Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 27, 2011

2011.11.27 “Waiting For God Expectantly” – Mark 13:24-37 (Kelly Van)

Waiting For God Expectantly

Mark 13:24-37

November 27, 2011

Preached at Central UMC in Skokie by Kelly Van (Pastoral Intern)

 

We spend much of our lives waiting.  As children we could hardly wait for birthdays, school closure days and getting our first pet; we could hardly wait to grow up.  Now, as adults, we wait at shopping centers and at doctor’s offices; we could hardly wait to graduate, to have a job, to find a mate, to get married, to have our first child or grandchild, hopefully in that order. Sometimes we wait for something to happen, while other times we wait for something to stop happening.  Whatever the case may be, waiting for the future to unfold is a universal human experience.

Advent is a time of waiting.  What should we wait for?  Are we to wait for the birth of Jesus Christ? That event has already taken place.  Advent, according to the church calendar, is four Sundays before Christmas.  It begins, not only to look back in remembrance of the birth of Christ, but to look ahead with promises of Christ’s return. Today’s Scriptures reveals to us that Advent is a time of waiting for the reign of God, a time of preparing for Jesus’ second coming and a time that God will make all things new.  It is time for Christians to announce that God’s incarnation into human affairs through Jesus Christ is not the end of God’s plan, but the foundation for future hope of the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Isaiah Text reflects the dark days in Jerusalem, around 500 B.C., after the return from exile in Babylon.  The bright hopes of the new creation did not turn out so well.  Life was difficult for the Israelites during Isaiah’s time which moved him to instruct God’s people on how to pray for demonstration of God’s saving power.  Isaiah’s hope in God is stronger than his frustration; therefore, he begs God to tear open the heaven and come down.  Christians believe that this cry of hope has been fulfilled 2000 years ago in the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Has life been difficult for you?  It has for me especially around April 27, 1975.  My family as well as other families had to pull up our roots and departed our country as quickly as possible since Vietnam was about to turn over to communist regime. The leaders, including my father, worked for a non-profit organization similar to World Relief, organized and packed all the available food, water, and supplies.  They then gathered their wives and children onto a motorboat to do their last mission for the needy people living along the Mekong River.  My family of six members was among the 85 people on that boat to escape.  Stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we heard over the radio that our homeland was taken over by the communists on April 30, 1975. 

While we were deserted on the ocean, pirates came with guns and knives, God’s presence was draped over the women and children in the lower deck and they were hidden from the armed pirates.  Since the women and children were out of sight, the pirates were only able to seize our food and water supplies and departed without hurting anyone.  

Not long after, the children began to cry because of hunger.  We were surrounded by water; however, parched from thirst.  We knew that besides God there is no reliable hope.  If not to God, who else should we turn to when we are oppressed, overburdened and feel hopeless? Who besides God can we call to our rescue? So we lamented just like the Israelites, “O God, Come and save us.  Let your face shine, that we may be saved.” And then we waited for God expectantly.

God heard our cries and sent forth rain providing us water to quench our thirst and protecting us from the storm so that all 85 of us were safe, unharmed and able to live another day.  As we waited to be rescued from God, we gathered as the body of Christ and had church services on the boat.  We worshiped God, our Savior, with familiar hymns that we had memorized such as: “It Is Well With My Soul,” and “Shelter from the Storm.”  We also recited Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” and Psalm 121 “I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” We were at peace under the circumstances because we knew that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and Jacob is also our adopted Parent and that God loves us just the same.

Though Scriptures of Isaiah invite us to cry out to God and acknowledge the difficulties that we face in life, they do not permit us to become fixated in it.  Instead, we are encouraged to turn our gaze to God and wait expectantly.  Isaiah refers God both as father, who has given us life and who cares and sustains us and as a potter who has molded and shaped us as the work of the Crafter hand. The psalmist portrays God as a shepherd who is attentive to the sheep and leads the flock beside still water to restore their souls.  Through these imageries, we can be sure that God cares for us; we are the apples of God’s eyes.  Our waiting for God may be tiresome and discouraging, but do not be dismay for God is here with us as we wait.

We live in the presence of God and our lives have open access to God given by Jesus Christ.  The profound truth that Paul was reminding his friends in Corinth is that the grace of God has been given to them and that grace was evident in the gifts that they processed. The church of God is filled with God’s children where both material and spiritual gifts are found.  Who we are and what we have are really gifts from God and not our own achievement; therefore, they are held in trust.  They are not to be use as we want to use them, but as God wants us to use them; not for our profit or prestige, but for the glory of God and the good of humanity.  Paul was reminding the Corinthians that they were living in the presence of God.  Perhaps they had forgotten.  Perhaps we have forgotten.

We can seek ways to encourage one another and find strength for ourselves through the church which is the body of Christ.  What happened to us through Jesus Christ is beyond speech and knowledge.  We have all the gifts and talents that we need through the grace of God given in Christ Jesus.  The Word of God declares in Corinthians, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gifts, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ who will sustain you to the end.”(I Corinthians 1:7)  Friends, our God is faithful; God is right alongside to keep us steady; God will never give up on us. 

The gospel reading for today speaks of the grand arrival of God’s kingdom.  People have been wondering about when the end time would come for over 2000 years. It is what we pray for when we say “Thy kingdom come.”  We are forewarned four times: to keep a sharp lookout for we don’t know when the time will come; to stand watch as a gatekeeper; to stay at our post watching; and to keep watch. The reason for this constant watchfulness is that we do not know exactly when the fullness of God’s kingdom will come; it can happen any time. 

The parable illustrates waiting and preparing as the proper way to act in the face of the coming kingdom. Waiting for the kingdom is compared to the attitude shown by servants in a household as they wait for their master’s uncertain return. Since they do not know the precise time of his arrival, they should be expecting him always and be careful to be found doing their duties.  Waiting and watching for Jesus in our midst is not about passivity.  His words in this Gospel passage commend anticipation and preparedness.  The kind of waiting this passage has in mind is an active waiting that has come to know full well that the one who is coming is recognizable, even before fully arriving. Jesus’ message about his appearance encourages support, not idleness. Matthew Skinner who is a professor of the New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota explains that Expectancy means looking alertly for opportunities to come alongside Christ and embody Christ’s purposes in the present, as well as in the future.  We expect that Christ is all around us.

Jesus instructs us to direct our vision elsewhere to find signs of God’s present.  The outcome is not just about waiting for another physical appearance of Jesus in the future.  We are to patiently and watchfully train our attention on where Christ might be manifested today.  So in advent we ask where Christ and his message are apparent within and outside of our Christian communities. 

As we wait with expectation we are encouraged to prepare for the day of fulfillment.   We wait for that day in partnership with others who wait.  In our waiting we are attentive for justice, compassionate toward those who lament and forgiving of those who wrong us.  We live between the time of Christ’s first coming and the time of revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We believe in the ultimate Christian hope: eternal life with Christ in the kingdom of God is worth waiting for and worth working toward.  Relying on God’s promise to us, we firmly believe that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s words will not pass away. (Mark 13:31)  Therefore we keep watch for Scriptures proclaimed in Isaiah: “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagle.  They shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”(Isaiah 40:31)

The 85 of us sat on the boat as a community of faith encouraging one another, finding strength through God and through our church family.  We were shipwrecked and dehydrated; we used our every strength to wait on the Lord.  We cling on the hope that though we are weak and ordinary, we are the work of the Master hand created in God’s image.  God has suited us for the purposes that we are to serve.  There is a void inside of us that can only be filled by heart to love God, minds to serve God, spirits that long for God, and souls to live eternally with God.  As we wait expectantly, we praised God and prayed in unison the Lord’s Prayer.  “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your Kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”  God sent an enormous US ship to our rescue.  To our amazement, God not only redeemed our souls and restored our relationships with God. God saved our lives so that we can be witnesses to the “Good News.”

During this Advent, let us actively wait for the Reign of God, preparing for Jesus’ second coming and participating with God to make all things new.  We are the light to the world in what we say and what we do.  We are God’s hands and feet.  God calls us to shine a light to be witnesses to his mercy and love; not only through our words but also in our deeds.  We are called not only to share the Good News and preach the Gospel, but also to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the prisoner.  When we serve those in need—like lonely homebound people who need company, those who have lost their homes and possessions due to job loss or natural disasters, those who mourn because of wounded souls and broken relationship, or when we raise prophetic voices against injustice and violence and organized community to resist the principalities and powers of this world.  We are witnessing to the Lord’s coming.  Amen.

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