“Keep Awake”: A Sermon by Pastor Bob

“If Christ is coming soon, why care about the environment? If Christ is coming soon, why worry about the future of our children, grandchildren, or beyond? If Christ is coming soon, why care about anyone else who does not subscribe to my precise definition of Christianity, let alone show any compassion to people of other faiths? Isn’t Christ teaching me to be concerned only with the salvation of someone’s soul, and not really their need to be fed, cared for and even loved? Do we really have to authentically care about anyone else?

Keep Awake

A sermon by Pastor Bob

November 27, 2011

Text: Mark 13:24-37

 

Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light;

the stars will fall from the sky,

and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The Day and Hour Unknown

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

–I remember first seeing the huge billboard in San Francisco.

–It said that the end of the world was going to take place on May 21, 2011.

–At first, I thought it was a local church cleverly advertising some event.

–But, then I realized that they meant it. They were serious.

–And then I said to myself, “Why don’t they just wait for the Mayan Calendar to run out in 2012?”

–When I drove back to San Diego that day, I realized that there were more signs like that one, and soon discovered that this was a much bigger movement than I thought.

–It seems that the Family Radio group, who own about 150 AM and FM stations across America, were heavily investing in the end of time.

–According to their leader, Harold Camping, a popular radio host, he had done the calculations, and the end of the world would definitely occur May 21, 2011. There would be a rapture followed by cataclysmic events.

–Well, $100 million dollars later and with the anticipation of many of Camping’s followers, May 21, 2011 came and went.

–And unless, a select group we don’t know about were raptured, then it seemed that Camping was wrong. But this did not stop him from making another prediction.

–After May 21, he told people that May 21 was really the beginning of a Spiritual Judgment and that the actual physical rapture and simultaneous destruction of the universe would come October 21, 2011.

–By now, you’ve probably guessed that this too did not happen.

–And instead, we have made it to another Advent, another anticipating of Christ, but not accompanied by a legion of angels, earthquakes and fires, but rather, by the sighs of Mary who waits for her baby to be born.

–We wait with Joseph, as he tries to navigate a new wife, and a soon-to-be-born son whom the world will call Messiah.

–We wait with shepherds who will hear heavenly voices.

–And with wise men who will follow a star to a soon-to-be newborn king.

–”Keep awake” our gospel proclaims, “keep awake.”

–As we sit some 2000 years later, waiting in anticipation both for Christ’s coming in a manger and Christ’s second coming with shouts of trumpets and the raising of the dead, we are caught in a mixture of feelings.

–I have always found it kind of funny that we begin our Advent season, the beginning season of the new church year, with words of apocalypse.

–Instead of picking out baby names this morning, we are warned to pick up our lives in anticipation of the one who is to come.

–And as all prognostics of the world’s end must eventually come to the conclusion: no one knows when this will happen.

–Startlingly, Jesus will tell his disciples not even he knows: not the Son, but only the Father.

–To tell you the truth, I feel sorry for the Harold Campings of the world, who risk literally everything in proclaiming that the Lord will come on such-and-such a date.

–History is literally littered with such would-be prophets who would later be labeled as false.

–Those who meticulously calculated future dates based on Biblical books like Daniel and Revelation.

–When I was very little, from zero to five, I stayed with a kind, elderly baby-sitter who came from the Seventh-Day Adventist tradition, and though my parents would have nothing to do with the church, this baby-sitter and her husband would steep me in the stories of the Bible, play old hymns on an upright piano, and proclaim Christ in every deed.

–Years later, after I left such stories as fancy, only to discover them again in joyful grace as a young adult, I would once again sit at their table, listening and observing.

–The year before I went off to study to be a pastor in seminary, I attended a weekly Bible study in my old baby-sitter’s home, and I’ll never forget when I was handed a piece of paper that showed not only the dating of the world, but predictions of the future.

–Except, unlike Harold Camping’s work, the final date of Christ’s coming was left only as a question mark.

–Back in 1844, what would become the unintentional beginnings of the Adventist movement occurred when followers of William Miller, some 100,000 people, waited into the night anticipating Christ’s second coming.

–Many had sold their property and belongings in such anticipation, and by the morning, found only disillusionment.

–A remnant of these followers would interpret Oct. 22, 1844, as the beginning of Christ’s preparation of the Most Holy Place in heaven.

–This time, however, they left the date of Christ’s earthly return open.

–They had learned something that Oct. 22, 1844.

–No one knows when, only God.

–It was such Seventh-Day Adventists who would help in raising me not only to value a good diet and the importance of medicine, but an urgency and immediacy that Christ will return, if not now, soon.

–And many a time, I would remember my baby-sitter’s words to me, that though she might not see Christ in her lifetime, I surely would.

–So here I am. A pastor sharing a word of advent to you two days after what has become known to the commercial world as Black Friday, and almost one month before we celebrate the birth of Christ.

–What do we do with the predictive words of Christ’s return?

–Why hasn’t Christ returned before now?

–Why do people keep getting this wrong?

–These aren’t just million dollar questions; these are questions that cause some to doubt, some to redouble their efforts to be good, and others to wonder if this applies at all to their lives.

–As I parse these questions for myself, I can’t help but be both discouraged and encouraged.

–Honestly, what drives me absolutely crazy by the Harold Campings of this world is that in their efforts to reach out to those who do not know Christ, they drive away far more people.

–The Bible is not a tool to be manipulated like some chronological hammer.

–Such fire and brimstone speech manages only to scorch those who look desperately for some direction, and to drive away those who have no real grasp of Christianity in the first place.

–Worse, such an attitude can lead not to an anticipation of the future, but rather to antipathy towards any future action.

–If Christ is coming soon, why care about the environment?

–If Christ is coming soon, why worry about the future of our children, grandchildren, or beyond?

–If Christ is coming soon, why care about anyone else who does not subscribe to my precise definition of Christianity let alone show any compassion to people of other faiths?

–Isn’t Christ teaching me to be concerned only with the salvation of someone’s soul, and not really their need to be fed, cared for and even loved?

–Do we really have to authentically care about anyone else?

–On the other hand, as much as this holier-than-thou attitude makes me crazy, at the same time, I can’t help but think, like many Christians throughout the centuries, that there is something beneficial in believing that Christ will come again within our lifetime.

–That to live in such urgency and expectation means that what we do today really matters.

–We are not just making payments on some life-assurance policy after we die, but are in compassion caring for a hurting world now.

–We are to live fully now. Not holding back, not waiting, but living and loving to our capacity.

–That this is what it truly means to live in Christ.

–Why doesn’t Christ come? Why doesn’t Christ just pick up those few thousands of people who have been predestined?

–Maybe Christ is not interested in rapturing just a few folks.

–Maybe God is after the kingdom that Christ died for in the first place.

–Maybe there is still time.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdgalloway

    A resounding amen!

  • Brad J

    For an interesting set of predictions: http://truebiblecode.com/nyc.html

    They’ve been predicting the imminent beginning of the end times pretty much weekly for the past five years. Hundreds and hundreds of predictions, and every time, they’re sure they have the math right.

    I admire their tenacity, even as I shake my head at them. Too busy looking at the end of the world to live in the world we have now.

  • Ashdawn

    As always, a great sermon Pastor Bob. I have started a ritual of reading your sermons here on John’s blog every Sunday morning. I grab a cup of coffee, read the newest posting, and then reflect upon my own thoughts and feelings on the matter. And I can honestly say it has done more for my spiritual growth than 17 years of attending conservative churches EVER did. So, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    And thank you, John, for introducing me to the work of such an amazing man.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thank you for this kind message, Ash. It means a lot to me–and I know it will to Pastor Bob.

      • Pastor Bob

        It does. Thank you.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    A friend once told me that he knew people that, when environmental issues were brought up to them, answered with “Oh, we don’t have to worry about that, the Rapture’s soon!” Apparently, the sentiment made him as livid as it makes me. It’s an outright irresponsible attitude – shows not only a lack of caring for the Nature that God created and we’re all connected to, how are they so sure the Rapture’s going to take them? People throughout history were sure the End was nigh and we’ve kept chugging along, creating our own problems.

    The whole sentiment strikes me as a person being lax in their work just because they *know* it’s a half-hour to closing. Most bosses, if they catch you goofing around instead of doing what you’re paid to do, aren’t going to be happy.

    I “celebrated” May 21 by playing a video game where the protagonist meets an apocalypse and kicks its butt. That was fun, but I continue to feel sorry for all those people who were bilked into spending all their money on the billboards. I’m even more dismayed when I see people saying that they don’t feel sorry for the people decieved because “they deserved it for being stupid.” I wonder if they feel such for the *children* of such families.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pvbeddoe Paul Beddoe via Facebook

    Cachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme!

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    English?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pvbeddoe Paul Beddoe via Facebook

    Sorry .. Should have been “Wacht auf” or “awake” … Lutheran hymn for today …http://lyrics.astraweb.com/display/895/hymns..unknown..sleepers_wake.html

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Awesome, Paul. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pvbeddoe Paul Beddoe via Facebook

    Here’ the Bach chorale based on it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bGe0j52KcA&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Diana Avery

      For those of you who happen to be in the area and are interested, First United Methodist Church of San Diego is performing Bach’s Cantata 140 (which I believe includes is a lengthier version of the above chorale) along with Bach’s Magnificat. Details at this link: http://www.fumcsd.org/event/2011-12-04-back-to-back-bach-advent-choral-concert/

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        I AM in the area! I AM interested! That’s such an extraordinary piece of music.

        • Diana Avery

          I hope you and Cat are able to make it. The lecture before the concert promises to be quite good, too.

          If not, you can always try to make the dress rehearsal. A lot of people who don’t like to drive at night or who don’t feel like battling crowds come to that.

  • Diana Avery via Facebook

    “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. The time is drawing nigh. Children don’t get weary. The time is drawing nigh.

  • Diana Avery via Facebook

    “Christian journey soon be over. The time is drawing nigh. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. The time is drawing nigh.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    Diana Avery, as ever, for the score.

  • Linda

    OK, I am just wondering. Is there really a case for believing in a litteral, real time “rapture”? I used to beleive all that crap too. but since I no longer feel the need to be saved or anything else I wonder why we even celebrate Advent or Christmas. Now this is an honest question. I am trying to figure all this out. Why none of it makes any sense to me at all any more. So anyone have any ideas? Don’t mean to sound cynicale or aded but I guess I am.

    • Donald Rappe

      There’s short summary of the “rapture” in Wikipedia, The doctrine appears to have originated in the U, S. after the time of the American revolution. The doctrine as understood by American fundamentalists is not accepted by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran or Anglican Catholic branches of Christian faith. That’s most of us now and all of us for the first 1700 years. I feel the idea of us being snatched up in the air and meeting Christ as he returns is a poetic sort of understanding of the Great Day of the Lord. I personally understand this Day not to be a day in history, but the Day that stands at the end of history and functions as it’s goal and gives it meaning.

      It is not an accident that the penitential advent season, the 10 days of Christ Mass, all somewhat lower level holydays, culminating in the great feast of The Epiphany of our Lord (El Dia de los Reyes or Kings Day), cover the time period of the winter solstice. As the darkness of each day increases we repent. but as the sun begins to come back, we rejoice ourselves. These are holy days in all the Northern hemisphere religions.

      In my country, the U.S., the holy days are overshadowed by the commercial season, as retail businesses try to close there books on the year in the black. Who says we can’t serve God and Mammon?

      I

  • DR

    Love this so much.

  • http://parentingatrans.blogspot.com Gretchen

    I borrowed a book called “In God’s Time” from a Lutheran minister. It’s so in-depth that I bought one for myself. It’s an apologetic of sorts to the whole “Left Behind” saga. Good read. I have a whole new viewpoint on the end times in general.

    I’m glad that I live in the now and am able to stand up for what I believe in, which is what it means to walk like Jesus, and not talk about him coming. It’s made a lot of issues in my life easier for myself, my family, and our goals that (I hope) impact God’s Kingdom.

    • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      I haven’t head of “In God’s Time,” but I have read about half of the “Left Behind” saga. The only thing I don’t regret about the time wasted reading those books is the fact that I can now go to Slacktivist and know what’s being dissected and made fun of.

  • Donald Rappe via Facebook

    Oh! Those crazy Lutherans.

    • Donald Rappe

      I MEANT THIS COMMENT to be with regard to the hymn “Wacht auf” etc. I can’t make sense of it. I can’t delete it.

  • Gary

    Pastor Bob,

    I want to say thank you for sharing your ministry online the way you do. I left the structure of organized churchianity this past summer after faithfully participating for nearly 48 years. In fact I have been an adult teacher of the bible for more than 25 years and even served as an Interim Pastor for a couple of years. But in the past 10 years or so it has been an increasing struggle to deal with what the modern Christian church has become. I feel very strongly that it no longer (at least in large part) resembles the church Christ established. I am sure the fact that nearly all of my church experience has been in very “fundamental bible believing” churches has jaded my view. Still…I find myself truly loving my Christian walk for the first time in a very long time. The wonder of my relationship with Christ is beautiful once again. I may one day return to some type of organized fellowship and I may not. But either way I will always be a follower of Christ.

    Sorry to ramble on like I have but I wanted you to understand just a bit of why your sermons on Sunday mornings (or even…gasp…Mondays…grin) have come to mean so much to me.

    Take Care and may God Bless you and yours this holiday season,

    Gary

    • Pastor Bob

      I am humbled Gary. God bless you on the journey.

  • Christy

    Smiling….thank you.

  • That Guy

    Wow. The way you word things.

    You are so good at bringing light to the scripture and to the lives of individuals, myself included.

    I can’t tell you how many times you’ve said something that just struck my soul. When I read your sermons I often cry, but in a good way, the kind of way that offers healing.

    You have given me a lot of hope and bring me to greater faith in God.

    In my life it’s honestly really hard to have trust in God’s promises. I’ve seen a lot and went through a lot and I am still going through a lot and often I end up wondering if it can ever really be fixed.

    But your sermons give me hope that it can be fixed, that God can make everything new again. Thank you so much for that.


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