When Will These Things Happen?

Scripture can be found here...

Do you mind if I start with a little rant?

I really, really don’t like the change to Daylight Savings Time.

I don’t like losing an hour of sleep. My sleep schedule is uneven at the best of times. On Spring Ahead Sunday (and, truth be told, for several days to come) I feel an absolutely punishing sense of exhaustion when the alarm goes off.

I don’t like the fact that, every year when we spring ahead, there is a spike in heart attacks, because the loss of sleep further stresses bodies that are already stressed by cardiovascular disease.

I don’t like the fact that we’ve been tricked as to the true reason for Daylight Savings Time. Contrary to what most of us were taught it wasn’t instituted for farmers. (In fact, it disrupts farm schedules terribly, which makes sense. Cows are not susceptible to the tricks humans play with clocks.)

Daylight Savings Time is about the economy. It gives people an “extra hour” to shop. And because of that, we spend more on goods (which, I suppose, is good for the economy), and on gasoline (which is contributing to an altogether different Very Big Problem we have).

But here’s the real reason I don’t much like Daylight Savings Time: In a life which already feels quite full, and as if I don’t have time to do all the things I should do, and want to do, the spring time change contributes to my sense that time is running out. Daylight savings time taps me on my sleeping shoulder, and says, “You have even less time than you think.”

Which, if you think about it, is pretty much what Jesus is saying today. In the texts we have been reading on Sunday mornings for the past several weeks, Jesus has been speaking in the Temple. As this passage begins, he steps outside, and the urgency in his speech is escalating. Jesus is getting more and more agitated. Why is that?

Is he frightened, because it is now just a few days from Passover, and he knows in his bones that this week, he will come face to face with death?

Is he angry, because he has been the recipient of a veritable barrage of questioning—interrogation, really—from people who are hostile to him and his message?

Is he frustrated because, again, still, even the ones closest to him don’t seem to get it?

Or, perhaps, is he worried? As one who sees with great clarity where all things are leading, is Jesus face to face with the anguish of one who can only play his own part, and no other, one who cannot protect his people from the pain ahead?

As they step outside, Jesus’ people make small talk about the beautiful stonework all around them. Jesus snaps back, “It’s all gonna come tumbling down.” And, he is absolutely right. The uneasy truce between occupying Rome and the Jewish people does not hold, and the Roman troops raze the Temple in about 40 years’ time. In the portion we don’t read, Jesus goes into much detail about the pain and suffering of that time.

And then, in the last part we did read, Jesus starts to talk in language that takes us from people, and buildings, and the things of life we see around us, to the cosmos—sun, moon, stars, from the winds of the earth to the ends of heaven; to angels and God almighty.

It would be very understandable, at this point, if Jesus’ disciples were standing there looking at him with that quizzical look we give people who seem to have gone off into another realm entirely, because he has.

And the gist of it all is, “You have less time than you think. Keep awake.”

We have less time than we think. Well, that pretty much sums up the human experience, I suppose. We’re so sure there will be time to take those trips, climb those mountains, mend those fences, spend time with the ones we love. And then we learn, to our dismay, that time actually speeds up as we get older—it’s true! You can Google it—and, suddenly, we are struggling to “Keep awake,” because everything is now… or never.

There’s something about a passage like this that makes me want to get back in bed, pull the covers over my head, and hope it will be gone, like a bad headache, in the morning.

But, like Daylight Savings Time, Jesus pokes us when we’re not quite ready, and says, “No, I mean it. Now.”

What is this “now” that Jesus wants us to attend to? Well, the Kingdom of God, for one thing. Jesus started out this gospel by saying it was near. Jesus continued his ministry by demonstrating, throughout the remainder of the gospel, that it wasn’t just near, it was here: healing was unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace. The paralyzed walked. The blind saw. The deaf heard and spoke. The hungry were fed. The fevered were restored to health, and got up and joined in the work of service to others. Little children who were dead were raised to life. And, little children were given the same kind welcome extended to those formerly known as outcast. All kinds of people were welcomed, given a place at the table, pulled into leadership, because Jesus said, “You know those who are doing fine don’t need a doctor, right?”

There is a good case to be made here that Jesus is more interested in highlighting the powerful work of God, and God’s kingdom, than bemoaning the familiar attempts of humans to dominate and control and beat up on one another.[i] And just in case the kingdom as it unfolds at bedsides and around tables is too small-scale for us to notice, Jesus reminds us that it, too, can be big and flashy, and take our breath away and fill us with awe. But we need to be ready, or we will even miss the big stuff.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m convinced, it’s the stuff that happens inside us that is the big stuff.

The moment of metanoia, the Greek word translated “repentance,” but which really means, turning around, getting a new view. That is the big stuff.

The instant of hearing the still, small voice that tells us, “make peace with him,” or “apologize to her.” That is the big stuff.

The warmth that washes over us when we are filled with a sense of gratitude for the tiniest moment of healing what was broken. That is the big stuff.

These are the moments when the stars and the moon and the sun dim, because the light that is God’s love has burst into brilliance within us, has been born in us again.

But we have to be awake to experience each and every one of these things. We have to be awake, whether or not we got to bed early enough the night before. We have to be awake, because encounters with God cannot be ordered at our convenience, off a drive-through menu. We have to be awake… or we will miss it. Agitated, walking away from the Temple and into the week we know as the holiest of weeks, Jesus wants us to be present for it.

The good news is: we can stay awake together. We can gather around tables and break bread and keep the candles burning. We can set our alarms to catch the sunrise and sigh together at its beauty. We can rise and sing a song that warms and encourages us, and reminds us: God has this. God has us.

The wonderful Eugene Peterson, paraphrases another passage from scripture, one that is very beloved, and that speaks, in concert with Jesus' words here. I'd like to end with his words:

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. We are also feeling the birth pangs. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? … I'm absolutely convinced that nothing--nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable--absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us."[ii]

God has this. God has us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Micah D. Kiel, Commentary on Mark 13:1-8, 24-37, at Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2586.

[ii] Eugene Peterson, “The Message,” Romans 8:22-25, 31. 38-39.