December 3, 2023

"Jesus is Coming … Look Busy”

Rev. Scott Landis

Mark 13:24-37

I imagine most of you by now have resigned yourselves to the absolute necessity of having some kind of cell phone with you at all times and in all places. Statistics prove that 95% of Americans have some kind of mobile device. Of that number 88% have smart phones, spend at least 5 ½ hours each day on their mobile devices, and check their phones – on average – 96 times a day (that’s once every 10 minutes).  

I recently saw a humorous cartoon depicting a phone booth when we were kids – you remember the one with the glass fanfold door that you would step inside, close, and drop in a dime in the slot to make a call. The cartoon then switched to the phone booth of today which was a picture of a public bathroom stall. 

Our cell phones have become ubiquitous, our primary means of communication whether through email, text, or actually calling someone and speaking verbally – imagine that. We can be in touch with others from almost anywhere AND they can be in touch with us as well. Most of the time our cell phones are convenient, helpful, and bring a sense of comfort and security as we make our way through the day. Sometimes they serve as a distraction when we are bored as we scroll through Facebook, read the news, listen to a podcast, or check our text messages – thus the 5 ½ hours. And, at other times they are a real nuisance interrupting important conversations, meetings, and perhaps worship. 

If you are like me, you have devised all kinds of cell phone communication tricks that you use with your loved ones – methods of communication that have evolved over the years. One practice that Randy and I do regularly involves a simple text when we are out and about and are beginning to make our way home. We simply type the three letters “OMW” into the text field which populates immediately into “On My Way!” letting the receiver know that the sender is heading home either from church, the store, or wherever. 

That brief text – OMW lets whoever is at home know it’s time to begin preparing: the meal, or to walk or feed the dogs, or do whatever we had promised to do while the other was out. It’s the KNOWING that the other is on their way – that tips us off to get ready, to finish up tasks, rather than be surprised by their arrival. 

Jesus had neither the technology nor the devices that we do so his message was a bit more terse, and his warning included more dire in consequences. 

In the gospel lesson read today Jesus warns his disciples to “be ready – for of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Holy One. Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.” In short, the was no “OMW,” and folks could be caught unawares reminding me of a bumper sticker I saw several years ago: “Jesus is coming – Look busy.” 

The problem as I read this passage – is what is called for is clearly impossible. We can’t possibly keep awake, be at the ready, and totally alert all the time. We need to sleep. We need downtime. We need a vacation every now and then. How can we possibly fulfill our Lord’s demand? 

It’s important to be mindful of the context of this writing and of its genre. The gospel writers believed in a second coming – a physical return of Jesus – AND they believed that would happen in their lifetime. They even put this understanding into Jesus’ words, “this generation will not pass away until these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” 

The genre of this writing is known as “apocalyptic” or “eschatological” and typically imagines a time when there will be great suffering for those who ill-prepared – those not awake and ready, BUT a day of deep gladness and heavenly reward for those who are fortunate enough to be ready at JUST the right time.  

But I will say it again, this kind of preparedness is impossible. And while we may not get an OMW, we do need some kind of guidance so that we might live in a manner this is helpful and productive and not live in the fear of failure OR that I may miss out if we become too busy or otherwise occupied. 

And so, I wonder whether all this apocalyptic nonsense is just that – too often used to scare us into a way of life that is clearly impossible and not very helpful. 

Perhaps the second coming of Jesus will not happen within our lifetime – because it has already occurred. Jesus described it and Paul repeated the notion that the Holy Spirit was to come after Jesus’ departure – a spirit of truth and empowerment. Jesus offered this notion by way of comfort on the eve of his departure when he said in John’s gospel, “In a little while I will no longer be with you, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send will be with you and will be in you.” 

This is the spirit of conviction and motivation, of comfort and of peace, given that we might be empowered to do the work of God every day of our lives.

So, our faith need not be focused on some coming cataclysmic event when the “sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light – when the stars will fall from heaven and the powers of heaven will be shaken.” NO! Our faith must be focused on the needs that are right before us. The need to share the love of God with everyone – everywhere we go. Love that sometimes may need to be expressed in a hug, a listening ear, holding a hand, or offering a prayer. At other times it’s given through a bowl of soup or a warm blanket or a place to stay for the night. 

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t live in expectation. We ought to be fully present — to read the signs that are apparent to us. Maybe Jesus will return again some day. No one knows for sure. But it hasn’t happened in the last 2,000 years so the odds are it’s not going to happen anytime soon. But like the “baby and the bathwater” this doesn’t mean that we discard the implication of this message. We just need to live it in a way that is practical and helpful. 

We need to live in expectation while working for the betterment of a world in tremendous need. If we each do our little part – our drop in the bucket – then our family, our church, our island, our world will become a better place, and we need not worry about receiving an OMW – because we are DOB – doing our best! 

Jesus has come. Jesus is coming. Jesus is already here and lives within each one of us. What if we lived as if that were so? OMG! 


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