Sermon from Sunday, November 27, 2011
The night before a big game, a big test; the night before a wedding, an important meeting, a flight out of town. The night before you leave home, the night before you come home. You know that feeling, right? Double checking your alarm clock? Sleeping in brief snatches – an hour here, half hour there – so that you don’t sleep in too late and miss that big event.
Maybe it’s just me, but as a priest, this is my life every Saturday night. I’m so worried that I am going to sleep in and miss the 7:30 service that I compulsively double-check my alarm clock before I go to sleep. I’m so keyed up, I usually wake up at least three times during the night and check the time, making sure that I haven’t missed church.
It’s a common human experience, to wait expectantly and live all keyed up in anticipation of some event. But, I believe for most of us, this anticipation rarely makes it way into our spiritual lives. It’s been two thousand years since Jesus walked among us, so it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of complacency. We aren’t really expecting the Lord anytime soon.
Folks like Harold Camping and the Left Behind Series haven’t really helped us either. By making wild predictions about knowing the exact hour of our Lord’s return, they have ruined the expectation for all of us. Do you remember when the world was supposed to end on May 21 of this year? And, of course, as we are all evidence, that prediction didn’t come true. I remember sitting in George’s on May 21, munching on a burger when I thought that either Jesus slept past his alarm clock or yet another prediction was fantastically wrong.
Whenever we come across folks like Mr. Camping, we rightly quote this line from Mark’s gospel: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” When I hear that from an Episcopalian I’m usually shocked. When did we start quoting scripture at people? And, more shocking, when did we start memorizing scripture to quote at people?
Now don’t get me wrong – I love it when you can pull something from the gospels off the top of your head. That’s great! But there is a real danger in throwing that particular line out there. When we say this line from Jesus, what we are really saying to ourselves is, “Don’t worry. Jesus isn’t coming back anytime soon. I can go ahead and live my life in as I see fit.” Aren’t we so smug to quote Jesus when it suits our own lifestyle? It’s so easy to pull one line out of the entire gospel of Mark and live by it. Live by soothing our conscience and saying to ourselves, “but about that day or hour no one knows,” so I won’t even worry about it.
We need to look at the rest of this passage. In it, Jesus tells us a parable. He tell us of a master, going on journey, who puts his slaves in control of his house. They are to do their work, and to be on the watch for their master’s return, for they do not know when the master will come back.
First of all, each of us has a master. All of us have bowed down to one ruler or another. The danger is when we presume to become our own masters. When we think that since our Lord has been gone so long, that we can step up and fill his role as rulers of our lives. It happens to all us. We eke out our own little dominions. We reign over our own little kingdoms. We think that we can control everything in our lives. We tell ourselves that we know what’s best for us. But we don’t. And we can’t. We end up as kings and queens of nothing but our own loneliness and greed.
This is also the danger of the Ameican Dream, of living independently. When it comes down to it, what we have is never enough. We desire more, more, more. More money, more power, more whatever. When we live as our own masters, we succumb to violence because we think we are the most important people in the world. Just look at the mayhem of Black Friday – as if another big screen TV for your throne room will finally make you happy? As if saving a buck here or there is some great triumph in your life? Living independently, living as your own master, is not really living. That’s dying.
Real living, real living, is being alert. A real life is when you keep awake, when you are always on the look out for the Kingdom of God. But it’s not as simple as double-checking your alarm clock. Keeping awake and being alert for the sake of God’s Kingdom has always been difficult for followers of Jesus. Just think back to those first disciples who heard this command from our Lord. They are told, with a dire warning, to keep awake. And just a chapter later in Mark’s gospel, on the night our Lord was handed over to suffering and death, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John to pray in a garden. He tells them to “keep awake” as he goes off to pray. Jesus comes back to find those poor disciples sleeping. He wakes them and tells them again, “keep awake!” And again, he goes off to pray and returns to find them sleeping yet again. Finally, Jesus goes to pray once more and returns to find his disciples sleeping a third time and says, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?”
Are we still sleeping? Are we still taking our rest? Our culture preaches laziness. We are told that mastering our own lives means building a life of leisure. And our churches have lost zeal and urgency. We are more worried about the Church’s business than sacrificing our lives for the Church’s message. Advent is our wake up call. The cycle of the church year, the expectation of Christ’s birth says to us, “are you still sleeping? Wake up! The Kingdom of God is at hand!” And indeed, the Kingdom of God is at hand. There is work to be done, there are mouths to feed, there are lives to touch. There are prayers that need to be said, there is scripture that needs to be studied. People are dying that need a companion, people are living that need a relationship.
Keep awake. Be alert. Our master is the Lord Jesus Christ. He has left us in charge of his house, the Church. We have been given our work – to pray, to worship, to serve. So keep awake. And be alert. We do not know the hour of our master’s return.