Scriptures: Isaiah 64:1-9 ; Mark 13:24-37

Are You Ready?

[Note: Lyrics sung by soloist between the speaking parts are from “I Wish We'd All Been Ready” by Larry Norman]

Today, people are fascinated about the end of the world. With the pandemic and the riots and terrorist activities throughout the world, people like to talk about the end of the world. Since the advent of nuclear weapons and so many small, desperate countries gaining control of substantial amounts of them, the death of the earth is a real possibility. People wonder what is going to happen. Iran has already said they would be willing to use nuclear weapons, and claim they already have one. And of course there's North Korea.

Here at home, we have suffered through a prolonged period of low economy, high unemployment, and always have the fear of another terrorist attack, as well as having to stay home, and fear each other, because of the pandemic. Social Security will soon go bankrupt; our morals surely have, and the country is hitting an all-time low in cultural standards and values. In the midst of all the turmoil and confusion, people look either to centrality of spiritual rebirth, or the end of things – or both.

Christians are no different in that regard, except that we have had knowledge about the ultimate end of things for about two thousand years. It’s called “apocalyptic literature,” and it is all over the Old and New Testament. People describe it different ways, but it all refers to the coming of the Messiah in power and glory to call His people home, and to bring about a new world. It is the end of the old world, and people want to talk about it.

Jesus Himself, here in this part of the Gospel, talks about it, and our need to be ready. And that’s what the coming Advent season is really all about, isn’t it? Not celebrating the birth of the Savior so much, but the announcement of the coming King!

(Are They Ready?)

[Solo]

Life was filled with guns and wars,
And everyone got trampled on the floor,
I wish we’d all been ready.

Vignette 1

Life is hard. We use all our resources for staying alive, and trying to keep up. We barely cover our bills from month to month, and that’s no way to live. You got to get ahead of the game if you are going to be any better off, ya know what I mean? Today, if you don’t strike first, you get stomped. No credit, no recognition, no advancement. People will just walk all over you, and then… where are you? Nowhere. Back in the heap, right where you were, with no one even knowing who you are. Maybe no way to survive, much less advance and improve your lot.

Today, people twist the golden rule into “Do unto others before they do unto you,” and they laugh about it like it’s a joke. But it’s a joke with an edge, ya know? Look at them closely. You see that underneath it all, you know that they mean it. And you know what? They know it too. Life’s just that way. Kill or be killed. Survival of the fittest. He who dies with the most toys, wins. You see what I mean, don’t you? I know in church they tell us to be kind, and live sacrificially, and all that. But come on! This is real life.

I'm good to my friends and the people at church. I give my offerings, and make the services regularly – except for the occasional necessary workday overtime. I don’t lie, except a few little white ones that everybody does. I don’t steal, or even cheat – [looks down] mostly. I sure don’t murder, and I wouldn’t even look at my boss’ spouse or secretary. I’m a good person.

Ya know, Jesus told us to be ready, and that’s what I am – ready. Readier than a Boy Scout. I take everything life has had to give to me, and I throw it right back in life’s face. Nobody’s gonna take me down. Sure, it’s scary out there with all the violence, but I can make it. My family too. I make sure they're just as tough as I am.

Hm? What if Jesus should come again? After two thousand years? I know, I know. He said he is coming back, and all that – but that’s just the Bible. A great book that teaches about Jesus, and how people should live. If only everyone listened to it! We wouldn’t have all these problems. Ya know what will be good? What will be good is if we change things here on earth. No wars, no violence – equality all around, so I get my fair share. So my family and I don’t have to live in fear. In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve got to do, to stay alive and provide for my family. If it means stepping on a few heads myself, so be it. That’s the real world. [Walks off confidently]

(Are They Ready?)

[Solo]

Children died, the days grew cold
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold.
I wish we’d all been ready.

Vignette 2

Hunger is a terrible thing. I see all those poor people in those third world countries, and I feel for them. All those terrible pictures of children in Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa! I wish there was something I could do. Really! Really, I do. I’ve thought about sponsoring a child, or giving to Compassion International. I even heard that there are over a million hungry children right here in the US. Heck, these days there are probably lots locally!

I thought about giving extra, to help, but I just don’t have it. They say “it’s only twenty dollars a month,” but that twenty dollars will buy the groceries for a couple meals for my family. Am I supposed to let them go hungry? It’s hard enough as it is just getting everything my family wants and needs.

Our church sometimes helps at the homeless shelter, and at the soup kitchens. We host the local food pantry. I’m sorry for those poor unfortunate folks. They must feel like they are living in hell already. I wish I had the time to help, but with my schedule it’s just so hard! I not only have to work, but I have to ferry the kids around everywhere. Two are in sports – including one of those being on a travelling team, while the other is on the high school varsity. Another is into drama, and has all those rehearsals, and things… I feel powerless against the pressures of the clock and culture. My kids are so involved, and they get tired. So do I.

[Looks like she just had a great idea] Working at the shelter seems like a great ministry for the younger, single people to do. They have the time, energy, and freedom to do it. You know, maybe later, when I make a little more money, and my kids are older or grown, it will be different. Then they will be able to help, and we can all share the adventure of sponsoring or serving at the kitchen! That seems nice. After all, Jesus told us to take care of the poor and needy, and that would be a great way to teach the kids some of the better values of Christianity. Maybe some day. [Looks wistful, and walks off]

[Solo]

There’s no time to change your mind, the Son has come and you’ve been left behind.

Interlude 1

As you listened to them, and their comments, which are so prevalent today within the church, do you think they're ready? Our passage today is right before the Passion Narrative. Right before Jesus begins that final walk to Jerusalem that would end up on that hill and the tree. The disciples, thinking of how beautiful and powerful the Temple looked, and knowing they were with the Messiah, were wondering when the end would come, and the political oppression would end.

Jesus gives them a very different message, as he speaks of the destruction of the Temple, and the times of trial to come. He tells them he is coming back again, and finishes with what is essentially a warning to be alert. He will come in glory, he says, but they won’t know exactly when. God’s victory will come in His own time, and His own way.

In the second half of the reading today, Jesus compares the situation to the blooming of a fig tree, and how it tells the observant about the coming of summer. He once again warns them to be on guard, and alert as they go about their lives. But will their lives be doing the things Christ wants? Will “their thing” be Christ’s thing? Will they be going about the Father’s business? Will they be following the leading of the Holy Spirit? In that last day, when Christ comes again, will they be ready? Are they really ready?

(Are We Ready?)

[Solo]

A man and wife asleep in bed,
She hears a noise and turns her head — he’s gone
I wish we’d all been ready.

Vignette 3

[Looking sad] This February, I got some very bad news. My husband was dying of cancer. It had already metastasized inoperably in his liver and spleen, with a tumor on his colon. He couldn’t take the chemotherapy. It was too rough on his system. My husband – the one who is so overprotective of us in the family and who idolizes John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, and those other “tough guys” – he said his goal was to make it to our son’s wedding in March. He made it – and died six weeks later.

I still turn over in bed sometimes, thinking to spoon with him, or talk about the day; and then realize he is gone. Gone to heaven, leaving me here to take care of things by myself. Alone. And it hurts. As I think about him, that question of “Were you ready?” comes back to haunt me. The possibility of his death opened a whole other dimension of understanding for me as I looked at that question. You see, each of us, if we don’t see Jesus in the general call of the Second Coming, will meet Him personally when we die.

Was my husband ready to meet Jesus in his own personal apocalypse, as one world ended, and a new one begins? Life was so full of activity toward the end, as we tried to prepare for everything that come afterward for the family left behind. I wonder, had he reconciled with those he loved, especially his brother? Like so many families these days, ours has had its share of rough times, and hurtful words.

Did he feel reconciled with me, and with my sister? At peace with those around him, and ready to meet God, having done his best on this earth, and most importantly, living in the faith of God’s grace? What about the rest of the family – are they ready for the changes in their lives? I don’t know, but I worry.

Just as important, I’ve had to ask myself, “Was I ready?” Was I ready for him to leave me, or did I have unfinished business with him? Any need for reconciliation generally works both ways, and the Spirit is required on both sides of the equation. Did I work up the courage to be vulnerable as I tried to say “Good-bye?” I know we need to. Forgiving love which makes you vulnerable can be so hard sometimes with those we are closest to, because we know them too well. Still, Jesus calls us to love our neighbors (and family) as ourselves, and help reconcile the world around us, even as Christ reconciled the world to God in His death on the cross. This might be the toughest thing of all.

(Are We Ready?)

[Solo]

Two men walking up a hill,
One disappears and one’s left standing still.
I wish we’d all been ready.

Vignette 4

Two men walking up a hill. Are we friends? Or strangers? If this was my friend, is the reason he got left behind because I didn’t share the Good News with him? It’s not enough to live a good life, you know. We can never live perfectly enough to make it on our own merit. We need to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. Without Him, and His death on the cross and resurrection to glory for us, we can have no life.

One of our tasks as Christians is to go out and make disciples, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. But how often do I do that? How often do I share the joy of life in the Spirit with those I work with, or those I play with, or even those I just walk with? Our lives need to be examples, it is true. But we must also have the words for witness, so they can hear and know the love of God. Have we shared the saving Word and given those around us a chance to know God, so we can all be ready?

[Solo]

There’s no time to change your mind, the Son has come and you’ve been left behind.

Ending

Are you ready? Christ has said the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. We can see signs; generalities that give indicators like seasonal changes are noticed. But it wastes time and energy to argue about whether it is now, or ten days from now, or one year from now. I believe it is fruitless to worry too much about whether the rapture is going to happen pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-tribulation. Instead, we hear today in the passage that we have a promise, a charge, and a warning.

(Are You Ready?)

[Solo]

There’s no time to change your mind,
How could you have been so blind?
The Father spoke, the demons dined –
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.

When that last moment comes, and the old passes away before the new, we will see a new heavens and a new earth. Evil and death will be vanquished. God will win, and the unjust will be punished. The demons are cast into the lake of fire forever. The battle will be over, and all the wickedness purged from the earth. The new place will have no more crying, and no more sorrow; no more death, and no more pain; no more hunger, and no more thirst. Just joy, and love, and the solid, living presence of our Lord and Savior, as He sits at the throne of God and his beloved worship and adore the Lamb with great praises and hallelujahs. The faithful will feast at the wedding banquet, and will celebrate for all eternity. Everything will be so beautiful!

Jim Dobson has a true story that he tells that has impacted my life. He had just had a heart attack, and was talking to his son Ryan. He said that the most important thing he could ever tell his son was about Jesus Christ, and if he did nothing else, he hoped that he had done that. He told his son “Be there!” and made it his only request. “If I die,” he said, “and go to be with the Lord, the day will come when we meet again. And when we do, I want to be able to hug you and lead you to the Savior and say, ‘this is my son!’ Just promise me you’ll be there.”

We have all been given some tasks to do until the day Jesus comes, or we go to meet Jesus in our own personal apocalypse. During Advent, as well as Lent, we emphasize the waiting and preparation of our lives and our world for the King to come. If we accept Christ not only as Savior, but as Lord, we need to serve Him by going about His business, and doing the work of God that God would have us do – that of transforming and reconciling lives.

We cannot delude ourselves that mere lip service is enough, and that we have all the time in the world to fix things – to make them right ... tomorrow. Jesus Christ is coming soon, and we need to be ready. My hope and prayer is that when the new creation comes, and Jesus looks through the city to see someone to hug and say hello to... or when God the Father is eating at the table, He’ll look up to see, and hear... you. And we won’t have to say…

[Solo]

There’s no time to change your mind,
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.