Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Mike Turgeon Outside the Box 11/27/11
‘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.’ Mark 13:24-27
Outside the box
A pastor tells of a telegram he received a number of years ago. The telegram read: "He comes. His escort of angels in His train. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amid red hibiscus, yellow wildflowers, and blue morning glories, our Savior, Christ the Bridegroom, can be met. Directions: Fly to Lihue on the island of Kauai. From there take Kuhio Road to Kapaa. Go through the town to Kauai Hau Road. You'll see a sign pointing to the Samuel Mahelona Hospital. Turn left on this road and go past the school. Turn right on Hanaala Road and continue on this road until it becomes a one-way. Turn left here at the stop sign into the cane field road. You are almost there. At the first crossroad, turn left into the Valley House parking lot. Hawaii is 'star country.' That's where it's at, the happening of the ages. Bring camp gear and be at the spot before sundown on April 5. On April 7, Jesus Christ comes again in glory!"
This particular pastor did not go. He was tempted to ask the church to validate the trip as a continuing education opportunity, though. Needless to say, this ‘happening of the ages’ did not happen. We would have heard about it.
Many of history’s predictions of the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world are based on this passage from Mark. Why is that? Well, one thing we know about Mark’s Gospel is that it was written at a time of deep despair. The Jewish revolt against the Romans had been crushed and the temple destroyed. This scripture is meant to be a message of hope in the middle of dire circumstances. Hope leads to inspiration. Without hope, the people perish, as Charles Wesley sang. It is true that our hope lies in Christ, but not because of when he came, but because of why he came.
The fact that this passage inspired so many predictions of Christ’s return made me stop and think--if you could predict the future, would you really want to?
We long to lift the veil and get a glimpse of the future, to have an inside track on what to expect. We get a little carried away though, don’t we? Even in our scientific and technological age, we turn to astrology and its belief that the events of the world and the happenings in our individual lives are influenced by vibrations in the heavens, and alignment of the stars and planets.
The prospect of knowing what will happen next in your life is enticing, but we are best served living not in the future nor the past, but in the present. I believe this is what Jesus had in mind. In making his pronouncement, Jesus uses this vivid imagery—the sky darkening, the fig tree blossoming, the homeowner returning from a long journey. Images and details so vivid we get obsessed with their exact meaning instead of Jesus message which is to "Be on guard! Be alert!" and "Keep watch.”
And I like the way English poet Thomas Carlyle summed up the message:
"Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand." Thomas Carlyle
Stay focused. What is happening to you right now matters greatly to God’s bigger picture. Yet, we persist in trying to live somewhere other than the present. We want to be mind-readers and crystal ball gazers even though we know that our only power to act on Christ’s behalf resides in the here and now.
Even the Apostle Paul himself, one of history’s most powerful actors, fell prey to looking ahead. He was one of the first predictors of when Christ would return. In his earlier letters he shows that he himself expected the literal return of Christ in his lifetime. He writes:
"Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them, to meet the Lord in the air." (I Thess. 4:17)
After awhile, though, Paul himself realized that this literal expectation was becoming a distraction, so he wrote other letters advising people to go back to work and stop worrying about the Second Coming, and try to live out Christ’s first coming. (Thanks to Dr. David Rogne for this opening illustration).
Of course we would like to know when Christ will return; but it is much more vital to live for why Christ came in the first place.
The Season of Advent
Today, we enter the Season of Advent, the time of waiting, a full month dedicated to being prepared. The birth of Christ may have taken place in an insignificant hay-box, yet our souls are liberated by everything Christ did in his life, death and resurrection outside that box.
Because he traveled his holy journey, we are able to walk with his Holy Spirit. Through him, we are no longer confined to the penalty box, the sin-box. We are free to journey with him through time, our time and his time, but we must constantly be prepared to say yes to his urgings.
Being prepared is a value we hold high as parents, teachers, scout leaders; right from the git-go we stress to our young that preparedness and great achievement go together.
Norwegian adventurer Lars Monsen spent 947 days crossing the Canadian wilderness by canoe and dog sled. A 7000 mile journey through the middle of nowhere.
He encountered wolves, bears, forest fires, icy waters and winter temperatures down to minus 80 degrees during his two-and-a half-year trip. He told a local TV reporter that at one point he did not dare go to sleep for four days and nights, for fear that he would not wake again from the extreme cold.
Will any one of us face such physical extremes? No. But Jesus does require us to be spiritually prepared just like this. He said it quite clearly:
“...if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
How ever do we do this? The world would prefer that you not be spiritual; that you pay no attention to your soul, your spiritual journey.
Lars Monsen spent many an hour going over his list of needs based on all the possibilities that he would face on a long, Canadian arctic journey: transportation, proper clothing, shelter, food supplies, camping and survival gear. He took nothing with him that he didn’t need.
Our lists of spiritual preparation, however, may not look as clean.
We carry baggage that would make a camel feel burdened. Somehow, in spite of Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf, we still decide to box our own selves in.
How much baggage are you carrying around? What has piled up on your plate that you won’t let go of? I see in last Tuesday’s paper an article appeared regarding spiritual practice. The article is entitled “Power Of Self-compassion.” Say what? Self-compassion? Who does that?
The author writes: “We’re good to our kids and grandkids, and we want to save the whales, but when it comes to being on our own side, forget it.” Jen Weigel.
Church, Jesus loves you in the best way possible. The love he offers is the only item necessary for our spiritual list. Can you start to let a little bit of that love in? Today would be the perfect day to begin to let his love lead us outside the box. You can love the world but if you treat yourself poorly, Jesus’ purpose for you will go lacking.
What better day than the first day of Advent to start tossing stuff, lightening our load, deleting physical, mental and spiritual baggage that only hinders and causes us to stumble. You might think about it like going under the sink occasionally to get rid of all that toxic junk that accumulates down there.
In Advent we are called to clean our spiritual house; and not only clean it, but replace the poison with Christ’s love and forgiveness.
“...Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
Outside the box
In times of economic hardship or uneasiness about the future the urge to leave the present is strong. All manner of prophets have manipulated, multiplied, added, subtracted, and divided the numbers to be found in various books of the Bible to come up with their own dates for the coming of Christ. In the 19th century alone, dates announced for the Second Coming of Christ included 1835, 1838, 1839, 1843, 1844, 1866, 1870, and 1873.
Forecasting Christ’s coming is still a big business.
Roy Bonisteel, a columnist, writes about just such an experience. "A few years ago," he says, "I noticed in my local paper that a farm was for sale a few miles from where I lived. I didn't know the owner that well, but I was familiar with the farm. As a boy I had climbed its hills where towering pines reached for the sun. I had cross-country skied over its fields, hiked across its meadows and along its sparkling creeks. There was a large brick farmhouse and a sturdy dairy barn on the property. Mildly interested, I visited the owner, a man in his 40s, and asked why he was selling.
"Because the world is coming to an end one year from next month. I'm getting rid of all earthly possessions," he answered. When I inquired about the price, he replied, "$25,000." Considerably more interested, I protested, "But this place is worth five times that." "I know," he said, "But $25,000 is all I need to live on for one year. -- We are promised that when Judgment Day comes, the wicked will perish and the righteous shall inherit the earth. Not only will I be saved, but I'll likely get my farm back."
"I stared at him in astonishment and disbelief," says Bonisteel. "Then I bought the farm."
History is full of too many false predictions, based on a yearning to have an inside track to the future. Is it any wonder that religion leaves much skepticism in its wake.
A friend once told me about a small resort town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains which he liked to visit on weekends. The town had a movie theater of sorts that was open only on weekends. You could never plan on seeing a movie, he said, because, for economic reasons, the management had a policy of not running the film unless at least ten people showed up. As soon as ten paying customers were there, the movie would begin, whether it was 7:00 pm, 8:20, or 10:00 o'clock. If less than ten people came, it was a "no show." There was no exact schedule.
Is that any way to run a business? Certainly not a conventional model.
But one thing is for sure, the schedule was up to the management.
Can we accept that as true also? That we are not management, rather we are the help? Our task is not setting or predicting the schedule, but laboring in the vineyard
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther wisely advised: "We are to believe and live and love and work as though Jesus Christ died yesterday, rose today, and is coming tomorrow." If we are doing our duty, however simple that duty may be, on the day Christ comes for us, our lives will be complete.
Yes, we are still waiting. Are we waiting for the right reasons? You won’t find CNN News offering hourly reports of anticipation. No battery of lawyers will be filing suits and counter-suits to get the kingdom of God in just the exact form necessary. No government officials are preparing for the transition from the kingdom of this world to God’s reign. We only have the testimony of the One who told us to keep watch, and the baby in the manger who reminds us how surprised everyone was the last time it happened.