Advent 1c, December 2, 2012

December 17, 2012

Skyfall – The Sermon

Luke 21:25-36


25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”


Don’t try to make sense of this morning’s scripture reading – just run with some gut feeling about what it is saying. Don’t try to make sense of my sermon title either. It’s just a gut feeling also. I saw the James Bond movie by that title the other day and I liked it, but I’m not sure why it was called Skyfall. The title sounds powerful and dramatic and that’s why they gave it that title. I know that’s why I chose to use it for the title of my sermon. It just sounded good, and I’m going with my feelings this morning.

This passage of scripture wraps up with some reasonable advice. It’s good to live a sober and attentive life, but I don’t think you should engage your reasoning skills to try to decode these rather cryptic words about apocalyptic events. I don’t think we should get specific about what Jesus was talking about when he talked about the wind and the waves, the roaring of the sea, the coming of the son of man in the clouds with great glory, and knowing the kingdom of God is coming near when you see the sprouting of the fig trees. There’s a message here, but it’s a message designed to be heard more by our hearts than by our minds.

This passage doesn’t call for reason – it calls for trust. It calls for us to trust in God, and to keep our heads up regardless of what might be coming down.

Of course this is easy for me to say. I don’t live in lower Manhattan or on the Jersey shore where the clouds swirled so violently that everything that I owned was washed out to sea and nothing has returned to normal. CNN didn’t report that it was the son of man that came with great glory when Sandy hit New England, but it was an end of the world event for many, and I’m guessing it has been a powerfully redeeming event for a number of people. I’m sure that Sandy has served to remind many people of what is truly important in life, and they probably didn’t have such clarity prior to the storm. I would never make light of the tragedy that comes with natural disaster, but I also know that God’s good news is particularly near to people who endure hard times. I can’t help but believe that it wasn’t just wind and snow and water that came from Sandy’s clouds – I’m sure that event generated some new levels of trust in God.

This is easy for me to say from the comfort of my dry and heated world, but I think it’s what Luke was wanting us to understand about the good news that came to us through Jesus. And you can trust Luke on this because he was living in the midst of chaotic tragedy when he recorded these words and deeds of Jesus.

This passage comes to us from a man who was living in hard times. The early Christians weren’t worried about their nation plunging off a metaphorical cliff – as we are currently talking about. They had experienced the actual destruction of their most treasured national monument to God – the temple. And they were suffering through all of the accompanying tyranny of Roman occupation. Luke was living in a world more characterized by bondage than liberation, and yet he was seeing a reason to trust that something good was coming from God.

The world that Luke occupied was not far from what we currently see going on in Syria. They didn’t have bombs dropping out of the sky, but Luke was living in a very insecure environment where cherished institutions were literally crumbling under the tyranny of a foreign occupier, and yet, Luke was calling for people to keep their heads up and to watch for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

It wasn’t reasonable, but it was wise, and it was true. God was near and coming in to the world in a new and powerful way. And Luke is encouraging us to exercise that same form of trust today.

The truth is that it’s not reasonable to trust in God. In fact trusting in God is probably an act of defiance to reason. We know too much about the way weather is generated to believe that God is on hand in the midst of a storm. We understand political struggles too well to believe that God is behind wars and rumors of wars. But this doesn’t mean we can’t yearn to see what God is doing in the midst of any situation, to trust that God is ultimately in charge, and to even see evidence that this is true. It may be unreasonable to have such trust, but it’s not wrong.

Karl Hansen tells a great story about what happened to him when that terrible tornado came through Central Arkansas a few years ago. Karl comes from a line of people who take their bigotry seriously. There are a number of men in his family who are very clear about the pecking order God created in the world. This line of thinking didn’t take with Karl, and he took great pleasure in telling some of his more narrow minded relatives the particular turn of events that spared his life when that tornado came through. Karl was doing some work over at Rev. Betty Scull’s house when the tornado came through town. Rev. Scull was the former Associate Pastor of this church and she is African American. The tornado didn’t touch her house, but it destroyed his home, and he likely would have been killed if he had been there. So it was providentially good for him to have been at Rev. Scull’s house that day.

I don’t think it’s easy to render some of Karl’s relatives speechless, but they didn’t know how to respond when Karl told them how he had been saved from that tornado by a black female preacher.

Living with trust in God comes down to how you choose to interpret reality. And it is a choice. The way God enters our world is not something that you’ll see reported on CNN because it’s a drama that plays out in our hearts.  I do believe that God’s hand touches actual events that can be observed and reported, but you can’t prove that any particular event was designed and carried out by God. I can give God credit for acting in my life and in this world, but I can’t prove it. I don’t always live as if I’m expecting God to be nearby and paying attention, but when I’m most conscious of what is real I can’t help but believe that God is near and coming again to redeem our broken world.

Our scripture invites us to watch for the signs of God’s coming. Being watchful for the coming of Christ is the true spirit of Advent. This idea of keeping our heads up and watching for the son of man coming in the cloud with great glory made me want to create some kind of surprising overhead experience. Of course I immediately thought of my air-swimming clown-fish. Some of you were here last Christmas when I flew my clown-fish through the sanctuary. I don’t know that I had much of a point to doing that, but it was Christmas and I felt like doing something fun.

But I thought it made sense to fly my fish today. Earlier this week I was planning to surprise you with the sight of it swimming out from the balcony about now. It had lost most of it’s helium over the last few months, so I refilled it Wednesday afternoon to get it tuned up and ready for today. But when I came in Thursday morning I found it in a sad crumpled heap on the floor. For some reason it had exploded on Wednesday night.

I immediately went online to see where I might get a new one, but it didn’t feel quite right, and I came to believe that I should take the explosion of my air-swimming fish as a sign. This may or may not have been the right way for me to think of that, but I chose to believe that I shouldn’t depend on my toy fish to convey this idea of being watchful for the coming of Christ in to our world.

And there was this other thing that happened this week that got my attention. I got a call early this week from a man who has done a good amount of work on our facility over the past few years and he asked if I was in the office. I said I was and he said he would be by shortly. He came in and told me that he and his wife decided they wanted to provide some support to what he called our soup kitchen. I told him that our breakfast meal was pretty short on funds and he said that’s what they wanted to help. He wrote out a check and I’m sure I did the old double-take shake of my head when I saw it because it didn’t have two zero’s behind the one – it had three.

I told him what a blessing that was. And as soon as he left I tried to call Drexel (who runs the program) to tell him what I had in my hand. He didn’t answer, so I called his partner, Randy, who is equally involved and I was able to tell him what had happened. Of course he was happy to hear it because money has become quite an issue for that program. He told me he had asked Drexel what they were going to do about their lack of money, and Drexel had responded by saying “pray”. Randy said he didn’t think that was much of an answer at the time, but maybe he knew what he was talking about.

I’m never inclined to get real specific about what God does and doesn’t do in this world, but I do believe that God watches out for us in real and profound ways. It doesn’t mean that we always get what we want or that faith protects us from all harm. But it does mean that regardless of what is going on around us we need to keep watch for what God is doing as well. The spirit of Advent is to trust that God is coming in to our lives and in to our world in new and redeeming ways.

Thanks be to God for this good news and by all means – pay attention!


One Response to “Advent 1c, December 2, 2012”

  1. Edna Says:

    Awesome website you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any message boards that
    cover the same topics discussed here? I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get responses from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Many thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: