Proper 29 · Mark 13:24-37 · November 22, 2009
By Joel D Biermann
Considerations in relation to the text
1. There is no doubt about the theme for this Sunday’s text. Every Scripture reading for the last two weeks has been swelling the volume and intensity of the message until today’s two readings conspire to fairly scream the theme: the eschaton is coming—the return is near—soon, soon, soon! It is palpable. The stage is set. It’s the Last Sunday of the Year and the tone should be breathless anticipation, tense, wired awareness, like the lingering adrenaline rush after a movie a bit too thrilling, or a football game unbearably close. Relaxation, leisure, and complacency are categorically ruled out.
2. The end is set. There is no doubt. The conclusion has been determined. Not only the day, but even the hour is firmly established. D-day and H-hour are already on the calendar. No man, though, knows or can know that predetermined day and hour. Indeed, man can know not even Y-year, C-century, or M-millennium. Such ignorance extends to all men—even the Son of Man. (The obvious opportunity for “doctrinal preaching” (assuming some may not be) might be met ably by what would be a semi-annual reappearance of the Athanasian Creed.)
3. In this frenetic atmosphere of charged anxiety and mystery, the worst thing that could happen, the virtually unthinkable thing, is to be caught sleeping. Images of drowsy, sleep-addled disciples strewn around the Gethsemane grounds, spring to mind. It was D-day already, and H-hour was charging toward them. But, they never saw it coming—in spite of the repeated warnings. On the verge of the world’s premiere event of eternal significance, they slept.
4. Sleeping through the sermon and stumbling through the liturgy in unthinking stupor may be common enough, and sinful enough, but what of the sin of sleeping through life itself? The command to watch applies not only to doormen and watchmen, but also to travelers. Careless, sleepy travelers risk missing a flight, or an exit, or the “bridge out” sign. Alert traveling demands attention to maps, weather, the road, luggage, other travelers and the destination. It is the direction suggested by the day’s Gradual: “Blessed are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” (Ps. 84:5). An otherwise inexact and general appeal to “be alert” can become considerably more tangible and relevant when cast in terms of being alert to God’s direction through each day’s journey.
Central thought: Jesus is coming—physically, visibly, finally, certainly—and we need to be alert, and so ready…always.
Goal: To instill in the hearers renewed certainty in the reality of the promised return and redoubled commitment to alert living.
Malady: Being lousy waiters, we lose our alert edge and even slide into sleep. Complacent, lackadaisical Christians are the very antithesis of the alert disciples called for by Christ.
Means: There is only one who never sleeps (Ps 121:4), only one who watches over us and brings us at last to H-hour of D-day.
“What Are You Waiting For?”
Introduction: Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, parodies those who spend their lives waiting for God to come. While we recoil from such impious portrayals of life and its meaning, we too often end up asking the same impious questions.
I. “What are you waiting for?”—our question to God.
A. The day and hour are already scheduled.
1. God has established the last hour.
2. It will certainly come.
B. No man knows the calendar’s last day.
1. We grow impatient.
a. “What’s God waiting for?”
b. “Maybe it isn’t really going to happen after all.”
2. We grow complacent.
a. We are easily distracted from an alert state.
b. We drift into sleep.
Transition: Our questioning ends in shame and then terror as God turns the question back on us.
II. “What are you waiting for?”—God’s question to us.
A. Learning to be alert, or, “What part of ‘Be alert!’ don’t you understand?”
1. Being alert describes the life of a pilgrim.
a. We have a destination (arrival at H-hour on D-day).
b. We have direction for each day.
2. Sleep is the ultimate failure.
a. This is manifest in complacent, careless attitudes.
b. This is not easily (possibly!) avoided (exhibit A: Gethsemane).
B. Knowing for whom you are waiting, or “Who’s the real watcher?”
1. Only God never sleeps.
a. He watches you, always
b. He directs your way, always.
2. Only God can accomplish The Day.
a. H-hour came for the disciples: Jesus dies and rises.
b. H-hour comes, now, for you: Jesus graces you at the communion rail.
c. H-hour will come for all: Jesus will come again.
Conclusion: There’s no doubt. We are waiting for God. And there’s no doubt, this waiting is not in vain. It has already been fulfilled at Calvary, is being fulfilled again at the altar, and will be fulfilled on the Last Day. What are you waiting for? The reality is now.