Advent 1, Year A - November 27, 2016

Preacher: 
The Rev. Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

The First Sunday in Advent

Year A

November 27, 2016

The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor

 

Jesus said to the disciples, "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." (Matthew 24:36-44)

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We Episcopalians have never been too keen on the subject of Judgment Day, but no matter how hard we try, we just can’t avoid it.  On this first Sunday in Advent our readings always focus on the second coming of Christ.  We hear about it every time we celebrate communion:  “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”  We hear it when we say the creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” And we hear it in this morning’s gospel lesson, “Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

And yet the thing is, the readings we have about this day of judgment are always ambiguous – a helpful reminder, especially these days.  There is nothing to distinguish or determine someone’s fate, as much as people might try – and they try hard.  In Matthew, we hear “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.”  But no one knows when this time will come, so all are called to keep awake and to be ready.

"Are you ready?" is a question usually asked by those who are certain that they are and even more certain that you are not.  This is something that Claiborne and I ran into when we were traveling on a cruise ship during our vacation – to four countries and 9 cities in 10 days, which, needless to say, required a lot of getting ready!  I have to admit, I am the guilty party when it comes to this issue, so focused on whether my traveling companion is ready that I neglect to tend to my own stuff – forgetting all sorts of things like credit cards and iPads and tickets. 

Are you ready? This isn’t just a question that certain Christians ask of others, but a question we all tend to ask – in our workplace, our communities, our politics.  And whether we are aware or not, we often assume that we are the ready ones, we are safe and secure and have the ocean view on Noah’s cruise ship. We are taken. Those who aren’t ready? Well … we love to determine the consequences for those who still have their suitcases in their closets, bags yet to be packed.

You better be ready, lest you be left behind with all of the ... the what? The unbelievers? The sinners? The ones who voted for the wrong candidate?  Feel free to insert your own “unmentionable!”  And here is what we tend to assume, I know I do:  that unless people believe what we believe, see the world as we do, have the same ideas about immigration or taxes or health care, they will be stuck in the flood, with the bad guys, left behind.

But then comes Matthew who ends up equalizing this “rapture” two by two. No details at all to help us determine who will end up saved with Noah or who will be left behind. Nothing to tell us who is in and who is out.

So, perhaps the question, “Are you ready?” isn’t something just to be asked of “the other” about their readiness for the coming of Christ, or even a question for ourselves, but a question about what that coming really means to us.  Are we ready to believe that the person we’ve judged a sinner in whatever way we’ve determined is sin, could end up on the ark, with us - or without us?

Are we ready to see that the person working alongside us could be one who gets on the boat, when we’d really hoped they’d end up on some life raft, at best? And then, what next?

For many people all over our country, “What next?” is the question.  As a reporter for the New York Daily News wrote last week: “The election is over, so what about all those frayed relationships among loved ones? Mothers and sons, sisters and brothers, friends unfriended - it's been tough for some on opposing sides who must now figure out the way forward. They wonder what their ties will feel like a month from now. A year. What about the holidays?”[1]

What next? When Democrats and Republicans, Clinton supporters and Trump supporters, liberals and conservatives have to share turkey dinner, attend holiday parties and work in side-by-side cubicles together? Have to worship and “do church” together? Have to run a country together? Hope together? Lead change together? Stand up and speak out for what is truth together?

Which leads me to another question, asked by a blog writer, that really struck me this week.  “Do we believe God is ready? Do we believe that God is about readying God’s self to show up, regardless of the response of the two in the field and the two women grinding meal together? And then, what difference does this make?”[2]

And the reason this struck me is because it got me to imagine how God might have a stake in our readiness. That our being ready is not just about us, especially as individuals, but us as people in relationship.  With each other, as children of God who are fundamentally connected, whether we like it or not.  That’s the detail we often overlook in today’s reading from Matthew.  Two by two. Relationship. Companionship.

Because the God we worship is committed to relationship. And yet so often that truth is neglected, contributing to the struggles we face in our communities, our government, even (and especially) the church. It happens every time we forge ahead autonomously, forgetting that we are not in the field alone or that we grind meal alongside someone else, and choose instead to fix our gaze straight ahead.

But the point Jesus is makes in today’s gospel is that getting ready for the coming of God’s kingdom isn’t about determining who goes and who stays, but being there together in the field, grinding meal together … and trusting that God is getting ready, too.

“Are you ready?” isn’t just a question for you or for me, but a question we might reframe, and ask others this way:  What can I do to help us be ready? What do we need to do to be ready together?  In the words of today’s psalm, “For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you” (Psalm 122:8).

Don’t get me wrong.  This is not about an easy fix, quick forgiveness, mending without grief, or putting the past aside. Instead, it’s about reclaiming a fundamental truth – that our God is a God of relationship, cannot not be in relationship, and is relentless when it comes to maintaining relationships. This is something our scriptures remind us, over and over. God called Abraham, and just kept on going, interjecting when it seemed the relationship was going astray or strained, and coming up with a new strategy for those who had yet to know “Immanuel,” God with us.

This hasn’t been easy. God hasn’t exactly been compliant or complacent when there has been “disagreement” between God and God’s people. There was conversation. There were words. There was truth-telling. We might take our cue from this when it comes to our own relationships. Tending, nurturing, maintaining relationships, is a mark of following God, fleshed out fully in the way of Jesus.

To get ready in Advent is to affirm God’s own readiness for and commitment to relationship. Are we ready for this?  For this kind of intimacy and togetherness that does not allow for one-upmanship or judging another person’s fate?  That insists on two-by-two and not single-minded, “my way, I’m right you’re wrong, too bad so sad for you,” left behind, unyielding, condemnatory, isolationist, soloistic, relationship?  Aren’t relationships, by definition, to be mutual and reciprocal?

As you consider your own answer to this question during this season of preparation, I invite you to pay attention to your relationships. Start with the people closest to you.  How do you give and receive love in these relationships?  And then, as you encounter other people, especially those who are least like you, ask yourself, what is unique and sacred or good about this person, what can I learn from him or her?  And finally, think about your relationship to yourself.  How do you value and care for your body, soul, and spirit?  How do you get yourself ready for the arrival of God in your life?

The truth of Advent, this time of getting ready for God, is a truth that may very well make us uncomfortable.  It means being on Noah’s ark with people we’d rather not sail with into salvation, people who are not like you or me, and then there is no going anywhere, no escape.  But what is the alternative?

God is getting ready. Are we?

Amen

 

 

[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/presidential-election-dividing-...

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4762

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