Sermon: Are You Ready?
Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: December 1, 2019, Advent #1
There are two types of people in the world. Those people who use PCs and the rest of us who are Mac users. We are fiercely loyal to Mac computers and are the adherents of “once you go Mac, you never go back.” Well, that was the case up to two weeks ago.
As PCs have the dreaded Blue Screen of Death which appears when the system freezes up, Macs have the Swirly Pinwheel of Death that starts swirling around and around when its system freezes. I’ve been seeing a lot of Pinwheels lately. This is unusual for a Mac and lately, it’s become so bad that the only way out is to manually turn off the computer and then restart it. This is known as the dreaded hard reboot of a system.
When you do a hard reboot of a computer, you are going to lose something you have been working on whether it’s the plane reservations you have been making or the term paper or sermon you have been working so hard on. When you do a hard reboot on the computer, you hold your breath and painstakingly wait to see if your work has been saved.
Today’s scripture is about a hard reboot to a system, namely humanity’s understanding of time. Whereas Christmas looks at God’s first advent or coming to us in the baby Jesus, the first Sunday in Advent asks us to pause and reflect upon the second coming of Jesus, not as a little baby but as the Prince of Peace and King of Creation. We begin with the second advent of Jesus this season to remind ourselves God will make good on God’s promises never to leave us alone and orphaned. It’s a reminder that when we look to the sky, shake our fists, and tell God, “Life isn’t fair!” God smiles and says, “You’re right, beloved. Hold on because I’m coming to get you soon!”
Like a computer, our life and world have a bug that has slowed down our performance and causes us to crash a lot. The “bug” infecting us is sin. What is sin? Sin is a part of our human condition that generates our propensity to deface the image of God in God, in our neighbor, in ourselves and in our environment. Jesus comes and demonstrates God’s perfect plan for how we are to live but we see how far that got Jesus, don’t we? Jesus was sent to save the system so that when it crashes, there is still hope.
Well, today is about Jesus’ hard reboot to the system. Some call it the second coming. Others call it ‘the rapture.’ We all know it as the apocalypse. The apocalypse is God’s hard reboot. It’s when everything is quickly turned off and then fully restored.
Let’s take a look at this reboot and look at a fresh perspective on how we get ready for it. Hear our words today from Matthew 24:36-44.
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
This is an unusual apocalyptic text from Matthew. Unlike the Apostle John’s famous apocalyptic story, Revelation, where all those fantastic cosmic events occur that we cannot understand, Matthew is much more subtle on how the second advent of Jesus takes place in humanity’s total everyday ordinariness. Jesus is telling the disciples that they do not need to waste their time looking for ‘signs’ that the redemption of Creation is about to happen; rather, disciples are called to live our lives in expectant hope that whenever the fateful day arrives, we are prepared.
Jesus walks up to a farmer at harvest time, taps him on the shoulder and says, “Excuse me. It’s me. It’s that time.”
A woman is pushing a grocery cart at Publix, turns down the spice aisle, bumps her cart into Jesus’, and he tells her, “Guess what time it is?”
You are fast asleep in the middle of the night and the hi-tech Simply Safe alarm you picked up at Best Buy on Black Friday failed to detect Jesus as he entered the house. He gently shakes you on the shoulder and says, “Hello! Wake up! It’s time to go!” You anxiously ask, “Um, go where?” and with a poker face he replies, “Oh – you’ll see.”
Matthew paints the picture of humanity wrapped up in everyday activities when the time of judgment arrives. We will be out at dinner enjoying fine wine and a fillet and then it’s time. We will be at the Super Bowl party when the really bad halftime show fades away to meaninglessness and you are immediately brought face-to-face with a glorified Christ. Then again, you may be at the Premier wedding event of the season when all of a sudden, the fulfillment of all times takes place; and there you are in the midst of judgment.
The deal is this: we look for signs as to when these things will take place and the word Matthew is spelling out to you and me is this: God will show up in the most mundane events of our everyday lives so be ready now. Matthew is not so much about sign-reading as Matthew wants us to be more life-living in a state of readiness. Furthermore, it’s a word that’s not directed solely to individual followers of Jesus; unlike today’s American Christianity that thinks one’s faith is “all about me,” Matthew is directing his words to the Christian community as a whole. We read how Jesus is speaking to “you” in the singular but he’s not; when Jesus declares “You also must be ready!” he is using the plural, ‘all y’all!’
He is asking us, “Church, what are you as a Christian community doing to help each other get ready for the moment of the second coming? Are you doing your own thing or are you working together to ensure that you’re ready. Are y’all ready for when I return?”
The church has done a pretty poor job of letting people know about the coming judgment. We need to rethink what we understand of judgment because we have painted it with a lot of coats of different colored paint and it’s difficult to make out what it really is. We have acquiesced its real power and story to the people or to the fringes who have made a spectacle of Christ’s return.
Those on the theological left have ignored the whole concept and have buried it in the sands of antiquity and have widely ignored the fact that all of us will have to appear before the judgment seat of God. For them, it’s an intellectual exercise. Those on the theological right, however, are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good and they totally forget that new life in Christ begins the moment one says, “I believe” and a result, we are called to live like that now. Judgment for them is God behind the judge’s bench when we get to heaven and God will let us in or tell us to take the escalator down to the lower level.
Today is the day we are to ask ourselves, “Are we ready?” Church, we mistakenly think God’s first question to us at judgment will be, “Did you love me?” when in reality, the question will be, “Did you demonstrate your love for me by loving and caring for those around you?” The question is not so much what I have done in my life to get myself into heaven; rather, the issue is how much have I sacrificed my life to help others get there like Jesus did for me! I truly believe when we come to God face to face, God will not ask you and me, “What did you do to get here?” I think God’s question will be more along the lines of, “I gave my son so others may have life. So who, Christian, who Church, did you bring with you in Jesus’ winsome wake of love?”
One of the striking moments in the blockbuster movie from years ago, The Titanic, is the scene when the ship is going down and people are trying to outrun one another to the lifeboats. They are physically jostling others out of line or they make demands that because they are first-class passengers, they deserve to be saved first. This chaotic scene is juxtaposed to another moment on the boat when bandleader, Wallace Hartley, continued leading his eight-member band to play music as the ship was going down. Hartley and his friends wanted to bring a hopeful, peaceful calm to the passengers as the horrible tragedy took place. So, in the midst of panic, they gently played, “Nearer my God, to Thee.”
Being ready is not about our securing a seat on God’s lifeboat. Being ready means stationing ourselves as a church along the way to help others get their seats.
Today’s text is our Lord’s clarion call to be ready and to be focused on what we are supposed to be focused on before the hard reboot comes. Are we?
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.