12.01.13 While we Were Looking Away Matthew 24:36-44 Sermon Summary
In contemplative prayer just one word can reveal God’s presence. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to preach a sermon of just one word. “This” is that sermon.
- The one word that encapsulates all of scripture and Christian worship
- What God’s kingdom looks like, and what it doesn’t
- How and where to see the kingdom this season
- Questions for discussion and reflection
My two-year old nephew has a favorite word, and it isn’t “no.” It’s “this”—and this one word is a whole sentence. He uses this a number of ways to mean a number of things. What is this? I like this. I want to sit like this. Look at this! For a two-year old, life is simple, wonderful, beautiful, and interesting. It is infused with divine presence.
This is one reason, by the way, that we baptize children. Children, better than most adults, understand and proclaim this. Before they can say “yes” to God, God has already said “yes” to them. This is why Jesus said, unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the kingdom.
From this perspective, all of scripture, sermon, and sacrament is contained in a single word: this. For all of scripture, sermon, and sacrament is intended to proclaim: “The kingdom of God is like this . . . This is what the kingdom looks like . . .”
Isaiah is among the best example of using pictures, each worth a thousand words, to depict the kingdom. Perhaps it is because there were not enough words to adequately express the anxiety, grief, fear, or longings of ancient Israel.
Isaiah reflects what he originally experienced as in Psalm 122, when all Israel would pilgrimage to Jerusalem for worship and instruction. But Isaiah expanded the vision of God’s kingdom to include all nations and all creation. “It looks like this,” Isaiah writes. It looks like the holiest place becoming the highest place, and all nations coming to worship God and receive instruction.
And because all nations now come under God’s judgments, they no longer have to fight for their own rights or out of their injustices. They can refashion their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.
Jesus loved to preach this. In Jesus’ parables, the kingdom of God is a woman, a shepherd, a father, a hen, a farmer, a group of children, a wedding banquet, or an empty tomb. In the passage assigned for today, this is two men in the field, one paying attention to this, the other not. It is two women grinding meal in the common square, one paying attention to this, the other not. The difference? Vigilance, expectation, and a desire for this. And the one paying attention is taken away.
Jesus also likens the desire for this to a protective homeowner. Our homes—where we live our lives; in the fields and at the grinding mill—where we work and socialize. When we eat and drink, when we get married and are given in marriage, there, in the ordinariness of our lives, Jesus warns us to be vigilant—for a thief is coming.
One thief comes to steal God’s Word, like a bird swooping down on seed sown on a walkway. One thief comes to steal you away to the kingdom of God. This second thief comes to the ones who are looking for this. We will miss it if we are looking away.
This weekend we saw a very graphic depiction of what this isn’t. The kingdom of God is not Black Friday, which blackened Thanksgiving and blackens this First Sunday of Advent. On Black Friday we saw people streaming not to Jerusalem or the Word of God, but to Best Buy and the word of advertisements. This weekend people didn’t turn their spears into pruning hooks, but their hands into claws. And I am left wondering, What are these people giving thanks for, and to whom, at 6am Thanksgiving Day? Or as ABC now calls it, “Black Friday Eve”?
This depiction of the anti-kingdom, the revelation of the anti-Christ if ever we’ve seen one—would threaten the despair of darkness, if not for this. This from Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” This from John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” This from today’s lectionary in Isaiah 2:5: “O People of God come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” This from today’s lectionary in Romans 13:12: “The day is near, let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
And this from our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, because “this is how we know what love is, that Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16) Because “no one has greater love than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Because “God proves his love for us in this, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Because Jesus said, “This is my body.”
As we begin a new year in the church, as we enter the season of Advent, and especially as we busy ourselves with the preparations of Christmas, let us look with vigilance for the one who desires to steal us away, in the ordinary moments of our lives, to this, the kingdom of God come in Christ.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- What one word would you use to summarize your Christian faith? Share how it applies to the many facets of your life.
- How could you recapture the wonder and beauty of a two-year old’s interaction with the world? You were like this once, you know.
- What can you do to be more vigilant for God’s kingdom and Christ’s presence in your life? This will be especially important during Advent, but maybe this can be your liturgical new year’s resolution.
- How can you repent (turn away from) the pressure of all the distractions this Christmas—for example, greed, gluttony, envy, and sloth?