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You never know what you might run into

Notes & Transcripts

Theme: You never know what you might run into

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, help us keep our focus on you; give us faith to keep us strong no matter what calamity may befall us, strengthened by your great love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I don’t think I’m an old fuddy-duddy, but today’s’ horror movies aren’t as good as the old classics. What I like is Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, and Lon Chaney, Jr.’s Wolfman. There was a horror aspect to them, to be sure, but they were great stories. Today’s horror movies tend to emphasize gore over story.

Then there are the ones that emphasize story and emasculate the horror. I’m talking about the Twilight series. These stories still use vampires and werewolves, but they’re high school kids in love. They are sensitive monsters. (No offence to Twilight fans, but . . . [gag reflex].)

One of the popular groups of monsters these days are zombies. There were some old zombie movies, but they were not well done. Today, there was a zombie series on BBC. There is a current zombie series on AMC. In both of these stories, it is unknown how people became zombies – it just seems to happen. There have been numerous zombie movies and one was a comedy with Woody Harrelson.

Before I assume that everyone here knows what a zombie is, my understanding of a zombie is someone who dies and then comes back to life with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Zombies can only be killed with a blow or bullet to the brain. Why the brain and not another body part, I don’t know. The old movies had a reference to voodoo. Current movies have some kind of infection cause to zombieism.

Now I am talking about zombies as if they are fictional. (I don’t know if voodoo adherents believe them to be real.) In Arizona, zombies became real. There is a town, called Marana, northwest of Tucson. A couple of weeks ago, as autos and trucks were going by, they read the road sign that warned them that zombies were ahead.

This got the attention of local law enforcement. When they reviewed their logs of calls and found no one reporting seeing a zombie, they concluded that the area is safe.

There was one problem, though. It seems that highway workers don’t always secure the box that controls what highway signs say. When this happens, someone can come along and put whatever they want on the display. The zombie sign prankster misspelled the word caution. Sergeant Chris Warren of the Marana Police Department said, “We didn’t get any complaints or any other problems in the area... (and) no reports of zombies.”

But . . . what if something like that would really happen. How prepared would we be? How prepared would we be for any other calamity? Would we be prepared to meet our maker? Jesus responds to these questions in today’s gospel reading.

Jesus is talking about what will happen when the Son of Man returns. We pick up the story in the middle of that conversation in today’s gospel reading. It’s one thing to note what events will take place when the Son of Man returns, but when will it be? Jesus responds that no one knows when that will happen – only God knows.

Let me first say some things about the term, Son of Man. This is a very elusive term. We assume Jesus is talking about himself as the Son of Man and the context seems to support this. But what does Jesus mean by using this title? It’s not clear. We do know where this title is used in the Old Testament. It’s in Daniel. Even in Daniel, it’s not clear what this means. Literally, it means a son of humanity. But that is every male human being. In Daniel, the Son of Man will descend on clouds. Later Judaism and early Christianity associated the Son of Man as heralding some apocalyptic event. When Jesus used this term, his original hearers would assume Jesus is talking about the end times.

When the Son of Man returns, it will be just like the times of Noah. Times were good and then a natural disaster strikes. Life is not the same afterward. The people of the Gulf Coast know what that is like. That’s how it will be when the Son of Man returns.

One worker out of two will disappear. What Jesus is talking about here is about being prepared, spiritually attuned to Christ and acting out our faith by helping others. This is no rapture. The one who is not prepared gets to stay and slave away, which makes sense. Not many of us will take a trip unprepared. There’s reservations, packing, transportation and all that stuff. The Prodigal Son left unprepared and came back with his tail between his legs. Some of our children leave home unprepared and end up coming back. So, stay awake and be alert! Because you do not know when the Lord is coming.

Then Jesus talks about a homeowner. Of course, if we knew when a burglar was coming we would prepare. In Jesus’ time we’d lie in wait. These days we would probably notify law enforcement. They would say that they can’t do anything until there is a crime. What they are really saying is that they don’t want to spend time and money on a hunch. So like the ancients, we’d lie in wait, maybe setting a trap or two. Perhaps like in the Home Alone movie.

So we too must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming when we least expect it, unexpected like the Spanish Inquisition. When we think everything is going great – watch out!

Apocalyptic imagery is appealing when people lose hope of changing the system using the system – when a letter to a member of Congress is a waste of time or spending time with a local elected official produces no fruit. Then stories of the sun darkened and the stars falling from heaven become popular.

Apocalyptic writing is for persecuted peoples. Of course, we have apocalyptic writing in both the Old and New Testaments, including parts of the gospels. Christians were and are persecuted for their faith. That hasn’t changed in 2,000 years.

Apocalyptic writing is for the disenfranchised. It gives oppressed people hope for real change. When the system is working well for you, apocalyptic literature is not so appealing. But in the gospels, Jesus seems not to be addressing an oppressed people, but instead a sleepy people. “Stay awake!”

Later in Matthew, Jesus will find that his closest friends can’t stay awake in a garden. If you expect nothing to change when you wake up every morning, then expectations get scaled back and you get very, very sleepy. Jesus is telling us to be alert.

Life can be predictable. But even in that ordinariness, the unpredictable slaps us in the face. One minute your fine, then the next a sharp pain runs across your chest and down your arm. At 10 AM you have a job. At 10:30 AM you are being escorted to your desk to pack up your things. One minute you’re driving down a very predictable road and the next second a deer jumps out in front of you.

In this apocalyptic part of Matthew’s gospel, we do not hear about good people being saved and bad people getting their just deserts. It’s about being prepared.

So, how do we prepare? In a circular logic, part of preparation is doing good things. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves and our neighbor according to Jesus is the person we hate the most.

The first part is to love God with everything we have. God loves us with everything God has. What we return in love pales in comparison to God’s love of us.

So, how are we to prepare? I think Jesus is saying that we are to love God and others and show it. What we say means little. Our actions count. Planning to be better tomorrow may be too late.

In those kinds of moments, everything changes. We cannot manage those events. We cannot manage God’s interventions into human history. God’s justice and mercy will prevail. The clichés of: “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and “You get what you negotiate” may look like truths to live by, but they are not. We are to stay awake! We are to be alert! For God is about turn the tables over on our perceived truths.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of preparation that we may put our lives on track with your love, reflecting that love to others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Text: Matthew 24:36–44 (NRSV)

36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,h but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what dayi your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

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