“That Day; That Hour"

Matthew 24:36-44

Advent 1A, December 1, 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 24:36-44

“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.

 

Prayer.

 

Fear is a powerful motivator.

 

Fear was an effective tactic used by Ms. Eggleston,

my 6th grade teacher.

We called her “Old Eagle Eye”

because of the way she stood at the end of the hall when we passed;

arms folded,

and looking over her cat eyed glasses.

Not much happened outside of her

all seeing power.

It was as if the hallway was the land of Mordor

and the eye of Sauron was always watching.

 

Fear is a powerful motivator for changing behavior.

 

I love trains;

not toy trains, mind you.

The real thing.

I love the railroad industry

and the horsepower, technology, and people who make it go.

So I read as much industry information as possible;

I always have.

I’ve learned over the years,

by reading, direct observation, and employee interviews,

just how dangerous the rail industry is;

and it has been this way from the very start.

It is said

the rule book is founded

on the blood of railroad men and women who paid the price.

The result is perhaps the most strict work environment

any place on the planet.

In every American rail company,

rule violations by an employee quickly results

in swift, harsh punishment.

Qualifying for positions is hard, time consuming, and requires a lot of education.

One accident,

one error,

can quickly result in catastrophe.

As a result of decades of intense regulation and an emphasis on safety,

a railroad job today is actually one that has very low risk of injury or death

compared to other industries.

If you fear for your job,

you’ll jump through hoops to keep it!

 

Fear is a powerful motivator.

 

Consider how fear is, or has been, weld:

Stalin, less your village be deported to the gulag or worse.

The Roman Catholic Church, lest you be sent to hell for your sins.

Al Qaeda, lest you be seated next to a suicide bomber.

The school yard bully, lest you have your lunch money pounded out of you.

The SAT test, lest you not get into a good school

 

Stalin got a slowly simmering society but will no opposition.

The Pope used to get churches will filled pews.

Al Qaeda resulted in Homeland Security.

The school yard bully got two milks instead of one.

And educational tutoring services thrive in the months before each test.

 

It is hard to hear our Gospel for this morning and not be afraid.

It sounds like Jesus is using fear as a tactic

to keep his followers alert for his return.

Everyone’s is eating, drinking, and having a good time one day,

and only Noah and his family are left behind the next day.

Everyone else was killed.

(Yes, later day interpreters

who insert into scripture misaligned rapture theology

get it backwards.

Thankfully, Noah didn’t get it backwards;

Noah and his family were left behind.)

 

Two people working in the field.

One is taken and one is left.

Two people working the grist mill.

One is taken and one is left.

It all sounds rather arbitrary on the surface

but Jesus knows

that no two workers,

no two disciples,

are alike.

Some are eager to work

and are selected at six in the morning.

Those less eager

don’t get hired until the end of the day.

Jesus knows there is great diversity in the labor pool;

as there would be great diversity his his followers.

Some will be all in,

other disciples,

will be persistent procrastinators.

 

Jesus knows the problems of identifying

that day and that hour.

He knows how people are;

everyone would stop working,

we’d gather in Times Square

hold hands and start singing Kum Ba Yah.

There’d be chaos and pandemonium

if we knew the date and time.

His kingdom would REgress,

as opposed to PROgressing,

which is what he desires.

“Better not to tell them,”

Jesus probably thought to himself.

“A little bit of fear is good for them

especially if it keep my disciples alert and awake.”

 

It is easy for us to look around our sanctuary today

and feel pretty smug.

We might feel like we will be the ones spared;

passed over, if you will.

After all, we’re the ones who make the effort

week after week

to ensure our faithful presence, prayers, gifts, and service.

Why wouldn’t we be the ones spared by God,

left behind to complete God’s kingdom?

Our Gospel for today calls us to introspection;

are we doing all we can

to remain alert and awake for imminent return of the Son of Man?

 

Fear is a powerful motivator;

welcome to Advent!

 

Of course Advent is a season of anticipation

and today is the kick off!

We remember the Christ child who came.

We recognize the Christ in the Body assembled here.

And we anticipate the Christ that is promised yet to come.

Christ has come.

Christ is come.

Christ will come again.

Fear may be a powerful motivator,

but for the faithful follower of Christ,

we are given the confidence to

transform fear into anticipation,

changing our behaviors,

as is God’s will,

into a community preparing for the return of Christ!

 

Yes, Christ will be coming

like a thief in the night, Jesus teaches us.

So instead of being paralyzed with fear,

let us begin to prepare a way for him!

Let us bring down the mountains and fill in the valleys.

Let us gather our weapons and recast them into

plows, planters, and harvesters.

Let us complete the transformation of this world

to be God’s kingdom

on earth

as it is in heaven.

 

Let us set our hearts and minds about the business of preparation.

This is where the anticipation of Advent is found:

- Staying awake and alert

means loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength

and our neighbor as ourselves.

- Staying awake and alert

requires of us a feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Things have to change!

The poor must be lifted up.

The hungry need fed.

The sick need healed.

Prisoners need reformed and reintroduced into society.

Those mourning need comforted.

Peace makers need to strike new deals.

And the disabled, orphans, and widows need cared for.

- Staying awake and alert

means we work tirelessly to build God’s kingdom,

to seek and follow God’s will all of our earthly days,

and when that day comes

when Christ returns,

we are received into the Father’s eternal glory.

 

Today’s message of fear

is the foundation for Christmas’ anticipation:

Christ has come.

Christ is come.

And Christ will come again.

So stay awake, beloved workers of the field.

Stay alert, dear people grinding at the mill.

Be the body of Christ

that transforms the world.

Amen.