Hurry-up and Wait!

Sermon Preached at Christ the King on November 30, 2008

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37
Lectionary 1
Year B

I.N.I. (In the name of Jesus)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and Happy New Year!

Today marks the beginning of the Church’s liturgical calendar and we open a present that is the Gospel of Mark. This Gospel’s focus is to proclaim Jesus as Son of God and does not present a chronological story of the life of Jesus. In typical Mark style, our Gospel reading today does not begin at the beginning, rather it jumps to the final chapters of the Good News. The reading describes the coming of the Son of Man and we hear Jesus teaching parables about waiting through the fig tree and need for watchfulness. Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples, the church throughout history, and the impatient faithful among us today for what is to come.

There is an urgency to Jesus in Mark and he is as my New Testament professor taught a divine action figure—moving from story to story. This movement and constant storytelling is to help the Christ followers understand that things are different now.  Jesus in Mark’s Gospel has brought a new order to a war torn and persecuted world and patiently shares it with the disciples and with you and me.

The new order is God’s rule, as New Testament Scholar Mark Rhodes frames, a realm that brings life rather than destruction and fosters service rather than domination. A God centered and ordered message for a world in need of an action hero!

For Mark there are two approaches to life: those who put up their Christmas trees this weekend, and those who wait. Okay that may be Vicar Bill projecting a bit, but Mark see’s the world as having two distinct lifestyles:
FirstThose who follow the worlds standards and societal expectations; driven by fear… find themselves seeking power, consumer goods, and status; trying to look out for number one, do it all for themselves; and save one’s life out of fear; and
SecondThose who follow Jesus’ standards and God’s expectations; welcome the blessings of the kingdom, and are enabled to relinquish power, goods and status, in order to bring the blessings of this kingdom to others.

This loosing one’s life for others out of faith is a sharp contrast to the world we live in. A friend reflecting on the Gospel readings for the past two weeks said that, unfortunately the only weeping and gnashing of teeth we can relate to today is when our credit limit is reached!

The Gospel of Mark frames for us how “out of focus” our lives can be. Throughout the coming year the Gospel of Mark will help us better understand that:
We are sinners who want to… Be self-centered
        and our Gracious God wants us to… Be other-centered
We want to… save one’s life for ourselves
        God wants us to… lose one’s life for the good news
We want to…acquire the world
        God wants us to… give up possessions
We want to…be great
        God wants us to… be least
We want to…lord over others
        God wants us to… be servant to all
We want to…be anxious
        God wants us to… have faith
We want to…live in fear
        God wants us to… have courage
We want to…succeed at the harm of others
        God wants us to… save others from harm
We are sinners who want to…be loyal to ourselves
        and our Gracious God wants us to… be loyal to God
       (Reading Mark: Engaging the Gospel, David Rhodes, Fortress Press: 2004)

It is in this urgent style of Mark that we enter the season of Advent this year, a time to hurry-up and wait! Our Gospel reading is from the middle of the passion narrative, where the coming of the Son of Man occurs through the traditional four watch times during the night leading to Jesus’ death:
      • Jesus first comes to us in the evening (14:1-31) for the Last Supper;
      • Again at midnight (14:32-52) in the Garden of Gethsemane where the disciples had trouble keeping awake as they waited;
      • At the third watch at cockcrow (14:53-72) in Peter’s denial;
      • And then at dawn (15:1-20) as Christ is interrogated and tortured.
Through this text, Mark shows how the cross is present during Advent this year as a true sign of God’s salvation and deliverance from the emptiness of our time.
(www.workingpreacher.com, Paul Berge, Lectionary for November 30, 2008)

Stories of Waiting…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that: Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting however is an art that our impatient age has forgotten… We must wait for the greatest, most profound, most gentle things in the world; nothing happens in a rush, but only according to the divine laws of germination and growth, and becoming.
(Christmas with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Manfred Weber, Augsburg Books: 2004)

In our society we are largely not people who wait well. We are impatient, we are self-centered, we get frustrated, and we are often oblivious to what happens around us…
      • Nine days ago a trouble young man in Pembroke Pines, Florida killed himself with as drug overdose on live web-cam with untold numbers of people watching, waiting and not doing anything to assist for 10 hours.
      • On Friday morning at 5:03 AM on Long Island, frenzied shoppers trampled a 34 year old Valley Stream Wal-mart employee to death after waiting on line for hours. Four other people including a 28-year-old pregnant woman were also hospitalized.
We do not wait well. We wander off, we get impatient and even angry, we struggle to focus, or care or even stay awake. We get caught in the clash of consumer culture and personal want.

And we also wait and watch throughout our lives…
      • Keeping alert and awake for news to come in the mail or for a telephone call following an interview;
      • Keeping alert and awake in the hospital waiting room for news from the surgeon, or for a report on test results and diagnosis;
      • Keeping alert and awake at the bedside of a friend in hospice or staring at the open casket of a loved one waiting for a word of comfort and hope;
      • Keeping alert and awake waiting in line for healing prayers and anointing, or walking forward for Holy Communion with hands open and a yearning hunger…
We wait and we watch, and we wish things would hurry up!

For when we focus and wait for and with God, our sense of urgency grows as we watch how God is active in this world.
      • We keep awake and are compassionate to those in similar circumstances, and awaiting similar news.
      • We watch how God is present in the hospital staff’s care, and in the Doctor’s bedside manner and professionalism.
      • We watch and wonder as God provides words in situations like bedside hospice vigils that seem so desperate, and as God comforts our grief through promises of hope and words of the triumph over death.
      • We watch and experience God’s tremendous love and perseverance in the laying on of hands, the anointing with oil, and in God’s sustaining mercy and mystery in bread and wine.

Impatient Advent Waiting…

Advent is a time of urgent preparation. Not for a home ready for the Christmas holiday, cards written, or gifts purchased. Rather we are asked to wait with an open heart, not knowing the day or hour when we notice Emmanuel, God with us. Not for a cute and cuddly baby in a Christmas Carol or idyllic manger scene. Rather we are to engage in relationship with this action figure Jesus who shakes our worldview and challenges us to act, think, live and even pray differently.

Yet we get caught up in what we think we are to do… cleaning, decorating, shopping, wrapping, and cooking. We worry about how dysfunctional family will function, that patience will turn to frustration that smiles will turn to frowns and that expectations will turn to disappointments. We get so caught-up watching our neighbors, and wanting, trying to do it all ourselves, that we miss the very presence of God all around us. We miss the gifts of the Advent season in the rush to unwrap whatever it is we think we are waiting for.

Thank God Advent urgency doesn’t come with directions or lists; it is found in the tension of silent, sometimes dark and patient waiting in our hurry up and do something world.

Keep Awake…

Keep awake and watch for Emmanuel, God with us to come into our lives. We know that this Emmanuel is more than a child whose birth in Bethlehem we celebrate.
      • Emmanuel, God with us, each and every day… in water and Word, in bread and wine, and in you and me.
      • Emmanuel, God with us, in the faces and actions of others. In the faces of saints who have gone before us, like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr.
And in the faces of saints around us, preparing thanksgiving baskets, cooking meals and providing shelter, ringing bells at collection kettles, singing of Christ at Holiday Strolls and on street corners, making life changing, fair–trading shopping decisions, and reflecting Christ to a godless world.

The scandal of the gospel is that God does come down to be with us, but that God comes in ways so unexpected, that we rarely notice.

The late Eduard Schweizer in commenting on today’s Gospel, spoke of the urgency we have. No moment is unimportant, because God is with us and any one could be the moment we recognize the Lord’s among us. This applies to everyone because Jesus calls us all to watching, a watching which characterizes the life of the church between the time of the suffering of the Son of Man and Jesus’ return which will bring everything to fulfillment. In the midst of declining Christianity in the west and continued persecution of believers in parts of the world, Mark reminds us that we live under the cross at Advent, and at all times. That God is with us always and that we are to live watchfully and urgently proclaim Christ.
(The Good News According to Mark, Eduard Schweizer, John Knox: 1970)

The good news that Paul shares with the Church in Corinth and Christ the King in Nashua, is that it is only Christ who keeps us awake and alert to God:

“He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

And today the good news that Mark shares to begin this Advent, is that we only need listen and trust the promise of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man who said:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

In light of this promise, we ask Christ to keep us awake in our watching, and stir up your power and come, O come, Emmanuel—God with us always!

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