Mark 13:1-8; 24-37

(sermon note: 03-17 sermon note)

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

Perhaps this morning’s funny dates me but I think it’s applicable to our reading. Recall the Sesame Street buddies, Bert and Ernie, always playing in the bathtub. Naturally they grew up and have worked together as radio hosts for the last twenty years. On air they traded jokes, played pop music, and generally made people’s lives a touch brighter as they trundled to work. In one of the breaks one day, they received a fax. Ernie picked up the page and was in shock. Ernie silently reread the fax message from the Department of Defense. As licensed broadcasters, they were legally obligated to alert the public and to tell them that the nukes were flying and that in a few minutes, all of the world’s troubles would be over. Ernie thought to himself, “What’s the point of that? To torture people with the knowledge of something they can’t change?” Ernie shared the fax with Bert and asked for his opinion on what to do. Their eyes met and a decision was reached. Bert put on their most requested song, a sugary top 40 tune, while Ernie pulled out a bottle of bourbon from under the desk. As their producer banged on the locked studio door, the colleagues toasted the end of a long career. Bert, always the consummate professional, turned away from the window as the first explosion split the distant horizon. He straightened his tie, tucked in his shirt, and brushed his hair back. He would meet his fiery death with dignity. Bert turned to Ernie and said in a quiet, resigned voice, “How do I look, Ernie?” Ernie walked slowly over to his friend. He looked upon Bert’s face and saw the closeness they shared, the strength of their relationship, forged over the years. He took a deep breath and spoke quietly, “With your eyes, Bert.”

I know, I know…a little dark humor to accompany a somewhat dark reading. Don’t worry, Bert and Ernie won’t ever have to face the fiery demise of nuclear war. They’ll always keep playing with rubber ducky in their bathtub, forever carefree and loving life. Don’t let the worries of this world crush a fond childhood memory…

But even Bert and Ernie had the sense to know that no matter what lies ahead of us, we must keep our eyes open and be prepared. We mustn’t allow ourselves to become complacent in this time of waiting. There’s just too much at stake to become complacent! Our very souls are on the line! Jesus often warned his disciples, and US, to stay alert and keep awake lest we miss his inevitable return. All throughout his ministry Jesus knew that he would eventually leave them and us. He knew the sin of the world would eventually overtake him and he would be unjustly put to death. He knew it and he knew it wasn’t without purpose. Jesus needed to conquer death and show us that there is life after death, new life. Jesus needed to be transformed into the all-powerful Christ that transcends time and space. Jesus needed to become who he is today, comprised of millions of faithful followers from all over the world. WE are the body of Christ now! We are the ones sharing the love of God with the world. Christ is much bigger than just one man and he’s growing and evolving. And yet he is yet to come, the great paradoxical nature of Christ who was, and is, and yet to be. All of this wrapped up in Jesus’ advice to stay alert and keep awake.

We’re coming to the end of our season of Lent as we prepare for Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a season of eager anticipation, much the same way as the season of Advent. We await his birth in Advent and then his rebirth in Lent and it’s an endless cycle. These are seasons of waiting, of not knowing when or how the birthing will take place but living by faith. Sure, we conveniently add end times to our waiting with Christmas and Easter but for many Jesus isn’t born or reborn on those specific days. No, Jesus comes to many at various times throughout the year. And for many, Jesus has yet to come to them. The waiting goes well beyond Advent and Lent and Jesus knows this. We must stay alert, be on the lookout and prepare in the meantime.

Now what does being alert and preparing entail? I raised the question in our Bible study this week and there were several great responses. For some, it means dwelling in the words of Scripture. For others, it means serving your neighbors and God. And yet for others it means praising and worshiping God. There are a variety of ways to stay alert and prepare for Christ. The key is to be persistent. Never stop being alert and preparing. It’s only when we stop and become complacent that the devil sneaks his way into hearts and minds. As Peter advises in his first letter, “discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (5:8) The devil loves a complacent heart and mind! He loves to convince us that Jesus will never return, that we don’t have to honor his commands and teachings. But this is a lie! Jesus will return and there will be an accounting for our time in this world. Be assured of this!

The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians, “pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always perceive in supplication for all the saints.” (6:18) If we can’t dwell in the words of Scripture or serve God and our neighbors, we can certainly pray for the world and all that’s in it. Prayer keeps us connecting with God and with each other. Through prayer we can begin to realize the God’s abundant grace. Peter tells us, “therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:13) Friends, we are alert and prepare ourselves so that we may receive God’s grace plain and simple. God’s grace is bestowed on us through Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us on the cross. Let us continue to reflect on this and stay alert. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.