Advent 1a, December 1, 2013

December 2, 2013

Seized By Grace
Matthew 24:36-44
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

I’m a pretty careful person. That may not be obvious in everything I do, but I’m a little bit of a control freak. I do take on some random projects, but I operate in very particular ways. Some of you understand what I’m talking about. I know I’m not the only member of the Control Freak Club around here.

I was reminded of my tendency to want to control things last Sunday afternoon as we were decorating the sanctuary. One of the men who was helping decorate the Christmon Tree allowed the children to string the lights along the bottom of the tree and to go up as high as they could reach – which is not something I would have ever done. It’s so good that I had gone to get an extension cord when they were doing that, because I would have taken total control of that undertaking. I take light-stringinging very seriously. I never would have delegated that to children, but I discovered that they did a good job. They were spaced really well, and it was done with so little anxiety.

Every once in while it occurs to me that I don’t need to be in charge of everything. I know some of you may wonder if I’m in charge of anything, and there’s some truth to that as well. I am so happy that I don’t know how many things around here operate and are accomplished, but I do have my areas of understanding, and I think I know how some things are to be best done. But I’m not totally obstinate. I see that there are other people who know how to hang lights on a tree, and I’m happy to acknowledge that. I have also come to see that I don’t know everything about those areas I consider to be within my expertise.

Like when I dropped an air conditioner out of our bedroom window last week. That came as quite a surprise to me in a number of ways. I don’t usually do things like that. I build stuff all of the time. I handle a lot of materials. I use power tools. I’m the one who installed that air conditioner in our window last spring. I put it in because I’m adding a bathroom on our house and the central unit that heats and cools our bedroom was going to be cut off for several months. We got all of that reconnected not long ago, and that window unit was letting cold air in so I went to take it out – and it came out a lot quicker than I had anticipated.

I’ll spare you the details of my mistake, but the bottom line is that I created a circumstance that allowed gravity to take control of the situation. That gravity is powerful stuff. I don’t think we are always conscious of the force of gravity, but gravity doesn’t let up, and every once in a while there are these moments when the force of gravity becomes really obvious.

My friend Charles Zook, who navigates the world in an electric wheelchair because of a nasty fall, was working with some kids at Camp Aldersgate one summer and one child asked him what happened to him. Charles responded to him by saying that gravity got him. I don’t know how that child processed that information, but I thought that was a profound answer. There are a lot of us who understand the need to maintain awareness of gravity.

As I’ve contemplated my failure to remember what happens when you forget how powerful and relentless the force of gravity really is, it has occurred to me that there are these other forces and materials out there that are perpetually surrounding us that we don’t often recognize. I don’t generally think about oxygen, but if it were to be removed from me I would become immediately alarmed.

I try not to take my food and shelter for granted, but I think I probably do. I would have hated to be without either of them this last week. I know there are people who scramble for these essential elements on a daily basis, and I hate that this is the case. I’m grateful not to be in that circumstance, and I hope to always be conscious and compassionate toward those who do. I’m proud to be a part of a church that stays in touch with people who live on the margin of life. There is a sense in which this church maintains awareness of how close some people live to the edge of life, and I’m regularly touched by the compassion I see at work here.

We have these powerful forces bearing down on us. We take for granted most of the things that enable us to maintain our lives as they are. We aren’t aware of many of the physical forces that have bearing on our lives, and it’s even harder to develop awareness of the spiritual forces that surround us.

I don’t know how to elaborate on the dark forces that may well be swirling in our midst, but what Jesus came to make clear to us is the nature of God’s powerful presence within our world. God’s Holy Spirit is not as obvious as gravity or oxygen or many of the other invisible elements that define our lives as they are, but Jesus didn’t want us to live without awareness of this life-giving reality. God’s presence is more powerful and consistent than the force of gravity, but it’s not as easily identified or exposed. As clearly as gravity is on hand to hold us down to the ground, the spirit of God is here to lift us up, but we don’t always make ourselves available to it’s power.

Unlike gravity, we can choose to ignore the force of God, and by doing so we live really flat lives. We are not required to take note of the ways the Holy Spirit is prompting us to wake up and live by the light of the Kingdom of God, but just because we don’t know what God is doing doesn’t mean that God is unconscious of who we are and what we need.

What we have in this passage of scripture is an assurance that we aren’t living in a world that is apart from the attention of God. While there is this instruction to not be focused on when God will step in to our world in an un-ignorable manner, there is also this assertion that it will happen. There is reason to think that this mysterious presence of God will some day be made manifest in a perfectly obvious way, but it isn’t our job to figure out when this will happen. The message for us is to go on each day with our perfectly ordinary lives with an extraordinary awareness of how near God is to us all.

There is an element of warning in this passage. The message is that we can live with ignorance of the role God currently plays and will ultimately carry out. By living in a spiritually unconscious manner we are missing out on the true richness of life, and as surely as you can end up doing some boneheaded things if you forget to take gravity in to account, we can behave in spiritually boneheaded ways if we fail to take God’s ongoing presence in to account.

If we live without awareness of God’s presence in this world we won’t pay proper attention to the things and the people that God’s spirit would have us see. The imagery is of two people doing the same thing but one is taken away while the other is left behind. What this says to me is that it doesn’t matter so much what we engage in doing in this world but it makes all the difference what we are most concerned about. What we all know is that we can fill our hearts with the concerns of our selves. Or we can seek to be sensitive to the needs of others, the advancement of justice, and the source of true life.

I know we aren’t in total control of the concerns of our hearts. I don’t think any of us are capable of rooting out all of the selfish impulses of our hearts and minds, but occasionally we have the good fortune of having our lives seized by the grace of God. I dare say most of us have had those moments when the world has been redefined in a powerfully new way by the spirit of the living God.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, spoke of having his heart strangely warmed, and I’m guessing most of us can relate to what he was saying. There wasn’t anything particularly dramatic happening on that day on Aldersgate Rd. in London. Like everyone else, Wesley was struggling with what he was doing with his life, and he wasn’t confident that he was doing the right thing. But he felt this sense of assurance that his life was in God’s hands and it set him on a course that we United Methodists continue to this day.

I often wish God would seize my heart and provide me with a greater degree of direction and understanding, but I know that I have already been provided with more than I need. I know to pay attention to what God is doing in this world, and I know to trust that God’s love is the most powerful force that exists in the universe. I don’t always remember this or act on that trust, but todays passage serves to remind me of the imminence of this truth.

This First Sunday in Advent is an invitation for us all to renew our trust in the invisible but ever-present force of God’s spirit in this world. This is the force that has the power to renew our lives, give us direction, and bring us hope. The Spirit of God isn’t easy to discern, but it’s worthy of our attention, and you can’t just can’t call it up when you need it. It can seize us in an instant, but in spite of the efforts of many of us to be in control of this world – God doesn’t act upon our demand, and I suppose that’s good news.

God’s love is more consistent than gravity, but we can’t really fathom the range of it’s operations. Not even the angels in heaven know what it will do, but we can trust it, and we can be carried away by it if we will make ourselves available to it. Expect God’s good presence to be there for you, work to understand it, and you won’t be badly surprised by where it takes you.

Thanks be to God for the grace we have already received and for the glory that will be. Amen

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