We hate to wait.
But so much of life is about waiting.
Waiting is a lost art.
Advent begins today. The Christian year begins today. Happy new years! Advent, we begin the season of expectant waiting.
More like a child waiting on Christmas Eve than like waiting to renew our driver’s licenses at the DMV ( I think that would technically be purgatory…).
More like waiting for childbirth than being stuck in traffic.
It is like waiting for suffering to end, for healing or for death.
For a cure, for a miracle.
Waiting for a special meal to begin.
Or to see a friend who has been a long time absent.
Waiting for it to rain after everything has turned to dust.
Jesus gives us two little mini parables today about waiting.
Waiting for a fig tree to put forth its leaves. Waiting at the door for the return of the master that could be at any time. Learn from this lesson.
Waiting for summer, for things to turn green.
Waiting for homecoming, for the longtime absent to walk back through the door.
Learn from these. Learn to wait.
Mark is the oldest of the four Gospels. It was written during a time of turmoil, Israel was tearing itself apart, and all the might of the Roman Empire couldn’t keep the peace. In fact, it only made it worse. Life became unpredictable, unstable, unsure.
So the country was consumed by power, control, stockpiling wealth, drawing lines and choosing sides. Sounds familiar?
In walks Jesus, in walks the gospel, in walks the church. And their response to uncertainty? More of the same? More pointing the finger, more wagging of the head and raising of the voice? More of that?
No, it was something else, a different way of being in the world.
These parables of waiting are the response to a vision of creation falling apart, wearing out, running out of time, even stars die and fall from the sky, even the moon loses its shine.
Has your world ever fallen apart?
That is when it happens. Expect something, or rather someone.
The return of summer, the return of the one whose words outlive the heavens and the earth, whose word brings the world back together, life out of death, hope out of darkness, joy out of despair.
I’ve pretty much decided that Christians are weird. When things fall apart, we get expectant, we dramatically hope, never surrender, never despair. Because something is about to happen, and we don’t want to miss it.
This Advent waiting, it is as contrary as southern politicians and as stubborn as a bent nail.
When the world falls apart, wait for God to speak the word that makes all things new.
That is Advent. Waiting for summertime, for the world to turn green.
Because even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
But there it is.
Be that word, that walks back in through the door, that puts forth leaves, that hopes beyond reason, that brings life back to the dead places.
The lesson of these parables? 1) The world falls apart. 2) God can be trusted to bring it back together. We call it resurrection.
Which means that when life gets uncertain and the rest of the world hunkers down into fear and hate and anger, we get busy singing, inviting, loving and building up, contrary and stubborn until Jesus walks back through the door.
So what are we waiting for?
Hurry up… and wait.
Where do we find Jesus?
The Wise Men had it easy. They only had to travel a great distance, follow a star and avoid the evil clutches of King Herod.
Now the disciples didn’t have to find Jesus, Jesus found them. Then Jesus found them again, leaving the tomb to search them out. They couldn’t avoid Jesus it seems.
And us? Where do we find Jesus?
Do we have to wait till judgment day to be sifted like sheep and goats?
In Matthew’s Gospel God enters the world twice in the person of Jesus. The first is in being born from Mary, and the other is in being born in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and those in prison.
Rather than the gifts of the Wise Men with their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we meet Jesus bringing gifts of food, drink, welcome, clothing, caring and visiting.
The risen Lord, Christ the King, him in whom all fullness dwells, that Jesus is reborn into this world in the poor, in those who suffer, in those who are unknown, in those who are behind lock and key.
We meet Jesus in the sacrament of the poor, they have become holy.
This is Jesus’ final teaching before the passion begins. This is where he winds it all up.
We find not only where to meet Jesus, but we are also shown the foundation of the world, prepared from the beginning. We see the proper order and purpose of creation, the very foundation of the world.
Why are we here? That is what we find.
We are here to meet Jesus in the suffering of others. This is the foundation of all things. That is why the world exists. This is the throne of Jesus, the crucified one.
The mystery of creation, the mystery of redemption, the mystery of God’s judgment is that we find God by sharing in the suffering of others.
This is a strange thing.
It isn’t what we usually hear for the purpose of existence and the meaning of life.
We meet God in the vulnerable suffering and need of others. It is the foundation of the world, a deep and abiding communion of suffering with and for and tending to those who are on edge, who are isolated, forgotten, hidden, avoided and preyed upon.
This is the end of the Christian year. Next Sunday begins the new year with Advent. We end with the King who is found, not in perfect tidy lives, but in the messiness and pain of the world. In finding Jesus we find the foundation of the world, the fullness that fills all things.
The Good News of God is that meaning and purpose and the foundation of the world itself are not found in escaping and hiding from the pain of others.
Rather it is the exact opposite. Mercy is the foundation of all that is.
Find Jesus in the pain of the world, and find who you were created to be from the very beginning, from the foundation of the world.
What gift shall we bring our King?
Where will we find Jesus?
Have you ever met a true entrepreneur?
I’ve only met a few.
They are always up to something, always extending and overextending, juggling liquid and solid assets. You are never really sure if they are really wealthy or so broke, so in debt, that they seem to defy the laws of physics.
They start up, sell off, retire and start a new career, over and over again.
I have known plenty of people who work really hard, who are great at sales, at managing and engineering, eccentric inventors, those who manage their assets responsibly and generously, but very few true entrepreneurs.
They often have a manic energy, a recklessness and a slyness about them. They are fascinating.
They are all different from each other.
Their motivations are different.
But, what they have in common with each other, that sets them apart from the rest of us, is that they can see some part of the world better than most, they are see-ers, and they see a way to respond, a way forward.
And here’s the thing, they usually fail!
Their gift is that they are really good at failing, they do it all the time, and they start over again and again.
It isn’t so much that they are successful as it is that they are not afraid of taking risks and they are good at recovering from failure, in fact, failure and success don’t seem to be the point at all.
Most of us make careers out of moving things, people and ideas around. They do something else. They make something new happen. They create something that wasn’t there before. For some it makes money, for some, it creates beauty or community. Something new happens.
Keep awake, Paul tells us, keep awake and wait for the arrival of the new creation.
He writes of a busy kind of waiting, of encouraging and building up each other. If you have ever tried that, or seen others do it, you know that it is a never-ending project, encouraging and building up each other. We all need it.
The parable of the Talents, from Matthew, imagines a productive waiting, not a passive waiting.
We are shown a grace that inspires an entrepreneurial spirit that takes risks, that is not afraid to fail and start over and over again.
The one who hid the talent, who played it safe, is cast out because he imagined God to be harsh and unjust, inspiring fear and caution. Fearful passivity is not what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
The Kingdom is a gift that inspires hope and courage, risk and creativity, a willingness to fail and start again.
For the kingdom of heaven- is as if we are given a gift, out of nowhere, that is so overwhelming, so wonderful, that it inspires us to build up and encourage one another when everything else around us tries to tear us down and apart.
We are entrepreneurs of the Kingdom. We have been given an amazing gift in the person of Jesus and God says to us, “Surprise me.”
We give our lives to God in response to Jesus and God gives our lives back and tells us, “Surprise me, make your life something amazing.”
Build up one another.
Encourage one another.
As God has done so let us do for one another.
In my dreams I can fly.
I usually start out flapping my arms, just skimming the ground and then I catch the wind and swoop up through the trees and then I usually get tangled in the power lines…
It’s my favorite dream, especially when I avoid the entanglement part and make it up, up and away.
Some people say that if God intended us to fly he would have given us wings.
The earliest recorded Christian writing says otherwise. The sky is our destiny. We hear from that earliest Christian memory and writing today, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
A letter of hope beyond reason in the face of death and grief and disappointment.
Some early American revival traditions spoke of this chapter as the Rapture, combining it with some other unrelated passages of scripture, creating an event where the good guys are scooped up and the bad guys are left behind.
That reading usually trivializes God’s judgment with self-righteousness and misses out on the intention of Paul’s writing.
But rapture is a good word, we are held in rapt attention, our hope is filled with rapture, a delight beyond expression.
The Resurrection, the return of Jesus, the judgment, the restoration, the renewal of creation. That is what Paul is writing about. Do not lose hope. God is setting creation right again in the resurrection of Jesus, which we share in, which elevates our souls and bodies.
We begin today a short apocalyptic season, the last three Sundays of the Christian year and the first Sunday of the next year when Advent begins. Four Sundays that have the full weight of time and timeliness, the passing of time, the ending of time, the fulfillment of time. A season of unveiling the purpose and goal of all that is.
We hear today of hope, the hope that flies. We hear of waiting, of being ready, of being awake and attentive, of being prepared. We hear of the wise who are ready and the foolish that are not.
There is an infection of seriousness that has infested this world, this country and the faith of many believers. Satan fell by force of his own gravity, by taking himself so seriously, he was very grave.
The Gospel brings levity to the world, elevation, soaring flight, resurrection, ascension, it is what Paul calls being informed by hope, a hope that is stronger than death.
Do not be uninformed. That is Paul’s warning. Don’t fall for the stupidity of gravity and self-seriousness.
When the world offers up terror, fear, opportunism, and predation, the Gospel brings hope, rapture, love, and freedom.
Beware the self-indulgence of the fearful, the angry, the violent and those who profit from their depravity.
Do not be uninformed, bring hope, rapture, love, and freedom. Bring levity.
Be the opposite of a terrorist with their terrorism.
Be Rapturists, with rapturism.
Be wise, forsake foolishness. Learn to fly.
I run in the dark.
Most mornings, early, I’m out running the streets. It is very dark. The promise of sunrise is just hinting on the horizon when I get back home. Sometimes there are stars and moonlight. Sometimes there is the hazy glow of light pollution.
Running in the dark can be tricky.
I usually wear something reflective.
The streetlights make these little islands of light in a sea of night.
I run from island to island. Sometimes they are close to each other. Most times the islands of light are far apart.
The Saints. Lights in the dark. Islands of respite and courage.
No one is really sure when Christians began observing this day that celebrates the connection of the living and the dead in the Body of Christ. Because we share in Jesus body, and because Jesus lives, then when we die we live as well, death is done away with, it has lost its sting.
Yet we still feel that sting of grief, of loss. There is discontinuity between what we feel and what we know and hope. We are separated yet we are one in Christ, the communion of the saints is stronger than death. Today we lift up that strength and we are given strength.
Who are those who have been islands of light in the darkness for us?
A sea of darkness with lights scattered everywhere, the Communion of the Saints. Who are they? Where have you found respite and courage? Today we give thanks for those saints, those lights in our lives.
Of course, the thing about Saints is that they are contagious. Will we become islands of light, giving respite and courage to other travelers as well? Today we take up the torch and spread the holy fire.
Running in the dark can tricky.
We don’t run alone, we are in good company.
Today we celebrate that good company.
As John’s Gospel tells us “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Today, All Saints Sunday, we push the darkness back.
Lift up that strength that is stronger than death.
Give thanks for those who have given light in the darkness.
Take up that holy fire and spread it everywhere.
Celebrate the goodly fellowship.
Push the back the darkness.
I love stories that end happily ever after.
The hero rides off into the sunset.
Where everything gets resolved, the questions answered, the mystery solved, what was broke gets fixed, there is resolution.
But I also love the story of Moses, and his story is none of those things.
It does not have a conventional happy ending.
After a lifetime of facing off Pharaoh and wandering in the wilderness headed toward the land of promise, he makes it to the Mountain Top, he sees the other side, and he dies, the child of earth goes back to the dust.
The book of Torah ends there, the first five books of the Bible, the Books of Moses, end there with the promise just ahead, unobtainable and Moses dead and buried with the people weeping, wondering will they make it. It ends in dust returning to the earth.
It is unresolved, unfulfilled, open-ended.
God’s last words? “I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” God’s last speaking in the law.
We are left full of anticipation and disappointment. After all that, Moses was only given a glimpse, he didn’t make it. But it was enough.
Every generation hands off a future to the next generation that they will never see.
What is that future? What does it hold? Did we do right? Are we handing off something good? Will it be appreciated? How will we be remembered? Gifting a future that is a blessing? Or a burden? Or both?
We finish the story. What future are we setting up? Are we stretching and reaching forward to what is just ahead but just out of reach? Do we fill this moment with the vision of God’s way in the world? God’s word in the world? Speaking creation back together again and again and again even as things fall apart again and again and again.
That is the faith of Torah, of the first five books, the books of Moses. God holds the world together even as it flies apart back into the dust.
How do we read that word? That Torah? That promise that is always just up ahead?
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the five books of Torah, how do we read them? What are they about?
Around here they are usually used to find someone to denigrate and judge. But when Jesus quotes from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, he quotes love, love of God and love of neighbor and the two cannot be separated from each other.
These two loves, of God and neighbor, show us how to read the whole of Torah, and not only that but the Prophets as well.
Torah is about love. The Prophets are about love. The word that pulls the world back together is love. The sight of the Promised Land just up ahead, over the mountaintop, is a sighting of love.
That is the future that God is speaking into creation, gathering out of the dust. That is the faith that the followers of Jesus put into practice, the resurrection of all that is love, gathered back from the earth, raising up a new humanity.
Love is unresolved, there is no conclusion, no conventional happy ending. There is only the never-ending collapse back into the earth and the never-ending recreating the world, spoken back together by the word that is love, Jesus.
In the name of love, the law and the prophets speak.
May we be those who speak that word, always bringing the collapsing world back together, even as we go down to the dust ourselves, singing our song, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”