the 24th Sunday after Pentecost
November 15th, 2020
Today’s readings are:
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
It’s my birthday next week, so in our house we’re talking a lot about what birthdays are and what they mean. Gwendolyn remembers her birthdays, but Fiona doesn’t, so we get to tell her all about presents and cake and decorations and all the fun things that you get to do on your birthday. And Fiona gets this wide-eyed, amazed look in her face, and she says, “Fiona’s birthday next.” Her birthday is in April, and we say, no, next is Pops’ birthday, my own father’s birthday. No, not after that; next is Thanksgiving. Then Advent, then Christmas, and New Years, and Epiphany; then it’s your grandmother’s birthday, and Mommy’s birthday, and I haven’t checked when Easter is but it may even be after that. And the poor girl must feel like, goodness gracious will my birthday ever come?
We do a lot of waiting in life. We wait in line at the grocery store and we wait for the repair-man to come by. We wait for test results and worry if they’ll be good or bad. We wait for our loved ones to call to say that they got home safe and sound, and a lot of us are waiting for 2020 to be over, ‘cause this year has been tough. And we Christians, we’re waiting for Jesus.
Now, in a sense, we’re not waiting for Jesus at all. Jesus is already here. Jesus’ presence is already among us. We don’t have to wait for anything. I mean, we’re the Body of Christ here on earth. We are the hands and feet of the Good Lord, working salvation out in a hurting and battered world.
And Jesus is present in all the little deaths we go through, from learning to live with a new ailment to going to bed in the evening. One of the goals of Christian discipleship is to see the presence of Jesus Christ more often and more powerfully in the world around us. I saw Jesus up at the hospital the other day. He was standing next to the bedside of a woman in her last moments of life. He was working tirelessly with the nurses who were tending her. And he was with the woman’s husband, who opened his heart up to pray with me over his dying wife.
But we don’t have to go to the bedside of the dying to see Jesus. We see Jesus here in our liturgy, even in Morning Prayer. We see Jesus’ presence in the confession and absolution, in the Scripture that we read together, and the prayers we pray. We see Jesus’ presence – that kind, neighborliness we so often find in our small town, but that I’ve seen in Portland and New York City, too. And we hear Jesus’ voice when we see those locked in depression, hunger, sorrow, and grief. We hear Jesus’s call to go and serve those in need – whatever kind of need – and we find him there, already working away, burning the midnight oil. And it’s to this work we go when we accept that call.
But for us Christians, there’s another sort of ‘waiting for Jesus’ that we do. And in this season at the tail end of Ordinary time, and at the beginning of Advent, we read about when Jesus will come back in the fullness of glory. The End Time, the end of the world, and all this. This was something that the disciples and the people of Jesus’ time were talking about: when are you going to come down here, God, and clean up this mess? When are you going to set things right? When are you going to establish the Kingdom of Heaven? People around Jesus talked about this, and people in our own day talk about it. Folks dive into the Book of Revelation, looking for hints of when Jesus is coming back, and there are fictional books written about it, imagining what it might be like.
But time and time again, when people asked Jesus, “Hey, when are you coming back?”, Jesus’ answer was pretty much always, “I’m not telling you.” Or, rather, “You will know neither the day, nor the hour.” Be patient. Hold tight. Keep the faith. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be love, as I am love.
And we might look around, like some of our fellow Christians, and wonder, “Gee, God, if you’re planning on coming back and cleaning things up, now’s a good time to do it.” 2020 is a rough year, and I’ve heard a number of Christians say, well, this is it. This is what Revelation is talking about. God must be coming back.
This is something Christians say, though, during any crisis. Christians wondered about it during WWI and WWII. They worried about it during the bubonic plague in the middle ages, and they wondered about it during the Crusades and the Viking attacks. And they wondered about it at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem way back in the 1st century, a scant few years after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension.
We Christians too often get wrapped up in waiting. We wait for the end times, and we wait to feel the presence of God to say that God’s really there. We wait for people to come to church and wonder why they aren’t. And in this time of COVID, we are waiting for things to get back to normal before they can really start up again.
But the thing about our religion is that it’s not so much about waiting as it is about the loving presence of God. The Christian life isn’t waiting at the window for Jesus to come home, but about meeting Jesus in God’s good work in the world. Christian prayer isn’t about feeling good or uplifted – not all the time, anyway – but about listening more fully to God’s Word around us. The Christian life isn’t waiting around until the spring to start your garden but saying, hey, how about I plant some carrots, or kale, or spinach now in the fall. Our call as Christians is about living a life in God’s Holy Spirit now, not waiting until things are just right to get started.
So encourage one another, as St. Paul writes. Build each other up. Keep awake, as Jesus says. Pray, love, have hope. And if Jesus comes back tomorrow, great, he’ll find more hope and love if he does. But Jesus is already here, really. So go find him. Look for Jesus in your prayers, whether they’re dry or full of warmth and light, whether you’re sitting at home or out for a walk to get some fresh air. Look for Jesus in the rains and the wind, in the ocean and the mountains, but also in the community that we now have online, stretched across town and the continent. Don’t wait for Sunday morning to look like it did in 2019 – look for Jesus right now, right here, where you’re sitting or standing or waiting about.
Because Jesus isn’t just waiting around himself: he’s looking for us. He’s searching about for us lost sheep, hoping to find us and bring us home. And he’s calling for us to join in that search, to find those who are lost, even now when we can’t do much and have to stay home. There are people in need, and it’s our call to go to their aid in whatever way we can.
So no more waiting. Yeah, we’ve gotta stay home a bit more, yeah we’re stepping a bit more towards closing down, but the point of the Christian life, again, isn’t to wait for things to get back to normal but to love. And that – that we can do anywhere. Jesus loved us into salvation on the hard wood of the cross; let us love like him. Let us love like God. Let us love and live love and be love.