“O That Thou Would Rend the Heavens”

Mark 13:24-37

November 30, 2014 – First Sunday of Advent

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Mark 13:24-37

 

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

 

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

Prayer.

 

Have you ever so desired some thing

For so long,

That once achieved,

The next moment revealed yet another catastrophe?

 

Cyrus the Great of Persia took the throne

And turned the world upside down.

His Persian empire 500 years before the time of Jesus

Expanded in power and influence,

Overwhelmed nation after nation,

And established a new world order

Unlike any seen

Before or since.

Cyrus the Second respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered.

He heard the cry of our Hebrew ancestors in Babylonian captivity.

They begged for justice, for freedom, for return from their exile.

He set them free,

And allowed them to return to their homes in Palestine.

Their deepest lifelong desires had been fulfilled.

All should have been well with their souls.

 

Oh, how quickly life can turn into misery.

With new found freedom and prosperity,

Our ancestors rebuilt the Temple

- You can read all about it in the book of Ezra –

They rebuilt their lives, homes, and community.

With prosperity came a return to sin and transgression,

Such that Isaiah reported

“all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf,

and our iniquities,

like the wind,

take us away.”

(Isaiah 64:6)

 

When times are good, we have a long history

Of taking away our trust in God,

And placing our trust in our own ability and resources.

And yet we know

Fall’s beautiful leaves

Are ground into winter’s first slush.

Just when life is good,

It can just as quickly return to suffering, misery, and death.

 

It is against this important back drop that Isaiah cries to the Lord,

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

so that the mountains would quake at your presence—

as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—

to make your name known to your adversaries,

so that the nations might tremble at your presence!”

(Isaiah 64:1-2)

Rip wide the heavens!

Come down, O God!

Quake the mountains and scald with boiling water!

This is not the time for a timid God.

Isaiah cries for a God that is so powerful

Even the created order submits to his will.

The world had sunk to such a

Lowly, rotten state of affairs,

Only the return of a whip cracking, heaven tearing, all powerful God

Could bring the polluted order back into a state of repair.

 

I watched the violent affairs in Ferguson, Missouri this past week

And couldn’t help but share in Isaiah’s petition

“O That Thou Would Rend the Heavens!”

Come down, O God and fix this mess!

Because we are entirely helpless to do it ourselves!

Every one of us are cultural, biased, and flawed.

Our laws are, therefore, imperfect.

Imperfect laws hurt people.

Those we ask to enforce our laws are just as human as we are.

Those who break our laws are just as human as we are.

And the hurt goes on.

 

There is more than enough injustice to go around.

There is no winning side here.

There is no moral high ground.

In this “land of the free and home of the brave,”

We are all mired in a vat of violence and injustice.

We are all sinking in the quicksand of sin and depravity.

The human nature in us all is indifferent, apathetic, and lacking determination

To live peacefully,

To live justly,

And to walk humbly with our God.

(Micah 6:8)

 

Have you ever so desired some thing

For so long,

That once achieved,

The next moment revealed yet another catastrophe?

 

This past Thursday,

We pushed ourselves away from the Thanksgiving table

Full of food

And content with life …

Mostly.

Partially.

Some of us.

Well, all right. Who are we kidding?

 

Some of us might be painted into a Norman Rockwell painting,

But the majority of us

Are fighting depression,

Dysfunctional families,

Broken relationships,

Addictions and abuse,

Uncertainty and anxiety,

And undeniable, unresolved, unrelenting grief.

We’re FIGHTING to stay afloat,

For fear that if we stop fighting,

We might slip beneath the waves.

 

A new prescription doesn’t save us.

A promotion or new job doesn’t save us.

Divorce, walking out, or walking away doesn’t save us.

Shopping, overdosing on chocolate, or a day at the spa doesn’t save us.

A new degree, diploma, or award doesn’t save us.

Even being ordained doesn’t save us.

I still had to take out the garbage the next morning.

 

During this period spanning Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year

Emotions fluctuate widely

Between living a life of blessings

To living a life

Believed to be cursed.

 

If only we had a God

That was great enough

To rend the heavens

And come down to save us.

If only we had a God

That was powerful enough

To darken the sun, extinguish the moon, shake the stars out of the heavens

And come down to save us.

If only the Son of Man would come in clouds

With power and glory;

Certainly we would be saved!

 

It’s Advent, people!

God did it before,

And God’s going to do it again!

Just as God saved our ancestors from Egyptian captivity and Babylonian exile,

Just as Jesus was born and died to save us from our sins,

So, too, will Christ come again

To save us from this lousy state of affairs we’ve made for ourselves.

We’ve fallen

- literally and figuratively -

And we can’t get up!

Not without the help of a Savior.

Not without the power of the only One who can move heaven and earth.

Not without the love of God that knows no end.

 

The time is nigh, and soon will be.

The time is ripe, and approaching ever more quickly.

Watch for signs of our Savior’s return.

Stay alert and awake,

Watching for our Lord’s coming again.

 

One final note.

Don’t watch with a “Left Behind,”

Post-apocalyptic,

Hal Lindsey type of fear.

This isn’t what the Gospel of Mark intends.

Our watching and waiting

Is for the return of the Son of Man

To save us from our self

And to save us from ourselves.

Salvation is both / and,

Individual and corporate,

Personal and social.

It can never be one without the other.

Christ died for my sins,

And he died for your sins, too.

Christ will come again,

Not only for me,

But for all of us collectively.

 

None of us know

How or when.

None of us can understand completely the mystery of our God.

But know this:

It is God’s will for us to

Keep awake this Advent

That when the Master comes,

We may welcome and greet him.

 

Sisters and brothers

Keep awake!

Christ is coming to save us!

Amen.