Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Wake Up to God’s Call to Evangelize

Advent I
December 2, 2007
Matthew 24:36-44
Bethany Lutheran Church

(Alarm clock rings.) “Wake up!”

“Wake up you sleepy heads. Get up get out of bed. See how the sun is shining. Stand up and move your toes. Tell them, ‘It’s time to go.’ You’ve got a lot to do today.” These are the words to a song that I knew as a small child and they seem entirely appropriate on this day, the first Sunday in Advent. “Keep awake!” Jesus said, “For you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

We have an interesting gospel text this week. And if you think back, only two weeks ago, we had the same parallel text, except in Luke’s gospel. I spent a few days with a terrible cold this past week, which meant a few days of not being able to form a coherent sentence due to the drugs and medications. I contemplated reusing that sermon I preached two weeks ago. Not too many people would have noticed given that attendance was quite low that week on account of huntin’ season. But if I had done that, those of you who had already heard my sermon might begin to fall asleep, when on this Sunday Matthew’s gospel emphasizes that we indeed must keep awake.

Well then, the question is what to preach? Given this week’s gospel, how about judgment? – A good old fashioned hell, fire and brimstone sermon about our sinful selves and the wrongs that we have committed – A sermon that might allow me to bang on the pulpit and raise my voice louder than any of you have ever heard it. A sermon that reflects on today’s gospel reading and warns you that if you do not watch out, the person sitting beside you might be taken up to the Lord, while you are left here to roam around this war-torn earth. But lucky for you, I am not the hell, fire and brimstone type.

Instead, I urge you all to (alarm clock sounds) “keep awake.” And be alert for we do not know when Jesus’ second coming will take place. The disciples tried to ask Jesus himself when the day and the hour would be, but even Jesus did not seem to know. Suppose for a moment that he did know the imminent time of his return. I suppose that most churches might then remain empty. The buildings would be there, but no one would flock to them until just before the time of Jesus’ second coming took place. It is sort of like watching some of you show up here to worship each week who have everything perfectly timed. The service begins at 10:30am, sharp, when Bob tolls the bell. Some of you conveniently know exactly how much time it takes to drive from your house, park your car in the church parking lot, walk through the door, stopping only briefly to hang up your coat, and then proceeding into the sanctuary to your designated pew, precisely at 10:29, right on time.

This philosophy may work for some of you on a Sunday morning, although you miss Jim’s wonderful organ preludes. Our gospel text, however, and this season of Advent which today we begin to celebrate once again, suggests otherwise. Rather, what is necessary is constant preparation, constant alertness. For God expects more than a last minute turning to obedience at the sight of a mere “sign.” Our Christian identity is not something that we can switch on and off like a water faucet. What our God expects of us is a life of constant readiness, in the same way that you are warned to protect your home from the theft of burglars. Jesus also uses the story of Noah and the flood as another example. Noah and his family may not have been able to predict the actual date of the flood, but they were certainly prepared with that great ark which they had built.

I would like to believe that Jesus knew what he was doing when he retold the story of Noah and the judgment of God when the flood waters rained down for forty days and forty nights. The problem is that we like to think we are smart and so as our grade school teachers have taught us how to craft similes, when comparing two things, we make the second coming a passage about judgment, just like the Noah story. My problem is that I do not see the word “judgment” explicitly mentioned in this gospel text. And the more I ponder this text, the more I see grace – for this passage does not scream a message of judgment, but rather a message of warning. If this passage was only about judgment, then Jesus’ second coming could have determined who the faithful Christians were a few millennia ago.

On the contrary, this passage, a message of warning, is a call to discipleship. In case you do not believe me, let us return to the text. It is right there in verses 40 and 41. “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.” Likewise “two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” You see, it just does not make any sense to me why one would be taken and the other would be left. We already know that each of us is just as sinful as the next person. And if one was taken and one was left because one was a Christian and the other was not…  –  Well that does not make any sense to me either. These two men and these two women were doing normal everyday activities. If one of those men in the field was not a Christian, then why didn’t the other man bring up Christ into one of their conversations? Then both of them would have been Christians. Right, my mistake, men do not discuss such things while working in the fields. As for those two women, well, talking about Christ is an awfully heavy subject while you are grinding wheat, and baking your cakes.

Why would God leave anyone on this earth outside of salvation for not being a Christian when it has been our charge all along to go and spread the gospel, to go and testify to others about Jesus Christ? Spreading the gospel and the faith of Christianity is our task here on earth. Apostle Paul understood this. In our passage today from Romans, Paul writes, “you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Paul has renewed the charge, the call to discipleship. “Wake from [your] sleep.” Rise up out of these pews and go tell someone about Christ, and let it be someone who is lacking in faith.

Statistics show that the average Lutheran invites someone to church once every 25 years.  Those are not exactly statistics to be proud of. There are many people outside these walls who are living in doubt, yet who long so desperately to believe. Many of them would gladly come to church, if only someone would invite them. What if, right now, I declared that next Sunday is “bring a friend Sunday.” But what if I added the stipulation: that if you don’t bring a friend next Sunday, then you shouldn’t bother coming.  Our congregation could easily be doubled. Or, out of fear at the thought of having to invite a friend, no one might show up next week.

But, my brothers and sisters, what are we afraid of? Why do we have so many problems talking to others about Christ? Some evangelists, we might argue, talk about Christ a little too much, but what is keeping us from talking about Christ even just a little? Our response to the uninformed enthusiasm of evangelists over the end times, cannot be a response of apathy. We cannot wait another day. It just might be too late.

If we regard our gospel passage as a message of judgment over who is and is not a Christian, then maybe we should be judged most harshly for having failed in the Christian mission to spread the gospel. If anyone is to be left outside of salvation, perhaps it should be us. Except I have already told you that this passage is not one of judgment but rather one of warning. Christ has not yet returned because God still has work for us to do. God still has a message for us to proclaim. God still has a people who are God’s own, yet they are still in need of hearing the message of Christ, they are still in need of hearing the gospel.

We mark the beginning of the Advent season on this Sunday – a time of preparation and of great anticipation for the coming of Christ, to our world. But I urge you, wake up. Wake up to the wonder of God’s redeeming love that is already at work within the world. Wake up to generosity, giving for the sake of others, giving for the sake of those who have a great many needs. Wake up to all those who are in need of hearing from you who this Jesus guy is. Wake up, because there is no better day than today, no better time than the present.

As we lit the first candle today, we prayed through our singing “Make us your own, your holy people, light for the world to see.” Do not hide your Christian identity from the world, rather make it known because there are people out there longing to see the light of Christ that is already burning within you. Share that light with them, for all to see.

The time of Christ’s second coming will be at a time when we least expect it. Even when all seems normal, when people are at school or at their job, the end may come. We will be most ready for Christ’s second coming, we will be most prepared, when being ready has become a habit. And when he comes, it will be so great the everyone will recognize it, so long as you are awake. So wake up and may this Advent season rekindle that light of Christ within you, empowering you to go forth proclaiming Christ to others. Amen

Vicar Luke Smetters

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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