Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
As we begin the season of Advent, our scripture turns our attention to hope; to waiting; to remaining expectant and to being ready for the day Jesus comes to us again.
These verses from scripture can scare us. They can sound like Jesus is waiting around the next corner, waiting to catch us doing something wrong, or letting our attention wander, even for a second. When he catches us, we are punished, or like those in the field and grinding meal in today’s Gospel, we will be left behind while the faithful are taken to be with God.
Though the theology of “Left Behind” is fodder for much snickering in progressive Christian circles, it is no joke to those who have grown up with the terrifying narrative that God would do just that, leave them behind, if they weren’t faithful enough or believe the right things or listen to the right people.
This understanding of the Gospel is counter to what we know of God’s abundant and expansive love for all of God’s people. It is also counter to what we believe Jesus understood and taught regarding the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God wasn’t then, and isn’t supposed to be now, about behavior here and now in order to enjoy a relationship with God in the hereafter. The reason to seek a relationship with God here and now is to be able to see the Kingdom of God in the world here. And now.
Jesus never tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a big set of fluffy clouds with harps and pearly gates.
Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
It is like the yeast in the dough.
It is like the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, like the widow who searches for the coin.
Jesus taught his followers that they had everything they needed to see the Glory of God in the world if they would only look for it, if they would only listen for it, if they would only join God in making it so. Let those with eyes, see, those with ears, listen, Jesus said.
I am often humbled by the people who come into my office seeking counsel in times of distress. As I sit and listen to them share their stories, I am always struck by how, despite all that is going on in their life, they can see God at work in the midst of it somewhere. Sometimes, it is simply longing for God to be present. But as I often say, and as I often need to hear, sometimes the longing is everything because when we are longing, it means we have a sense things can be different. That sense that things can be different is everything. It is the mustard seed of change.
I think people shrug me off or think I am just being polite when I thank them for seeing God at work in the world, or for being willing to long. At the back door on Sunday mornings, if someone thanks me for a service they found meaningful, I usually respond by saying, “thank you for being a part of it.”
And I mean it. Because if you all weren’t here, what would it matter?
If they say they thought the sermon held meaning for them, whether they agreed with what I said or not, I say, “Thank you for listening to it.” Because, again, if you are not willing to listen it doesn’t matter what Megan, Michael or I have to say.
It is much the same with God. Listening for what God might be saying, looking for where it is God might be, offering ourselves in service to whatever it is we think God might need us to be doing. These are the ways in which we partner with God in making the Kingdom of God a reality. Or, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry might put it, those are the ways we change the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream God intends it to be.
One will be taken, and one will be left.
The difference between these two, I believe is that one was willing to listen, and one wasn’t. One was willing to see, and one wasn’t. One was willing to sit with the longing, and the other was willing to give up hope.
If we aren’t willing to listen, what difference does it make what God has to say?
If we aren’t willing to search for God at work in the world, how will we know where God is in the world?
If we aren’t willing to be God’s hands and feet and voices, how will God’s work ever get done?
Today we begin a new year in the church. Around us the world continues to challenge us to see God at work in it. Standing Rock; Alleppo; Washington D.C.. It is tempting to see what is happening in these places as encouragement to give up, to stop listening, to stop seeing, to stop yearning, to stop collaborating with God.
It is times just like this in which Isaiah wrote the hope filled vision of all of humanity at unity with each other and with God we heard this morning. In the midst of political upheaval, Isaiah imagines the possibility that God will beat swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
It is times such at this in which Paul encouraged those in the churches at Rome to put on the armor of light in the face of persecution. It was not, Paul argued, the time to stop listening or looking or yearning for God. It was, Paul argued, the moment for [them] to wake from sleep. Get woke, stay woke, Paul argues.
And it was times like our own in which Matthew penned the Gospel we heard this morning. In Jesus words, God always comes at a time that seems unexpected, when the world seems to be about anything but the inbreaking of God’s love.
Now is when God love is being spoken, if we will hear it;
Now is when God’s love is being done, if we will see it;
Now is when God calls us into service, if we will allow it.
No one knows from where God’s voice will be spoken, God’s work will be done. So we must keep listening, keep watching, keep working.
It is a new year for us. Today we begin another journey toward Bethlehem, hoping against hope that, when we get there, we will find God’s love made flesh; Against all odds, in the most anxious of times, in the most unlikely of places, from the most unlikely of families.
So let us long for God to break into this world. Let us not give into despair, let us not give up hope. Let us boldly proclaim that God is at Standing Rock, God is at work in Alleppo, God is at work in the chaos we see in the world around us.
God longs to make a home in us that we might make the world a home for God.
Now is the time. It is a new year. It can be a new day. Come, Lord Jesus, and do not delay.
© 2016 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello
[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing. Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here: David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .