Monday, November 21, 2016

Ready or Not?


Since it's happened countless times, I suppose that it should not surprise me any more, but, yesterday, when I heard the gospel lesson about the crucifixion of Jesus, I was again surprised to hear something that, despite having read and reread the gospel lesson a dozen or more times during the week, I had not noticed before. As my colleague read from Luke's account, it struck me how many times Jesus is asked to save himself and, of course, how deliberately Jesus chooses not to. Where was that simple observation all week long?

Because it's a short week and because I don't want to miss out on family time, I've already been thinking about this coming Sunday's gospel lesson for several days. I worry, however, that I'll get to Sunday morning and, as I'm reading the gospel, notice something I should have seen or heard in my sermon preparation. Today, therefore, as I put electronic pen to electronic paper for the first time, I'm trying to come at it from a different angle. What else might these words be saying to me and to our congregation?

In the midst of these scary words about the coming of the Son of Man, there are some vivid images of everyday life. Jesus uses the story of Noah to get his point across: even days before the floods came, the naïve people of the earth were carrying on with business as usual. I wonder if it's distracting for us that Jesus points out that they were "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage." That sounds like a party, and, as I recall, one of the reasons the flood came was the wickedness of the whole earth. It's easy, therefore, for me to let that sentiment of finger-wagging change how I hear the rest. But I don't think Jesus is being critical of the behavior of those who are unprepared. Instead, he's just critical of their unpreparedness.

Two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two will be grinding meal; one will be taken, and one will be left. Except for the unexpected departure, that's a dramatic way of saying nothing dramatic at all. People are just going about their ordinary business. Farmers are working the land. Women are grinding the meal. Laborers are going to work. Lawyers are meeting with clients. Doctors are visiting patients. Preachers are writing sermons. People are doing what they always do. Is Jesus telling us to do something else? Is he asking us to sell all our possessions and move to a compound on the outskirts of town where we know the rapture will take place any minute? No. Not at all. In fact, it's anything but that.

Both are working; one is taken, and one is left. What's the difference? What's the point? Some are ready and some are not, but being ready doesn't mean adopting an urgent apocalyptic mentality. Yes, we are called to be ready, but the point is that no one--absolutely no one--knows when the end will come. It comes in the middle of our ordinary life. It is our ordinary life, therefore, that must be bent and shaped to reflect that reality. We don't jettison our day-to-day operations. Like the owner of the house who knows not when the thief will come, we don't mark our calendars for the one day when we expect to be robbed. We let the reality of the unknown shape the reality of what we know.

This is not "Doomsday Prepper." This is about always being ready in other, quieter ways. We should continue to eat and drink and marry and be given in marriage. We should continue to work. But all that we do and all that we have must reflect our belief that the Son of Man will return at any minute. May this Advent be about that balance between our ordinary lives and our belief in the coming of the extraordinary.

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