Friday, November 25, 2011
Mark 13:24–37 Sermon 2011
When I was in the navy one of our duties was standing watch on the bridge as Officer of the Deck – we directed the helmsman – ordering him to come left or right in order to avoid dangerous situations and ensuring that we went along the track that was plotted by our navigator. Sometimes we pull the midshift, the late watch when all but a few hardy souls were sleeping. The safety of the ship and its crew was essentially in my hands. The problem with the midshift was a common one- we had to be sharp at all times – and few of us ever got much of a nap before we went on watch. To nod off was dereliction of duty and to risk a collision. We had to keep awake. And so the answer was usually caffeine. Lots of it.
Armed with that knowledge when we approach today’s Gospel text in which Jesus admonishes us to keep awake or keep alert not once, not twice, but three times we should take what Jesus has to say seriously. Jesus does not repeat the phrased for his benefit – but for ours. Anything that Jesus says three times is to get our attention.
So, why should we keep awake? Why is this so important?
I know that someone wants to shout out right now “Because Jesus says so.”
True enough. But let’s go deeper. When you are driving a ship you keep awake to avoid a collision. When you drive a car it is to avoid a collision. When you are riding a bicycle it is to avoid a collision. When you are taking an exam at school it is so you might actually finish the exam with some hope of passing. When you are at work it is so you can do the job that you were hired for without using your keyboard as a pillow leaving this really odd pattern on your cheek that just screams “yes I was sleeping on the job.”
But why would Jesus tell his followers of that age and by extension this age, this time, to keep awake?
When we read what Jesus has to say, it seems clear that Jesus wants us to keep awake for our sake. Because something of utmost importance to us is going to happen and Jesus does not want us to miss it. This isn’t like falling asleep early on New Year’s Eve and waking up only to discover that you slept through the ball coming down in Times Square and feeling a twinge of disappointment. Jesus wants us to keep awake so that we do not miss something important, something incredible. But what? What is it that Jesus does not want us to miss? Is it the end of the age? Christ’s return at the end of the age? Not likely. Imagine all that Jesus went through, all of the suffering and finally crucifixion all of that, with the possibility that it might be all for nothing because humankind had been up late and slept through his return.
Fine one might say. That’s too literal. Keeping awake has to do with recognizing the signs of Jesus return at the end of the days. I suggest that the point being made here is diminished if we reduce today’s Gospel to merely Jesus trying to give us some insight on when the "end" is coming. It is diminished when we believe that all Jesus cares about here is that we are armed with special knowledge so that we can "read the tea leaves" of world events and see in them the great end of the cosmos and his return in glory.
Jesus claims not to even know the day or time of his return.
Jesus, himself does not know. So why does he want us to learn the signs so that we know?
Perhaps this text is not the blueprint for what we should be looking for to determine if "this is it." Perhaps this text isn’t a collection of signs of the end times that we all should commit to memory and scan CNN each night to see which have come to pass, checking another box on our “end times” check list. No. This text isn’t suggesting that we look with great anticipation for a simultaneous solar and lunar eclipse coupled with a meteor shower and Jesus surfing the clouds while the powers in the heavens (angels, perhaps?) do the shake. No.
So, if the text isn't about producing an end times checklist (and trust me that would miss the point entirely) then what? Why should we keep awake if it isn’t to prevent us from missing Christ’s return?
The answer is a matter of time. We must keep awake because the time is short.
The time is short.
What if this passage has a great deal to say about our present, rather than our future? Let me say that again, what if this passage has much more to say about our present than it does about our future: The future is given to us at the cross, God’s gift of grace in Christ Jesus. Christ came down, comes to us, finds us, saves us. And in Christ we have a foretaste of the Kingdom of heaven in which Christ reigns in glory, a glory in which we, too have a share.
If Christ won for us our future, then the timing of Christ’s return becomes irrelevant. The future for us has already started. It began from the moment that Christ claimed us in our baptism.
So time matters, not because the future is at stake for us or we might miss Christ when he returns in glory because we failed to read the signs or slept through all of the righteous commotion, but because what we do matters.
What we choose to do with this short time we have matters because we do it in the name of Jesus. We keep awake when we stop sleepwalking through life in autopilot and refuse to consider that every word and every action we do as Christians we do in the name of God.
I remember when we were having trouble with our Honda many years ago and we went to a huge dealership who advised us (as it turns out based upon the symptoms, not because they actually looked at the car) that we needed about a thousand dollars worth of repairs. They were quite reluctant to release the car back to us when we choose to wait and think about it, telling us that it would be dangerous to drive. While they took their time to prepare the paperwork to release the car, a salesman came over and offered to buy the car from us at a reduced rate, of course, because of the damage. A smaller mom and pop dealership a few miles away diagnosed the problem as a cracked radiator cap gasket and replaced it for a couple of bucks. So which one, do you think, was truly living awake in this life? Our time is short and it matters a great deal.
To keep awake is to honor the time in this life that has been entrusted to us by embodying Christ in our words and our actions. Always. It is to free ourselves from the notion that we have some things that we do in the name of Jesus and other things that we do that have nothing to do with Jesus. People out in the world won’t see it that way. Christ won’t see it that way. So why should we? Every word we utter is a witness to Christ and every action that we do is a witness to Christ. If we are keeping awake then those words and actions give witness to the Savior of the world and if we are not then they point people to something else. Something that does not save. Something that does not forgive. Something else that does not love as God loves.
For disciples of Jesus, morning has broken. Night is over. The day is here. And so awake we embrace our life and the world. AMEN!