s about living a close relationship with the Lord – trying to hear from him – and doing the other things like serving him with faith and faithfulness in the power of the Holy Spirit!

We need to have enough oil to keep going! And when the end comes – whether we are here when Jesus returns – or whether we die in our sleep tonight – or some other interesting experience ends our life – we will be ready! That’s being wise!

It’s foolish to run around looking for oil when it’s too late!

Amen.