God’s Story, Our Story: Keep Awake!

Preaching: Jordan Clegg
Text: Mark 13: 1-8, 24-37

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
oon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King! 

The end times, the apocalypse, Armageddon… whatever you want to call it, kind of obsessed and maybe even grotesquely fascinated with the end of the world and all the carnage and chaos that comes with it. To see this, we don’t have to look any further than the news and our entertainment choices right? Back in the ‘90s many of us dove deep into the Left Behind book series, a fictional account of the end times based on a certain interpretation of biblical apocalyptic texts. More recently, a radio evangelist predicted the rapture would happen in 2011. Around that same time the media went a little bit crazy over the discovery that an ancient Mayan calendar stopped in the year 2012. Even today, one of the most popular shows on TV is about the zombie apocalypse and the George Miller film Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated ten Oscars and won six.

We are fascinated by this stuff. And it seems that Jesus’ disciples may have been too. We, like the disciples would love to know the date, the time, the signs, and all that is to come at the end of all things. Who better to ask than the Messiah, God’s own Son, when you have him sitting right in front of you? But Jesus isn’t telling. At least he isn’t telling much. When asked, Jesus doesn’t give the disciples the answer they may have been looking for because…

1)    He doesn’t know. He comes right out and says it. Only the Father knows. Marlin and Ken both touched on this over the last few weeks. Jesus, in his humanity doesn’t know certain things.

2)    Maybe more importantly, I don’t think Jesus would tell the disciples or – us for that matter –even if he did know. This is because Jesus wants his followers to live in a state of wakefulness: dwelling in the present and paying attention to our surroundings.

We are called to live our lives as if heaven might burst in near or around us at any moment. In fact, I believe that at any given moment the heaven is breaking in near or around us, and if we are living as a wakeful people, we have the opportunity to see it, proclaim it, and respond in participation.

Jesus was a master of the present because Jesus was a prophet. If prophets have a super power, it isn’t the ability to tell the future, it is the ability to be hyper observant of the present. When Jesus talks about buildings and stones being “thrown down” he isn’t necessarily talking about the end of all things, but the end of world as the disciples knew it. What Jesus sees and knows is that the path that Jewish culture was on – the path of zealots and rebels – would likely force the Roman’s hand in the near future. In this case, Jesus nailed it. In 70 A.D., before Jesus’ generation had passed away the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.

Jesus also knew human nature. He knew that humans have this tendency to become infatuated with predicting and preparing for what they think will happen in the future only to fall asleep on the job in the present.

If the opposite of wakefulness is sleep, then it is easy – especially in the season of Lent – to see the writer, Mark, doing a little bit of foreshadowing when Jesus repeatedly warns the disciples to “keep awake.” It wouldn’t be long now before a distressed and agitated Jesus would approach his disciples in a garden multiple times asking them, “…are you still asleep?”

Did you ever wonder why the disciples couldn’t or wouldn’t stay awake for what we see at such a pivotal moment in Jesus’ life?

Maybe they simply didn’t think anything important would happen. Maybe their pride in their teacher and national heritage got the better of them. Maybe they thought, “God is with us…nothing will happen…nothing to see here…let’s take a nap.” Maybe they still didn’t understand that Jesus had not come to overthrow the Romans in a military coup, but salvation would come to the whole world first through death followed by resurrection and ascension.

Or maybe we can give the disciples a little more credit than that. Maybe… it had been a very busy week. Do you know what that is like? The week began with Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city, the sights and sounds of Jerusalem, the great buildings and beautifully carved stones of Herod the Great, the King of the Jews, then to the temple… overturned tables, parables, teachings, healings, arguments with religious scholars, and finally a dramatic Passover in the upper room. It is no wonder that when the disciples arrived at the solitude and quiet of the garden they simply collapse in exhaustion. They had run themselves ragged. They had nothing left. Not even the energy to stay awake and be present with their friend and teacher who was clearly in distress.

Do you know the feeling?

Do you know what it is like to fill nearly every minute of every day for five, six days in a row only to collapse in a heap at the end of the week?

And it starts again on Monday.

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King!

Is the pace of our busy lives causing us to fall asleep on the job?

Imagine Jenna with me. Jenna is sixteen, a junior in High School. She’s a good student. She does her homework…most of the time. Well, if she’s honest, there’s an assignment or two each week that is hastily completed in the short breaks between classes…usually it’s a math assignment. Jenna loves to sing and was excited to learn that she was accepted into her school’s elite choir this year. She plays volleyball in the fall and soccer in the spring. The last couple of years she’s gotten small roles in the school musical which rehearses in the winter months.  She got into the honors English class this year as well. It will be extra homework but it will look good on a college resume along with the variety of other activities she’s involved with. She’s really feeling the pressure around the college thing this year. It seems like every day some adult is asking her, “What colleges are you looking at? What do you want to major in?”

Last week was a busy week for Jenna. If she were to stop and think about it, the week before was just as busy, and the week before that, and the week before that. She pushes hard all week through school, homework, soccer games, musical rehearsals, and choir concerts and then arrives at the weekend exhausted only to have to keep pushing through with more homework and a Saturday soccer game with her travelling league. Sunday comes. Jenna is tired.

Rick and Eva, Jenna’s parents, are tired too. All week they’ve been driving back and forth from rehearsals, performances, games, and college visits. Not to mention their own hectic work schedules putting in extra hours to earn some overtime, get that better job, that next promotion so they can pay for their daughter’s college tuition, save for retirement, and maybe someday spoil some grandkids rotten. It’s hard to get out of bed for church on Sunday.  Something in them wants to do absolutely nothing for just one day. But they pile in the family vehicle and arrive at the sanctuary…ten minutes after the service has started. At least they are in time for the sermon. The preacher asks the congregation to reflect, “Where did you see God this week?” Jenna and her family struggle to think of anything. They’d barely had time to see one another this week, much less an invisible God. In their attempts to prepare for the days to come they busied themselves with the many good things…only to miss out on the very best things.

Do you know Jenna?

Do you know Jenna’s parents?

Are you Jenna?

Are you Jenna’s parents?

For some of us this might be striking a chord. It does for me. Anne and I referred to one another as “two ships passing in the night” this past week. I’m leaving home as she is arriving; she’s arriving here at church just as I’m leaving for the day. Some of us may feel a twinge of guilt around this. For others there may be a persistent ache of despair that comes with shame. Guilt can be ok. It can motivate us to seek forgiveness and make a change. Guilt can be like noticing a bit of mold on a piece of fruit…when we notice it we take care of the problem, we throw it away before it gets worse. Shame on the other hand is like leaving that fruit out until it begins to rot, and smell to the point that the fruit is no longer even distinguishable as fruit. It so repulses us that we don’t even want to touch it. Guilt says you screwed up, shame says you are a screw up. Guilt can motivate. Shame paralyzes. Guilt speaks to actions. Shame speaks to identity. Jesus has come to take away our shame, and give us a new identity. This is what happens in baptism. So before you start to feel too much shame let me give you some really good news. Jesus says:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

Here is some more good news…we are certain that one day Christ will return and complete the work of redemption that God has been doing since humanity first sinned.

Jesus tells us in Revelation, “Surely, I am coming… [when?]… soon.”

That’s all we get. That’s pretty much all Jesus gives the disciples when they ask. Why? Because we are called to be wakeful; to live our lives with a spirit of “soon-ness” expecting to see something, even a glimpse at any moment.

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King!

Are you beginning to see it? The arrival of God’s kingdom is more than just some distant, one-time event. Heaven is breaking in all around us and the Holy Spirit has gifted us with the ability to see glimpses of it if…

…we are wakeful.

…we respond the Spirit’s promptings to pay attention.

…we create margins in our lives that allow us to stop…and look at our surroundings.

Let’s say through the power of the Holy Spirit we’re able to find rest from the rigorous rhythms of our lives or at least find some way to pay better attention in the midst of it all.

How do we know heaven when we see it and what are we to do when we catch a glimpse?

One place we get a glimpse of heaven is in worship. Every time we gather we get a glimpse of heaven breaking in on earth. This isn’t something the pastors or I manufacture. This is God’s doing. God gives us a glimpse of heaven every time Christians gather for worship. We get our most vivid glimpse of heaven when we gather at the table for Communion. It is through the sharing of bread and wine that we get to experience – in the present – what God has in store for our future, when we will live in communion with God and one another, when every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord of all.

But we don’t just see heaven here in worship. Worship helps us recognize heaven when we go back to our daily lives. We get glimpses of heaven when…

…children who normally go hungry on the weekends have a regular source of healthy food through Hand 2 Hand Ministries.

…when the families of those same children get help breaking out of the cycles of poverty so that they no longer need the handout; their dignity restored.

…Christians get to know their neighbors (even just those who live on either side of them) with no agenda…just a desire for community, for relationship.

…nearly 60 Christians from the Holland Classis gather to acknowledge the pain felt by people of color in our community and choose to stand in solidarity with them and declare together that black lives do matter.

…when a family with children on the autism spectrum finds a home among us and when we realize that those children are not burdens for us to bear but that they bless this community and honor God immensely with their presence and participation.

Heaven is breaking in. Again, this not our doing, it is Christ at work in the world that causes it. By the grace of God we can see it in worship and we can see it in our world if we take the opportunities to look for it.

Then what?

What are we to do when we catch a glimpse?

Jesus gives us an answer in the form of a mini parable:

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. 35 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, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

Jesus is calling us to be wakeful…like doorkeepers. A doorkeeper’s first job is to stay awake – to be attentive. A doorkeeper watches for the Master and when they get a glimpse of them in the distance [gesture out] they proclaim it to the household. But they don’t stop there. They open the door. They have an important role to play in participating in the Master’s arrival.

We are called to be doorkeepers.

Jesus commands us to stay awake – to watch attentively for the ways that God is at work around us.

Jesus commissions us to proclaim our glimpses to the world and to say, “Look! Heaven!”

Jesus invites us to open the door – to participate in the glimpses we get by naming and resisting injustice, feeding the hungry, lifting up the poor, showing compassion for the oppressed, listening and not dismissing pain of “the other”, building inclusive communities where “the other” is “other” no more, …the list goes on!

St. Francis of Assisi is attributed with saying something along the lines of, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” While this is a loose paraphrase the point is profound. Sometimes our loudest acts of proclamation are our actions: how we love one another, how we love our neighbors, the ways in which we participate in Christ’s work in the world. And then seizing opportunities when they arise, to talk about what and who motivates us in the work we do.

Christ is calling his Church to keep awake, to proclaim to the world what we’ve seen and heard by our wakefulness, and then open to door and participate in God’s activity in the world.

So what do our neighbors, community, and world see when they look at the church? What do they see when they look at you and your family? Do they see a wakeful church or a sleeping church?

The tragedy of the sleeping church is that when the church sleeps, the world wonders if God sleeps as well. [whisper] But God is not asleep; [crescendo] God is very much awake and active. God longs for the church to wakeful as well. The wakeful church proclaims and participates in what God is doing.

[Slower]The wakeful church becomes itself a glimpse of heaven on earth for those who might not otherwise see it.

[loud, fast] Friends, keep awake! For Christ is surely coming soon. Keep awake! For we may glimpse his glory only minutes from now as we step out of these doors. Keep awake! Tell the world. Open the door. Be the glimpse of heaven you are called to be. Keep awake!

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King!

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