“Do you have the time
To listen to me whine
About nothing and everything
All at once”
So begins the song, Basket Case, released by the band Green Day in 1994. They were one of many voices in pre-September 11 America that lamented the loss of value and meaning in our culture. One might even call them somewhat prophetic if you consider the function of a prophet as speaking the uncomfortable truth that we do not want to see or hear.
I must admit that sometimes I feel like the task of preaching to a disinterested world and the discussions of becoming a church that is sensitive to every need, leave me feeling like we might be whining about everything and nothing, all at once. Either that or maybe we are like Bugs Bunny in that old cartoon when he comes up in a forest full of creatures, fleeing from the Tasmanian Devil trying to get someone to stop and tell him what is going on!
We surface from our holes and talk about health care reform, school systems, gun control, and entitlements, and we rarely take a stand on anything as a church (Denominational or congregational) for fear of alienating someone. We are affirmed in our “hands off” beliefs when we hear about Christians going to extremes in order to exclude divergent views – especially when this exclusion results in the hurtful and public exclusion of an individual or group.
And all the while we (the mainline church) express feeling marginalized and lamenting our lack of influence on society, as though we are the ones entitled to drive the bus because we are God’s favorites. In some way it reminds me of a Pastor who is a friend that once attempted to make the point that we can be intolerably self-absorbed by wearing a shirt that read, “Jesus Loves You! But I’m his favorite.”
At the bottom of the cultural wars within the church and without, are the claims that we receive in scripture today – God is sovereign, active, and present; the time to follow God is now; and following God will probably mess up your life. Isaiah speaks of the sovereignty of God. He speaks of a time that we are moving toward – even still today – when power expressed through violence is no longer the force that regulates the world. Power expressed through wisdom, a knowledge of God’s active presence, is the creative force that holds everything, and it will be the force that orders all of life in the end.
Paul, a devout Jew – well aware of the power of God - wrote to the church in Rome about the urgency of the moment. He expected Christ to return immediately, and although he was wrong about that he was right about the fact that life with and without a knowledge of God’s active presence is like the difference between night and day.
His urgent appeal is not based on a desire to rack up saved disciples like frequent flier miles. His urgent appeal is not based on the idea that following Jesus is simply a get out of hell free card. His urgent appeal is the offering of a life that is truly living through the experience of God’s active presence. Why in the world would anyone wait for that? And if you already have a knowledge of God’s active presence, how is it possible to live like you don’t – or even like you are the only one it applies toward? Well, according to Paul, some were living that way, and he simply says, in somewhat of a parental tone, “Stop it! Cut it out. Knock it off.”
Paul makes an exclusive claim that forces a choice in the same way as Joshua, who told the people generations before him to “choose this day whom you will serve.” Paul tells them, and us, to realize that life does not have a snooze alarm, and that there is nothing as gratifying as experiencing God’s active presence by following the way of Jesus.
This Jesus, by the way, has also left us some interesting bread crumbs and riddles to follow. Somehow a passage that begins with, “No one will know the hour of the coming of the son of man” has been used over the years to indicate signs of Christ’s return. The point of this passage is not to give us a treasure map to follow or a threat to hold over those that do not speak certain buzzwords of faith. And although it is certainly possible that God may hand pick the redeemed at some given moment, I think it is much more reasonable to believe that the gospel writers were describing something they could not see.
For the truth is that God has revealed Godself through the person, work, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not only was God present in a special way through Jesus, but because of Jesus, the door has been left open for all of us to experience God as active and present. There is no telling when God’s self-revelation will hit you. It might not hit you at the same time as the one you are laboring with in the field. It might hit you right here and right now. It might be when you are washing dishes, but when God’s self-revelation becomes real to you it may very well mess up your life.
God has a tendency to reorder our priorities. God removes the lies we tell ourselves in order to construct a world that we can survive in. God opens our hearts to realize what our true needs are – even beyond the needs of our physical selves. God opens our eyes to see the needs of others. That does not necessarily mean that we turn into walking charitable organizations – although I guess it could. It means that we hear and see things from God’s perspective. It means that just as we might guard our homes from a thief, we have also erected barriers to keep God in God’s place, and God will not be stopped. So, be ready.
Do we know what time it is? Do we have the time? That’s what the scriptures are asking us. Can we make time for this gospel? Can we stand for something that truly matters? I believe that we can. I believe that beyond the politics and controversies of this day is a world that is longing to hear something truly inspiring from you about the way that faith in Jesus and life in a community of believers has made a difference in your life. I believe there are people who society neglects, and people who have made choices that have alienated them from others, that this fellowship of believers is in the habit of touching, and seeing, and hearing in a way that no one else does.
Throughout the year, we provide resources for ecumenical partners like Communities Uniting in Prayer and Service (CUPS), Meals on Wheels, Family Promise, the Wesley United Campus Ministries, and the United Christian Outreach. Today we will commission over 1,000 gift baskets made from new and gently used items to needy families. Next Saturday we will turn our Fellowship hall into a venue of hospitality to distribute baskets in a way that demonstrates care and community. We will bristle against each other in order to do these things. We will constantly demonstrate our need for grace and mercy and forgiveness, even while we extend grace and mercy and forgiveness. But I tell you this – we know what time it is!
At this time, on this day – the first Sunday of Advent – we stand ready to walk in the light of the Lord! I pray that we may not only be ready, but that we also be willing. And that includes me, Chief among sinners, forgiven and beloved by God, just like you. And to God be the glory, even as we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come!” Amen.