Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 24:36-44
It was a sunny, but cool day on February 1, 2003. It’s one of those days a person remembers. It was the day the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated in the skies over the United States. It was a tragic loss for the U. S. space program, and an even more tragic loss of the lives of seven men and women.
In the first official statement, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe confirmed that the shuttle broke up in flames as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere and spread debris all over Texas. He described the crew as having performed their mission brilliantly, but then he said…in a broken voice…”The loss of this valued crew is something we will never get over.” Fourteen years later he is still correct. We remember it vividly and remember what we were doing when we saw it happen.
This event strikes home to each of us in a dramatic way to remind us that life is fragile and fleeting. In one brief moment…all of the work and effort and expense of these men and women throughout their lives were gone.
That uncertainty is part of the message from today’s scripture lessons. The important point of the message is “Be Ready.”
Isaiah said the time was coming…some undefined future time. What Isaiah called “The house of the Lord” is the temple at Jerusalem, built by Solomon and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, rebuilt and destroyed for the last time by the Romans in 70 AD. The prophecy is using words from an ancient myth about an exceedingly high mountain. That myth said Jerusalem…the city of God’s choosing…is to rise to an enormous height, partly to make room for all the nations of the world, and partly to make sure that everyone on earth can see it. In this time to come disputes will be settled peacefully. There will come a time when humans will focus the use of their resources, as Solomon did, to establish peace and justice in the world.
The daily headlines would suggest that time hasn’t come yet. But…before we get anxious let us look at the two dangers of a literal interpretation of a passage like this one.
The danger of taking the passage too seriously is that we try to produce such a society here and now. Across the centuries there have been attempts to create utopian societies where conflicts don’t occur. All have failed.
The danger in these failures is that we take the other extreme and simply decide regardless of what we do the promise won’t come until the second coming of Jesus. So…we dismiss ourselves from any responsibility to work toward creating peace and justice in any real way now.
So…is there a middle way?
First let us not lose sight of the universal nature of faith. In Isaiah’s day it took a great deal of courage to say that all the nations would one day worship Israel’s God. There were so many gods in the world…people asked how could the people of this little country of Judah dare to proclaim that their God is the one true God whom all would worship and that his ways are the ways in which we all should walk? But…they did proclaim such a thing. Because of their faithfulness…by the end of the nineteenth century many thought it was likely that the whole world would hear the good news of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ in that generation.
Then…came the twentieth century and the terrible spectacle of Christian nations of Europe and America attempting to destroy one another in two world wars. We have now come to the place where the very idea of Israel’s God being the God of the whole world seems arrogant to many people…and the idea that there are universal ethical standards seems unthinkable to many.
So…what should we do? We must reaffirm and live the truth of these promises: God is the God of the whole world. What is more…he is the only God of the whole world. We must not allow the world to define our faith for us.
As Isaiah pleaded with his people…we must put God’s ways into practice in our lives. We must live lives of grace and nonviolence….knowing that all violence is not just physical. We must reach out to the poor and the helpless. We must give up our lust for riches and power. Mother Theresa was faithful in her day. She did not change the direction of the entire world. However…because of her many people from the world have been impressed to look more carefully at the ways of her God…our God.
The Archbishop of Philadelphia…Reverend Charles Chaput…puts it this way. “The fundamental crisis of our time…and the special crisis of today’s Christians…has little to do with numbers or organization, or resources. It’s a crisis of faith. Do we believe in God or not? Are we on fire with a love for Jesus Christ or not? Because if we’re not, none of our good intentions matter. And if we are, then everything we need in doing God’s work will naturally follow, because he never abandons his people.”
God never abandons his people. Do we have faith that accepts that…accepts that without question?
Jesus’ words we heard this morning are part of what’s called the Olivet Discourse…told over a couple chapters in Matthew. This discourse follows the last of Jesus’ arguments with the Jewish leaders of the day. In this discourse Jesus tells his disciples…those listening as he spoke and those hearing today…to be prepared…be responsible… be ready…and be productive. Let’s focus on what Jesus said about being prepared in the scripture we heard today.
Just as the lives of the Columbia astronauts were fragile and fleeting…so is ours…so is life on this whole world. Advice for each us is to live as though Jesus is coming today; plan as though he is not coming back for a hundred years.
Jesus told his disciples that the date of his return was known only to God the Father. Not even Jesus knew it. Between their day and that day to come they were to prepare. Today…you and I must prepare. We must all be vigilant.
Spiritual preparation is commanded by God. Jesus’ purpose in telling about his return is not to stimulate predictions and calculations about the date…but to warn us to be prepared. The only choice is to actively obey him today.
Spiritual preparation is active. Jesus asks us to spend the time of waiting by taking care of his people…his sheep…and by doing his work here on earth…both within the church and outside it.
Spiritual preparation is focused on Christ’s coming. Knowing that Christ’s return will be sudden and unexpected should motivate us to always be prepared. We are not to live irresponsibly…sitting and waiting…doing nothing…seeking self-serving pleasure…using Jesus’ delay as an excuse to not do God’s work of building his kingdom…developing a false sense of security based on precise calculations of events…or letting our curiosity about the end times divert us from actively doing God’s work…or believing that being prepared means having a huge sum of money in the bank.
Here are the things that need to happen to assure we are all prepared.
God’s Good News must get everywhere. What role can you play in helping your neighbor…or people far away…come to believe in Jesus? When was the last time you told the story of Jesus at work in your life…or witnessed to a stranger with love?
I must confess. I went to a sports bar last fall to watch the Carolina-Clemson football game. When I got to the bar there was one stool between a man and a woman who were talking to each other…but didn’t appear to be a couple.
I asked the man if anyone was sitting in the stool. It didn’t make much sense to me to take a table for six when it was just me.
He asked what team I was rooting for.
I told him. He shouted an obscenity.
I told him I felt blessed to meet him.
He offered the stool and uttered not one more obscenity all night. Instead we talked about Jesus Christ.
The opportunity to share the story…to witness…is everywhere. Once again from the Archbishop of Philadelphia…here are words many find hard to accept.
“…the most powerful kind of witness doesn’t come from a classroom or pulpit. It doesn’t need an academic degree or special techniques. Instead, it grows naturally out of the lives of ordinary people—parents and spouses and friends; people confident in the love that God bears for them and eager to share it with others; people who know the world not as a collection of confused facts but as a symphony of beauty, truth and meaning.”
God’s church should be everywhere…helping people reaching out to people…and building up their lives and their faith. How are we doing that? Are we supporting fully the mission work needed in our community…with time…talent…and treasure…all gifts that God has given us to steward…not to keep but to share.
God’s people should work everywhere… striving to advance God’s interest in public justice…education…housing…health care…environmental protection. When was the last time you expressed your opinion and offered to help those responsible for leading our communities…our businesses…our non-profit organizations…our churches when it came to one of these items?
Being ready is not something that happens simply because you say your faith causes you to expect Jesus to return and all you need do is wait.
Being ready is daily action…something that happens through your action…words…and deeds.
Let us come to the Lord’s Table this morning and intentionally be about being ready.