Disclaimer: Because the sermon below is what was prepared, but sat on the pulpit. The sermon that was delivered may vary from what is written below...

GOSPEL READING:  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, 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.”

Sermon for December 1, 2019  

 

This morning’s reading is in the middle of a two-chapter apocalyptic section that began when Jesus’ predicted that the temple would be thrown down. Then the disciples asked two questions, “When will these things be?” and “What is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  However, since this Gospel was written around 80 to 85 A.D., the temple had already been destroyed, so the question, “When will these things be?” was already answered.

One of the interesting things about this morning’s reading is the fifty-fifty percentage; one will be left and one will be taken.  Now I feel sure that half the people in the world are not evil, so why the 50-50 split?  It’s an interesting answer, and has very little to do with good and evil; it has to do with the reason we’re here in the first place, which is to serve.

Here’s what we need to remember—nothing in the universe was created without a reason—everything—and I mean everything—was created to serve a purpose, even if that purpose was only temporary, but necessary for something else to exist—dinosaurs and saber tooth tigers.  Their existence led to something else and then they were not needed and died out.

So why were we created?  We’re servants.  The sad thing about life is that “servanthood” is thought of as demeaning.  Biblically—especially in the New Testament, the term “servants” or “slaves” is often used to describe God’s people. How many times do we read Jesus’ parables about a king or land owner going off to a far country leaving His servants, often called slaves, in charge? 

Well, guess what?  We are the slaves that have been left in charge while the King—Jesus—has gone off to a far country and whose return has been delayed just as He knew it would be. 

But before leaving He left instructions on the manner in which we were to live…granted, they are just guides, but all of which make the world better for someone else. 

So, what is He going to think upon His return? 

Well I can tell you one thing, He ain’t gonna be pleased.

What does it mean to be a servant or a slave?  Anyone who has worked for a living has been a servant to someone else.  Even those of us who have been self-employed work for someone else providing a service.  Servants/slaves provide a service.  And the truth is, we’re only satisfied when we are providing a service—especially one which benefits humanity.

So, getting back to the 50 – 50 split, what’s that all about.  Both who were taken were working—two were in the field, one was taken, one was left; two women grinding meal, one is taken, one is left.  So, what was the difference? Why was one lifted up and the other rejected?

There are some things in life that are learned responses; there are other things in a human personality that are inherent.  Inherent responses can be seen in a nursery where you have very young children.  Some are self-centered—“Mine!”—and they grab a toy away from another child.  But then there’s the child who says, “Here, you can have mine,” to the child crying. 

Both responses are instinctual.  That being the case, the one most suited to universal service would be the one who instinctually was the giver.  However, though it’s difficult—the self-centered child can learn to be a loving and giving person.  The teachings of Jesus are left for those of us who have those natural, but self-centered tendencies.  We’re the ones who Jesus came to save.  He did it both by example and by teaching—which we find in the Gospels.

But we can’t change without at least a glimmering of belief in God; a glimmering strong enough to make us investigate, which often begins by someone who has invited us to church.  Then what we hear seems to ring true even though it’s mystical.  If we like and admire the people who invited us, that’s also a plus. 

There are many ways of finding God, but all of them require some degree of effort.

That we must change is borne out in the next chapter that closes with Jesus’ portrayal of the judgment of the nations in which the Son of Man separates people into two separate categories:

1.     the sheep who served, “the least of these.”  They have acted as Christ’s servants by helping others in need with no thought of reward.  Then there’s…

2.     the goats, who failed that kind of service.  They may have done the work, but only for the reward.  The sheep are then welcomed into the kingdom, while the goats are eternally condemned to the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Jesus constantly reminds us to be prepared for His return.  Loving service is how we prepare.  Those who heed the warning will receive great blessings; those who do not will forever be lost.   

We are now entering into the Christmas season.  Now is the time for honest reflection of who we are.  So even though I may not like these end-time scriptures during this time of the year, I do see their appropriateness—especially when the reality of the Heavenly Birth is so out-of-synch with the ways of the world.  The season is not about buying and giving.  It’s about the birth of the servant King who came to teach, serve, die and rise.  It’s not about Black Fridays, merchant profits, or what should we give aunt Matilda,

Here’s what we need to remember about this reading:  • That the Holy One will come again. • That, unlike the first time His coming will be swift, surprising everyone.  That there will be no warnings. • That we will be divided into two groups—those who are taken and those who are left behind. • That we need to be ready.

It’s been nearly 2000 years since Jesus’ lived.  He warned that the Master’s return maybe long delayed.  Are we prepared?  Many of us think so, but we’re not.  Many are not even prepared for this present life—even just a weather related power failure can prevent us from getting gasoline or being able to buy food from a store because everything is computer operated. If you don’t have a wood, propane or kerosene stove, you’re going to get cold and may not even be able to cook. 

If so many of us are not prepared for this life, a life we know, how can we possibly be prepared for that which we don’t know?

So, here’s the deal: everyone has been given a lifetime to get to know God through Jesus.  Those who reject or are lukewarm can expect the door to be closed and locked at the end.  I included lukewarm because Jesus said, “would that you were hot or cold, but you’re tepid and so I vomit you out of my mouth.”  Very strong wording, but also very clear.

He has made it clear what He expects regarding our behavior—standards that must be taken seriously. Once He returns—and He will—it will be too late—too late to ask for help—too late to pray—too late to read the Bible—too late to be baptized—too late.  It will matter not how we weep and wail and gnash our teeth—and no one knows either the hour or the day.

So let us take the teachings of Jesus seriously.  Let us learn.  Let us be prepared.  Then we can celebrate Christmas the way it should be—with Jesus as the centerpiece.