What do you believe about the second coming of Jesus? Often this question has a way of causing people to worry and fret over life. After all we are talking about the end of the world as we know it. When I was in Seminary I took a class on Revelation, and so I decided to lead a Bible study on the book. Of course, I shared what I had learned, but I had one older fellow in my church that was something of a Hal Lindsey scholar and he took exception to what I was saying. He got all excited and spouted off, “Well let me ask you this, you don’t even believe in the rapture, do you?” The thing was we were not even talking about the rapture, and I never denied it, so his frustrations were a bit hard to understand.
Then again do you remember Hal Lindsey who authored the book, “The Late Great Planet Earth.” In his book he equated events happening in the world to specific biblical passages all of which he concluded were pointing to the end of the world –coming soon! He predicted in his book that 40 years after the establishment of the country of Israel Jesus would return to earth and 7 years after that return the church would be raptured to heaven. His book sold over 30 million copies, and it was even made into a film narrated by Orson Wells. Hal Lindsey was heralded as a renowned expert in Biblical prophecy, and so commercially successful was his approach that it spawned others to follow in like manner. One of the more recent offerings of this genre is the “Left Behind” series.
There is one problem with Hal Lindsey’s work though: Israel was established in 1948. Christ should have returned in 1988 and the church raptured in 1995. I have a little news for us all. If this is heaven, we’re all in a lot of trouble. Hal Lindsey was forced to change his predictions. Today he is 93 years old, and one website says that he has a net worth of 4 million dollars, so I am thinking maybe he is not ready to cash it all in yet.
I found an article on PBS.org written by Paul Boyer, titled “America’s Doom Industry.” At the end of the article he raises the question concerning the effects of popularizing, and commercializing the apocalyptic message found within the Old and New Testament. He writes:
“I think there’s inevitably a kind of distortion and trivialization of what in some sense is a very profound insight. The apocalyptic world view is one that speaks to the human condition in very profound ways, in terms of the opposition of forces of chaos and order and so on. When it’s translated into the world of contemporary mass marketing, contemporary Hollywood film techniques, inevitably, it seems to me, much of the depth, much of the complexity, much of the meaning that it might have for people in terms of encouraging them to really think about the nature of the world that we live in, gets lost, and it simply becomes another product to be consumed and forgotten.”
Now that is a mouthful, but he raises the question: What are we supposed to get out of the Biblical message concerning the end of times and the return of Christ? How are we supposed to make this message real for us today? Are we to get our ire up and argue with one another over when, if, and how the end is going to come? Or is it to be just another story of end time scenarios to trivialize and entertain us? Coming to a theater near you: Jesus vs the Walking Dead. (You know we had: Alien vs Predator, Batman vs Superman)
Shall we make a joke out of it all. I once read that a group of atheists formed a rescue league for the pets of Christians should the rapture occur. Indeed, for a fee, these “certain to be left behind atheist,” will immediately come to your now absent Christian home and rescue and care for your pets that are left behind. Some people have signed up for this service, but how do we know that God will not take the pet first and then consider the owner.
Well, what message does God’s word share with us? As Jesus questions about the end, as the gospels occasionally leaned into apocalyptic language and descriptions, what are we really being told about how we are to live?
First our scripture comes after Jesus words reminding the people of the folly of coveting material wealth, and reassuring people that God will provide clothes to wear and food to eat. We are told strive for the kingdom and these things will be yours as well. In our reading today we are reassured that God desires to give us the kingdom; therefore, we are commended to sell our possessions and give to the poor and store up our treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The first lesson is in basic stewardship. The scriptures are reminding us not to be overly attached to the material world we live in. As the old saying goes, you brought nothing into this world, and you will take nothing out of it. Not even your own body. Therefore, we are commended to find ways to counterbalance our worries and our fears about living, by having faith that God will provide and that God indeed has something greater for us when we die. Jesus basically encourages us to set our hopes and securities upon the heavenly kingdom where our riches will not be stolen or destroyed by moth or decay.
How tightly are you hanging on to this world? In many ways, life is like a roller coaster. It forces us to hang on for dear life. Even though you are buckled in and hopefully not being thrown off the ride, you still need to steady yourself going around the turns and bumping over the smaller rises. Hang on, hang, on, keep ahold! But then you come to the big drop and if you dear you can raise your hands in the air and scream as you find yourself in a near free fall for a few seconds. That’s life. It has its ups and downs. You have to hold on, but if you hold on too tightly you may miss the better part of the ride. At some point you commit yourself to faith in the science and engineers who built the ride, and also to the God who created the universe. How tightly are you hanging on to life? Jesus reminds us of the need to not grasp so tightly that we are unable to experience having faith and trust in God.
If Jesus does return in your lifetime, will you be ready to receive him? There must be a readiness within our hearts and lives. This means there must be a loosening of our concerns and wants for the world around us. We cannot fully invest ourselves in the material world and live a spiritual life. We cannot have all our concerns focused on worldly plans and live in expectation for Jesus’ return. This is why Jesus says to give it away. The counterbalance to living in just the mud of life is the stewardship of giving. I would not so much look upon the idea of giving to the poor as a commandment as a proposition. There is the idea that we can learn more about heaven and its importance to us through the giving we do -by letting go. Therefore, which do we strive to keep and what do we strive to gain?
This conversation of wealth versus generosity and giving is followed by Jesus’ parable of the master who returns home from the wedding banquet. It is a parable about the nature of waiting for the master’s return. The servants have no idea when the master will return, but they do know that his return is expected at any hour. Weddings in Jewish culture were weeklong events. If the wine held out and the celebration was lively enough, a person did not really know how long the celebration might last. The servants’ task was to be ready when the master came knocking at the door.
On the surface, this seems to be a routine story. Everyone listening would have understood the word picture that Jesus told. But there is a remarkable twist at the end. It involves a role reversal. Jesus says, it will be good for those servants who are ready to meet their master at the door. Initially we can see how that makes sense. The master will have certain needs that must be met when he arrives. They must feed him if he is hungry. The must help him unpack. They must give him an account of what they have done while he was gone. This makes sense but this is not how the story ends. Look at the end in verse 37. It is not the servants who wait on the master. It is the master who waits on the servants. “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”
Now the way I see it a wedding is a joyful occasion, and the waiting is filled with great anticipation and hope. What is it like to be standing at the front of the church waiting for your bride? What is it like to wait outside of the church for the newly married couple to come out of the church? There is joyful anticipation. I think weddings have always been this way. Is it by accident that Jesus uses the story of a wedding as the backdrop for this parable? I don’t think so. The master’s return is either a joyful return with good news of the events, or for what information the parable gives us, perhaps the master was the one who was getting married. The text seems to say that the master returned from the wedding banquet and not just a wedding banquet. The banquet may have been for the master himself, and his return may have included his new wife as well. Regardless, I am going to argue that those who were waiting were not enduring moments of drudgery and solemn duty, but they were waiting with joyful anticipation for the master’s return. When the master returned and found them waiting, he did not not order them about, but he invited them to share in the joy of the event –sit down, eat, and drink, and rejoice as well. He made them a part of the joyful occasion. This is the image and hope of all who are waiting for Jesus’ return. What does the second coming mean to us? It is the call toward joyful anticipation of a life and a story that is yet to come. When Jesus returns, we are to be invited to a banquet that he has prepared for us. We do not have to worry about when these things will be. We should not fret over when the last day will be. Instead, we need to live generous and joyful lives today. This is what God wants of us. The second coming is not the end of the world, but today’s beginning of God’s plan for our eternity with him. Don’t hold on too tightly to life but live with this hope within you and the rest will take care of itself. Amen.