Friday, August 16, 2013


Lk. 12:32-40[1]
  We Presbyterians don’t talk much about the “second coming of Christ.”  In fact, I dare say you could find some Presbyterians who have never even heard a sermon about the “second coming of Christ.”[2]  This is a strange phenomenon, because the New Testament has a lot to say about the matter.  It is the focal point of the Christian hope.  All the hopes that the Hebrew prophets had raised about God renewing and restoring this world to the peace and justice and freedom of his merciful reign are focused on the future coming of Christ. Make no mistake about it, this is something that is central to the New Testament, and therefore central to the Christian faith.[3]
  I think there are a variety of reasons why that may make us uncomfortable.  In the first place, there are the assorted “flakes and nuts” out there who claim to be able to tell you down to the day and the hour when Christ will “return.”  And they back it up with their charts.  Surely most of us have seen them.  Hal Lindsay became famous for his book, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” where he famously (or infamously) predicted that Jesus would return in 1978, or at the latest 1988.  Edgar Whisenant, a former NASA engineer, wrote a pamphlet entitled “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988” that was sent out to an estimated 300,000 pastors across the U. S.[4]  He was convinced that Christ would return on the Jewish New Year in 1988.  When that didn’t happen, he went on to predict it would occur in 1989, 1993, and 1994!  I think many of us may be reticent to discuss the return of Christ because we don’t want to be associated with people like that.
  I think another factor that inhibits our enthusiasm about the “second coming” is that those who tend to make a big deal about it seem to be using it as a “scare tactic.”  You know, Jesus could come this very day, so you better get right with God because you might be “left behind.”  Given all the hype surrounding the recent “Left Behind” series of books, I’m afraid this sentiment of using the return of Christ as a means of fear-mongering is also still very prevalent in our day.[5] It’s something most of us don’t want to be associated with. 
  Nevertheless, the truth of the matter is that the future coming of Christ remains the focal point of the Christian hope in the New Testament.  And the consistent message is that since we look forward to the day when Christ will come and set things right, then it ought to make a difference in the way we live.  Time after time we are called to be “ready” for that day.  Unfortunately, I think we tend to associate that with the thinking that prescribes for us a certain ritual of conversion, or a specific set of doctrines we have to affirm, or a particular church we have to join in order to ensure that we are not “left behind.” 
  But our Gospel lesson for today gives us a different perspective on all that, in my opinion.  Here, as in other places, Jesus insists that “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Lk. 12:40).  But he tells us a parable that illustrates what that looks like.  It’s a story about servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet.  I think we have to assume that this is not just a matter of a night out, but rather this wedding banquet involves a journey, and the servants cannot possibly know the exact day or hour of their master’s return. 
  Jesus says that those servants will be ready if they are found “waiting” when the master returns.  But I don’t think that means that they are just sitting around watching the gate of the estate to open.  Obviously, these servants have tasks that need to be performed on a daily basis.  And so their “waiting” and their “readiness” involves being “dressed for action” and being “alert.”[6]  I think all of this means that the servants are to continue doing their jobs, taking care of the master’s household, tending the garden, taking care of the livestock, performing any maintenance that the estate needs.  In other words, being “ready,” being “alert” means doing what they have been instructed to do as if the master were right there with them.[7]
  It seems to me that this is a perspective on what it means to be “ready” for the future coming of Christ that is much more consistent with the biblical teachings.  Despite those who revel in their charts, we really cannot know when that day will come. And contrary to the fear-mongers, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).  That doesn’t mean it will be easy.  It doesn’t mean we can sit around doing nothing.  It means that we are called to do what we’ve been instructed to do, and to live in the manner we’ve been taught to live.[8]  And we’re to do that every day, as if the master were already here with us.  If you think about it, in one sense he already is with us.  And so we can go about our business, the business of the mercy, and peace, and freedom, and compassion of God’s kingdom, in the confidence that what we do is pleasing in God’s sight.  It seems to me, that’s what it means to be ready.


[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/11/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Technically, the NT speaks of  the future “coming” of Christ as his “public, definitive, triumphal coming.” It is therefore not correct to speak of a “second coming” or a “return,” since “Christ ... remains present in the Spirit.”  See Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith, 529.
[3] Cf. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 2, p. 290: “The vindication of Christ and his triumphant return is ... an expression of faith in ...the final supremacy of love over all the forces of self-love which defy, for the moment, the inclusive harmony of all things under the will of God.”  Cf. similarly, Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 280-81.
[4] See .  See also Jason Boyett, “Harold Camping and the apocalypse of my youth”, The Washington Post online Blog “Guest Voices,” May 21, 2011; accessed at blogs/guest-voices/post/may-21-2011-harold-camping-and-the-apocalypse-of-my-youth/2011/05/12/AFfkLNyG_blog.html
[5] See Dart, John. “‘Beam me up’ theology--The Debate Over ‘Left Behind,’”The Christian Century (Sept 25, 2002): 8-9; Nicholas D. Kristof, “Jesus And Jihad,” The New York Times, July 17, 2004; accessed at opinion/17KRIS.html?ex=1247803200&en=b9eee1a2743a902b&ei=5090
[6] Cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 987.  The Greek text for “be dressed for action” is to have one’s “loins girded,” which refers to tying up the long robe with a belt to ensure one is able to act freely and quickly.  One could render it as being “dressed for work.”
[7] Cf. Fred Craddock, Luke, 165: “readiness ... consists of continuing faithfulness to one’s duties.  When that is the case, uncertainties are no cause for alarm or anxiety.”  Cf. similarly, Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 985; John Nolland, Luke 9:21–18:34, 705.
[8] Cf. Donald K. McKim, Introducing the Reformed Faith, 177: “If we believe the ultimate future is about God’s liberating rule, then the church and all followers of Jesus Christ will do whatever we can to point toward this future reign and to enact God’s coming kingdom in history today.”  Cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.2:555, where he says that Christians are those who “those who constantly stand in need of reawakening and who depend upon the fact that they are continually reawakened. They are thus those who, it is to be hoped, continually waken up.”

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