About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

I Couldn't Think of a Better Time

2017-12-03 Matthew 24:36-44 

Today, we lit a candle of hope. 

I couldn't think of a better time. 


I'm telling this from memory, so forgive me. I once got to hear the great preacher, Fred Craddock. He told how during Bible college, he was playing in an intramural softball game. He was standing in the outfield for what seemed like forever. Not a good sign. It was the late innings and his team was down by some insurmountable number of runs. Another devout Bible college outfielder wandered over and whispered, "Isn't it going to be great when Jesus comes?" And Fred answered, "I couldn't think of a better time." 

Matthew says, "Keep awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. If the owner 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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." 


And it's hard to know if Jesus meant that as a threat or a promise. Maybe both.  


But I look at the world these days – all the arguing, and the sexual misconduct, and the natural disasters, and the wretched violence, and the nuclear threats – I look at the world and think, "If Jesus isn't coming back now, I couldn't think of a better time." 


But that's not what the church says, is it? You did not see us light a candle of the apocalypse. We don't light a candle of Armageddon. The world does that on its own. Every day, the world lights new blazing fires of hate.  


But the church – always having to be different – the church lights a candle of hope. If only it was bigger and brighter. But that's not the way hope works. Hope is a small thing. Hope flickers, but it shines toward a brighter day. Hope is small, but it is mighty. Hope tells the world, you have your ways, but we believe in a different way, ways of peace, ways of joy, ways of love, ways of Christ. You see, that Advent wreath's just getting started. We've got three more candles. And Christ is the center. Hope is just the start. 


We, the church, stand in defiance. We dare to hope. We, the church, stand in courageous opposition to the powers and principalities of inhumanity, and unloveliness. That's what the church does. When darkness is all around us, we choose the light of hope. Hope's what that lonely little candle proclaims today. And I couldn't think of a better time. 






It's so good to have youth from throughout our presbytery here today. Some have driven many miles. Journeyed from foreign counties. They come from churches where sometimes "The Youth" really is "The" youth, the teenager. An army of one. Like Beyonce. Together they call themselves, "The Small and Mighty Youth Group." God bless your Presbyterian hearts. Your church, your youth, may be small, but you can still be mighty. You are a sign of hope. 


We celebrated a baptism. We celebrated THE baptism commanded by Christ himself. A baby is tiny. Adorable, but helpless on her own. Unable to perform deeds of courage or think thoughts of greatness. And yet we see them as miracles. "Look! She turned over!" "Look! She took her first step!" We post videos. Grownups cry. Go, "Awwwww." A baby is small. But she is also mighty. She is a sign of hope. 


Mighty hope always starts small.  




Emily Dickenson wrote, "Hope is the thing with feathers." You youth: Do they still make you read that poem in school?  


Hope is the thing with feathers  

That perches in the soul,  

and sings the tune without the words,  

and never stops at all. 


Here's what I remember about that poem. We've all found feathers on the ground. What's the first thing kids do with a feather? They wave it around. To see if they can fly. That's not hope. That's pretending. Doesn't work. So, failing at flight, what's the next thing kids do with the feather? They throw it in the air. They watch it float, light as an angel, back down to earth. 


Emily Dickenson could have chosen an eagle. A great bird of prey that soars near heaven and snatches its victims before they know what hit them. But that's not hope. She chose the smallest of songbirds, perched, in the soul. Not even flying. Singing. 


Hope is the thing with feathers it doesn't even use. 

Hope perches. Hope sings. Persistent. Devoted. Enduring. Small. But mighty.  


This, this is the hope to which we as a church are called. To remind the hopeless world that there is hope. Could you think of a better time? 




Now. It's hard to read this passage and not talk about The Rapture. Many people, and maybe you read today's scripture and see exactly what it means. A clear warning. 


Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 


That sounds scary, to me. Maybe it's supposed to be. But I think that reading it that way snuffs out the hope Jesus intends. At least for half of humanity. Get right, or get left. "Rapturology" puts us in the judgment seat of God, puts us in the skybox, making the calls in advance of a day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son. More premeditated assault than hope. There are other ways to read this. 


They call this passage the Little Apocalypse. As if any apocalypse could be "little." In this Little Apocalypse, more than anything else, over and over, is the message from Jesus that no matter what you think you know about the future, you don't know Jack. You think you're smart, but God works in mysterious ways. Over and over, Jesus repeats the promise of surprise. 


"Apocalypse" makes us think of destruction. But literally, it means "an uncovering." The opposite of destruction. It means a disclosure of knowledge, a revelation, enlightenment. Surprise. The curtain is pulled back. We go, "Ohhhh." In Jesus's day, an apocalypse wasn't a nightmare. It was a dream, a gift. A hopeful, "vision of heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities." 


Hope doesn't help us predict the future. It's not a wish. It's not a fairytale. The hope of Jesus is apocalyptic not in threat but in promise. Not the nuclear fireball, but flickering candlelight, to help us start to make sense of the now we can see, enough to help us face whatever comes next. 




I heard a radio interview last week with retired U.S. Navy Adm. James Winnefeld about his late son Jonathan, and Jonathan's death from addiction to opioids. Winnefield had written an article for The Atlantic called, "No Family Is Safe From This Epidemic." Because it's a thief in the night.  


When asked, "What have you learned that you would say to families facing addiction?" Winnefield said: 


"I think on the front-end, as your child is starting to enter into this downward spiral, at the very, very beginning, it's, don't let hope conquer reality." 


"Don't let hope conquer reality." 


And I wondered, what would Jesus say about that?  


I think the hard truth of scripture's little apocalypse is there will be little apocalypses and big ones that rock our world. There will. Not the angels, not even Jesus will wave a wand and make them go away.  


Hope is not denial. Hope is not blind optimism. Hope is the opposite. Hope is eye-opening courage, courage to wake up, to get woke, to face reality even if we can't conquer it. To name it, deal with it. 


Fragile as a feather. Thin as a candle. Small, but mighty. Awake. For whatever comes in the night. 




Today, we lit a candle of hope. 


Whatever the world holds. Whatever your world holds, carry the light of that candle. Carry the flickering hope of Christ inside you. Carry it now. Carry it tomorrow.  


I couldn't think of a better time. 







Bart D. Ehrman, "How Jesus Became God", pg. 59, ISBN978-0-06-177818-6