Sunday, 1 December 2013

A promise, not a threat!

Matthew 24:36-44
The Necessity for Watchfulness
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 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. 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. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

My early upbringing in Christian faith was accompanied by the soundtrack of tonight's gospel reading.
The teaching I heard, the music I listened to, even movies I watched all described this "leaving behind" that we read of in Matthews gospel.
Perhaps it was a familiar theme for you too.
Cliff Richard sang : I wish we'd all been ready.

Life was filled with guns and war
And everyone got trampled on the floor
I wish we'd all been ready

Children died the day grew cold
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold
I wish we'd all been ready

There's no time to change your mind
The son has come and you've been left behind

A man and wife sleep in bed she hears a noise
And turns her head he's gone
I wish we'd all been ready

Two men walking up a hill one disappears and
One's left standing still
I wish we'd all been ready

There's no time to change your mind
The son has come and you've been left behind

Perhaps some of you shared similar experiences.
But, for a time, I lived almost in a state of readiness for the rapture - that time when Christ would come and take people away.
It didn't stop me doing the usual teenage things- but I do remember occasionally being at the pictures, or at a disco, surrounded by friends and noise and thinking: "What if Jesus returned now? How would he find me?"
In the ensuing years I think it's fair to say that my Theology of the Rapture has changed.
The wonderful thing about theology is that it is not something fixed or static - or, at least, it shouldn't be - It is always something evolving in response to life and our experience of God in life.
God is constantly revealed in new and surprising ways.
And, as long as we are prepared to keep on searching and keep on working, not at understanding God but at building our relationship with God, that is what's important.
And as we build our relationship with God, we learn to view the people of God in a different light.
Our view stretches and expands and we begin to see God in places and in people we would never have expected.

And so to this Left Behind Puzzle.
I'm not sure that its so much about folk being left behind but more about folk having already left.
Folk choosing to move away from God.
Our gospel reading points to the flood and the folk who were swept away - those who didn't stay with Noah in the safety of the ark, those who were oblivious to the warnings.
The story of the wise and foolish virgins - another apocalyptic story that we often read in this Advent season is a story of those who left being caught out. The foolish virgins left to find some oil for their lamps. They weren't there when the bridegroom returned.
So, perhaps the rapture is in fact the opposite of how we often imagine it.
Folk aren't snatched away - they have already left - and the party begins with those who remain.
The folk on the streets.
The folk at the Food Bank.
The folk trying to pick up the pieces after devastating loss.
The left behind folk with whom God dines.
The great reversal.
That's how my Theology has evolved on the Rapture.
But, does it really matter whether or how we understand it?
At the end of the day, does it really make any difference?

Jesus exhorts his listeners to "wake up!"
Every day I hear folk saying "you never know what's around the corner - and it's just as well"
I know lots of you have experienced those times when you'd rather not know what comes next - it's too scary to contemplate.
And we've seen it demonstrated in spades this weekend.
Who would ever have imagined that popping in for a quick drink, or going to hear a band would end up with the kind of nightmare scenario that unfolded this weekend in the helicopter crash in Glasgow?
All the health and safety that we get so caught up in today, all the risk assessments in the universe cannot legislate for events such as happened in a busy bar on Friday night.
But I'm not convinced that its that sort of unpredictable tragedy for which Jesus asks us to be ready.
Although if the news headlines, even in all their inaccuracies and sordidness encourage us to care more for our loved ones, encourage us to do more to express our love, that can only be a good thing.
But that's not what Jesus was getting at.
Rather, it's the everyday opportunities that life presents to us that we so easily overlook and take for granted.
It's those that we are exhorted to Wake up to.
The themes we normally contemplate as we move through Advent are Hope, Peace, Love and Light.
But we also contemplate a God who surprises us.
A God who intersects with our lives every day in all sorts of ways.
Who knows how many encounters we miss because of our inattention?
Who knows the opportunities we have missed when we are distracted by issues that are unimportant?
Here in the church we get caught up in distractions.
We worry about minutiae that doesn't really matter, things that have so little to do with the kingdom of God but that keep us from being about the business of Hope and Peace and Love and Light.

Jesus return is not a threat - it is a promise.
Not something to fear but something to hope for.
An acknowledgment that what we know is not all that there is.
As we come to share in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we touch and taste that promise.
We touch and taste the hope and the joy and the love and the light that Gods promise brings, a promise shared by saints through the ages.
But as we taste that promise, might we also be surprised by God in this place?
What are the chances that, sharing in this sacrament in which you have shared so many times before, that today, you might be surprised by the God who meets us here?
Jesus exhorts us to be ready for such an encounter - be it in bread and wine or on our journey into work, at the coffee shop, in the supermarket queue.
May we be surprised by God in communion today by the God who dines with us.
For the glory of God.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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