The End of Time

Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Isaiah 64: 1 – 5, Mark 13: 24 – 37.  Focus on how God keeps coming to us not just once or a second time but to every generation.  Check out Jody Sinkway and the choir following the sermon.

I’ll wager most of us associate Advent with Christmas, because the one precedes the other, but in fact Advent has nothing to do with Christmas.

When we celebrate Christmas we are remembering something that God did once upon a time long ago, but when we celebrate Advent we are focusing on what God is going to do in the future, on his second coming, which as Mark told his audience was to happen before his generation passed away.

Now Advent literature is also called Apocalyptic literature, which means an unveiling or revelation, which sees time as something that runs forward but also in cycles. The combination of chronos and kyros. Something moving toward a final divine judgment. But also something that every generation will experience.

Advent texts talk about strange things like the sun and moon being darkened, and failing to give off light. It talks about the stars falling from the heavens and the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. It talks about angels being sent to gather God’s elect from the four winds and the ends of the earth.

But this type of literature isn’t just meant to speak about judment it’s also meant to offer hope to those who are faithful and wondering where the heck God is in all this chaos that surrounds our lives.

It does this the same way that Job or the 23rd Psalm do it, by offering us someone to identify with who knows what it’s like to suffer the way we are suffering and by doing this it offers hope because it is saying to us that the future will be better than the present because God’s ultimately in charge of it. Or as the Bible so beautifully puts it: It came to pass. It doesn’t say that the hard times and chaos came to stay.

Now there’s a command that comes with this. We are to be patient, and watch for it, because no one knows when it will happen, not even Jesus. Only God knows. And there’s something else Jesus tells us, “learn the lessons of nature – look at the fig tree … 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.

Now what are we to make of all this? And if we read these text literally we along with Mark’s listeners would have to say it hasn’t happened yet. But that may be do to the fact that we don’t know how to interpret apocolyptic literature today, which is not unusual because the imagery and language confuses us and we end up looking for the wrong things. 2,000 years ago every Jew in Israel was looking for a Messiah who would be like King David or Moses and restore Israel to her land and make her a mighty military nation once again, but that’s not what happened. That’s not how God decided to come the first time, is it?

So maybe it’s that way with the second coming too? Unexpected yet clear to those who are watching for it and expecting it to happen in their lives, but going unnoticed by those who are focused on all these external signs outside of their lives.

I’m going to tell you a story that a friend of mine told me and I’m going to tell you what he said about it. Hopefully it will make what I’m saying clearer.

My friend Fred lost both of his parents to old age a few years back. His Dad died on October 29,, 2001and the next day his mother died, October 30th. And Fred suddenly found himself the executor of their estate, which meant he was responsible for making sure that everything, got divided up equally among his two sisters and their families.

Now this is stressful in families even when everyone gets along and trusts each other’s motives, but imagine how stressful it can be in a situation where every decision he made his sisters assumed was being made to get them and every decision that he made was based upon the assumption that they were greedy. In short, there wasn’t a lot of trust between the three siblings.

So for a year from the time his parents died Fred called his sisters to see when they wanted to go over to the house to divide up the stuff. And for a little over a year they kept saying, “we’re not ready yet.”

Until November 16th of 2002. Over a year since their parents had died. And on this date they all decided it was time to finally deal with the estate. So Fred and his sisters went to their folks house and Fred started going through his father’s desk and his sisters started going through their mother’s kitchen.

Fred opened up the center draw and found 10 envelopes, each with the name of grandchild on it. These were the envelopes that Sitto, as Fred’s Mom was called by the grandchildren, used each Christmas to put money in for her grandchildren that she had planned to hand to them one more time on Christmas of 2001.

Fred looked at them for a while and then threw them in the wastebasket. After a while Fred wandered into the kitchen to see what his sisters were doing. They were going through the cutlery draws packing up their mom’s silverware and knives, when they came across this envelope that had $2,400 dollars in it.

All of a sudden Fred’s sisters remembered that just before their mother died she had been trying to tell them something that was important to her but she couldn’t remember what it was. She only could remember that it was very important.

As soon as Fred heard that, he had this inspiration that he attributes to God, to go back and get the 10 envelopes that he had just thrown away and bring them back to his sisters so they could put the money they had just found in them. Now while he was doing this his sisters happened upon another cutlery draw and underneath of it they found an additional $900 dollars.

In total they had found $3,300 dollars, which amounted to $330 dollars per grandchild per envelope. Fred’s sisters asked him what he thought the significance of 33 was.

And Fred proceeded to tell them the story of the time that he and his family had taken their parents down to Atlantic City. Now Fred’s mom was not a gambler, but she liked to go along and watch everyone else have fun, except this one time when she wanted to bet some money on the roulette wheel. So Fred took her over to the roulette wheel where she placed her one and only bet of the evening on the number 33. And guess what – it hit and she was $3,300 dollars richer!

His sisters now tell Fred this is what Mom was trying to tell us was so important before she died. Then Fred tells his sisters the significance of the number 33. He had asked his mother why she’d picked the number in the first place and Sitto, who was the spiritual cornerstone of the entire family, a woman who always insisted that her children thank God everyday for their blessings, said she’d picked that number because that’s how old Jesus was when he died.

At that moment, Fred had this chill run up his arms and back and he realized this was Sitto’s way of telling all her children that she was with Jesus and that she was fine. This was her way of communicating with them.

And the reason Fred says that it took them a year and two weeks to go to Sitto’s house to divide up the stuff was that this was the amount of time that was needed for Fred and his sisters to stop worrying about how to handle the distribution of assets.

Fred said, Sitto was in that room with Jesus at the that very moment when they found the money and he had no doubt that it was divinely arranged so that he and his sisters would be inspired to come together to overcome coming apart over their parents’ possessions. He said, “In death Sitto inspired us to do what we could not do for ourselves.”

Fred finished the story by saying to me. Steve, we had to be open and aware of God for this to happen otherwise we would have just split the money between ourselves and missed the greater message that culminated on Christmas day 2002 when they passed out their Mom’s envelopes to her grandchildren. What a Christmas that was he said!

As executor of his parent’s estate Fred was entitled to 3% of the entire estate, but Fred’s told his sisters that instead of the fee he wanted to tell the grandchildren this story when they passed out Sitto’s envelopes.

Maybe this is what the second coming of Christ is all about, being able to see how God keeps coming not just a second time, but a third, and a fourth time, forever coming to give us more than we would ever dream of, if we would just slow down, pay attention to life, to nature, to fig trees, and old envelopes and be aware that God’s desire is still to be with us again and again, forevermore. Amen

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