SPEAKER – Mark Chia
30 November 2014
Jesus is coming, wake up!
Good morning, my name is Mark. Let us pray.
As we begin this season of advent, as we remember his coming and his coming again, prepare our hearts so that we are ready to recognise the wisdom of your word, and tap into the reality of your presence in our lives, and in our community.
In the name of Jesus, the awakened one, Amen.
Mark 13:24-37 (New Revised Standard Version of the Bible)
13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.
13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
13:35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Nearing the end times, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says that “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from heaven and the powers in heaven will be shaken”. Similar predictions occur throughout the Bible. In Joel 2:31, we are told that “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” while in the Gospel of Luke 21:25 it reads “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” Simply put, when the end of times is here, the universe will be out of whack.
Some have responded to these warnings by looking for physical signs of the end times, and before we start laughing at them, and dissing them off as fanatical fundamentalists, perhaps they are indeed onto something. Apparently in June 2013, NASA did manage to discover that 1/3 of the sun was literally ripped off and hurtling through space at 200 miles an hour, right towards earth! And the scariest part is that that resulted in the darkening of 1/3 of the Sun. There you go! So the end times are here, and Jesus could be coming anytime – keep watch!
Of course, not everyone takes things so literally, not even ‘Bible-believing’ Christians. If you were to ask our neighbours just two streets down the road along Margaret drive, it will not be difficult for them to find many examples which demonstrate that the universe is indeed out of whack. One can easily point to so many things in this world today going out of whack. Just look at rising divorce rates, rising rates of pre-marital sex and teenage pregnancy, rising incidences of juvenile delinquency, domestic abuse, gay marriage (and the like), equal rights for homosexuals, our gender-bending youth generation and what have you!
Of course, for us in FCC, those very same signs some others perceive as signs of the end times might well be signs of a new heaven and a new earth for us! The freedom to love, the equality of all persons regardless of gender, sexuality, race, religion, economic status or what have you – those are signs of a new heaven and a new earth. If those are signs of the end times, perhaps quite a few of us would readily welcome those signs with open arms. Perhaps the maintenance of S377A in the Penal Code of Singapore, or rising cases of anti-gay legislation around the world like in Russia might be a signs of the end times? I don’t know.
But what I do know is this: arguing about what are the legitimate signs of the end times inevitably dissolves into an insufferable argument about what is or is not out of whack about the world. But the worse of all, being obsessed with determining the signs of the end times can detract us from a more important question. Jesus himself when asked by Peter, James, John and Andrew in Chapter 13 Verse 3 when signs of the end times will occur, he refuses to answer their question.
Instead Jesus says, “Be on guard! Be alert!” Chapter 13 tells us that we are like servants put in charge of a house not knowing when the master would return for a spot check. We are told to “keep watch”, to exercise stewardship over what we have been assigned. We are told not to “let him find you sleeping”. All this reminds me of the wisdom of the infamous bumper sticker, which I actually did see on the back of a car just a few weeks ago. Any guesses?
“Jesus is coming. Look busy” Haha. But beyond the haha, I think we laugh because it resonates with a grain of personal truth residing in the recesses of our heart. In the mini parable which sums up the chapter, it tells the story of a master who puts his servant in charge of the house, with various duties, including guard duty at the gate! We told that he would be coming back any time presumably to spot check on whether we’ve been doing his work or slacking off.
Recently after a visit to IMH with WZ, we sat for lunch. We chatted about various random things in our personal life, the usual stuff about work, school, family, and eventually the topic drifted to matters of the spirit. And the conversation went something like this:
“Have you thought about the end times?”
“Not quite I guess”
“Ok, assuming you do, do you think the end times are scary?”
“Yes, of course!”
“Because if that day does come, we’ll have to answer for our lives and all we’ve done”.
Maybe that’s a big part of the anxiety surrounding the end times, and it is really the fear that drives all the effort devoted to predicting the end times. It is the end of time, no more time to seek forgiveness, to repent or to make amends. No more time to follow Jesus. When that time comes, you will be judged for how you’ve lived your life. If you pass the exam, you go to heaven. If you fail, you go to hell. And to top it all off, God refuses to tell you the date of the exam (for even Jesus apparently doesn’t know)! Jokes aside, this image of a vengeful God who splits fine hairs, plays games with you and holds you accountable for our spiritual laziness is the really the scariest part.
So we get busy. And of course, busyness can mean different things to different people. For some it means evangelising and preaching the Word, saving ‘lost souls’. For others it means leading a good life, doing good deeds. It means getting into ministry, maybe join the band, join prayer, serve in church, maybe join Dirty Hands come every week to IMH! Maybe advocate for LGBTQ rights, or any __________ (insert your favourite minority) rights! Or maybe, deliver a sermon in FCC What better way to get busy than getting your hands dirty with the work of God!
And with all that busyness, perhaps we might sleep a little more soundly at night. At least we know we’ve tried our best, and Jesus will forgive the rest by the loving Grace of God. And don’t get me wrong. Of course it is important to serve in church or engage in acts of love, charity and justice. In Philippians 2: 12, Paul urges us Christians to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. We are certainly called to respond to the call of duty to follow Jesus.
But I think there is a difference between getting busy and keeping awake. In Chapter 13 itself, Jesus urges us not to be “busy” but to be “awake”. I think the difference is subtle but a difference there is. In our ordinary everyday experience, being busy keeps one awake. Busyness creates an adrenaline rush that keeps one going and distracted from the lull of sleep. But is it possible to get ourselves into the frenzy of busyness (including with the work of God) and yet be entirely asleep all the time.
The season of advent begins the Christmas season which leads us to Christmas, and we are called to remember the first coming of Christ. But advent itself is simultaneously just as much about the second coming of Christ. Whether you believe it refers to the physical return of Jesus, or whether you take it figuratively, what we can at least agree on is the call for a state of readiness. In the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 13:29 Jesus says “you know that he is near”, that he is “at the very gates”. If only we could recognise the signs, we would already be able to see Jesus at our doorstep!
I think the big question Jesus poses to us is this: When the time for the new heaven and earth finally comes, will you be ready to recognise the divine? Or will you be found in a state of slumber, whether of pleasant dreams, a beautiful life filled with the perfect partner and job, or a nightmare of personal tragedy and lost? Either way, you are not alone. The history of Church is a history of sleepy Christians. In the very next chapter in Mark 14, in the section on the Garden of Gethsemane, having just been instructed to keep awake, they miraculously fall asleep! Subsequently, after the Resurrection of Jesus, most of Jesus’ followers too seemed to be in a state of dreaminess, unable to recognise Jesus face to face. Mary Magdalene didn’t. Neither did the two men on the road to Emmaus. Likewise, most of us just aren’t ready to recognise Jesus. For in the process of waiting, we fall into a state of sleepiness and miss the divine moment of meeting Jesus face to face.
So as some of you know, one of our FCC Dirty Hands projects involves visiting an elderly lady living at Commonwealth Crescent, and providing a regular house cleaning services for her. Generally, the idea’s simple: we get our hands dirty in serving the community. It’s been some months now, and I think we’ve been increasingly successful in getting her to trust us with the cleaning. Most of time’s spent chatting and interacting with her, and with us displaying valiant attempts at Mandarin and Cantonese. Lately, we’ve been feeling uncomfortable because she’s begun showering us with increasingly lavish home-cooked meals, regardless of our protests. Recently, she began including deserts as well!
Still, we go. We go with the intention to get our hands dirty, to serve, and to engage. Instead, we’re forced to be served! It’s like she executed a secret judo move on us to out-manoeuvre us! And for Eugene and Alex, now known as ‘Ah gene’ and ‘Ah lex’, who visit every other week, it must surely feel even worse! In all honesty, it’s been leaving me with a strange feeling for a long time, whatever way I analyse things. I think much of the weirdness comes from the feeling that we should be serving, and she should be served. Instead, she insists on serving and making us the recipients of service. More or less, we visit on alternate weeks not to get our hands dirty but for a free lunch!
Even up till a week ago I was still trying to cook up a plan to out-manoeuvre her, and to out-serve her. It was only until just a few days ago as I was reflecting on this experience again that out of the blue came an image, an image of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. How difficult it must have been to allow Jesus to serve them! Like the disciples of Jesus, we too refused to be served for in our mind we had already decided how things should have been. Like the disciples of Jesus, we too refused to let Jesus be Jesus. We refused to serve. Jesus came to Commonwealth Crescent, but I did not see him, or him in her.
Of course, it doesn’t have to so dramatic, and it certainly doesn’t have to involve dirty hands. The same could happen in any other ministry, whether welcome, music, women’s, youth, charity café, etc. The same could happen every day as we seek to live out and work out our salvation, in relationship with the people around us, our partners, our family, our friends, and frenemies. The kingdom of God is at Hand, and Jesus is at the gates. Could it be that Jesus has already come again and again, every day and in every moment of our everyday lives, if only we were spiritually ready to see and to acknowledge his presence?
The readiness to experience the coming of Jesus does require work. I am not contradicting what I said earlier. It does require work, but it doesn’t mean throwing yourself into the busyness of ministry, or winning the award for the model Church member of the year award. It does mean engaging in acts of spiritual discipline and practicing being ready and responsive to the coming of Christ, who perhaps has already come, who comes and comes, every other moment of our lives. If only we were ready, we would already have witness not just the second coming, but the third, the fourth, the eternal and perpetual coming of Christ. My question for you, on the first Sunday of advent is this: are you ready?