First Sunday of Advent, Year A
December 2, 2007
Matthew 24:29-31, 36-44
Below is the transcript to my sermon, including directions for the media booth coordinator. I’ve inserted images that were projected with our digital projector.
- BEGIN “HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW” [by Dada, from their 1992 album, Puzzle] @ 3:42 AFTER CONGREGATION SITS
- INCREASE TO “FULL” VOLUME BY 3:50
- PROJECT FIRST SLIDE OF “SERMON IMAGES.ppt” AS SONG PLAYS
- PLAY THRU END OF SONG (APPROX. 4:39)
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here today, Gone tomorrow.
These words make up the refrain of a song of the same name by Dada,
an under-rated 1990s modern rock band that was one of my favorites.
Here today, Gone tomorrow.
In the song’s first verse, the singer is accompanied only by a lonely,
repetitive riff fingered on a guitar,
and solitary beats sounding from a cowbell.
With this haunting yet finger-snapping background,
the singer offers us a bit of his biography:
of being told by his father at an early age that “we’re are here today, gone tomorrow.”
These gloomy words of paternal “wisdom” seem to give the singer a sense of freedom,
a rebellious permissiveness to live on the edge,
to live by a fatalistic creed of being here today,
and quite possibly gone tomorrow.
And so throughout the song there are references
to a wild and reckless life – drugs, drinking, bank-robbing, among others.
At the end of the final verse, we hear some other haunting words:
“there’s a thousand ways to die / in this naked city.”
These were not quite the kind of lyrics that I sang in my church choir growing up. No.
But I loved this song as a teenager, not because I identified with the desperation in the song
or with the, shall I say “extracurricular activities” referenced in the song.
No. The song has a great beat, and an intensity that begins in that lonely first verse,
and builds up to a rowdy crescendo with some funky guitar licks.
I love those background vocals that sound as if they were recorded in a basement blues club
in a forgotten part of town,
and is closes with that fading guitar riff
and the solitary drum stick beating on a cowbell.
The intensity of the song and the underlying theme of freedom
spoke to me as a high school senior who was struggling to figure out who I was,
where I came from, and what the heck the future had in store for me.
** MOVE TO SECOND (BLANK) SLIDE
Here today, Gone tomorrow.
These words could easily be the theme song for the Rapture,
a belief held by some Christians regarding the end times,
a belief based, in part, on today’s Gospel reading.
In speaking about the end of the age,
that time when the Son of Man comes,
Jesus describes a great darkness, the sending of angels, a gathering of “the elect,”
and of some people being “taken,” some people being left behind.
Yes, Left Behind.
You may have heard of the series of books and movies by the same name.
Left Behind tells the troubling tales of those who are left on earth after the rapture occurs;
that is, after God’s chosen are taken up into heaven.
From the publisher’s website we read:
Without any warning, passengers on a 747 mysteriously disappear from their seats.
Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane
but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold.
For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun.
And so believers in the Rapture who then assume that they are part of God’s “elect,”
part of those who will at anymoment be whisked up into heaven,
these folks might very well sing this tune with a a giddy joy
“Here today, Gone tomorrow.”
and they may even put this bumper sticker on their car:
But like that song from my teenage years,
I find the “here today, gone tomorrow” attitude to be a bit, well, reckless.
If I believe that I’m here today and gone tomorrow,
then what do I really care about today or tomorrow?
That bumper sticker – in case of rapture this car will be unmanned –
seems to celebrate the chaos and destruction that would happen
if the driver is “taken”
in an almost giddy, not-my-problem manner.
I’m here today, and gone tomorrow. Who cares?
To which I might respond with this bumper sticker:
** ADVANCE TO NEXT SLIDE – IN CASE OF RAPTURE, CAN I HAVE YOUR CAR?
In case of rapture, can I have your car?
** ADVANCE TO NEXT (BLANK) SLIDE WHEN NEXT LINE BEGINS
You see, this Return of the Son of Man,
Second Coming of Christ, and Thy Kingdom Come talk –
talk that we moderate, mainstream Lutheran Christians don’t do enough,
talk that other Christians probably do too much –
This kind of talk places a high emphasis on the return of Jesus Christ to our world –
a promise for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer
and a belief which we profess in our Apostles Creed.
But the return of Christ? Wait a minute. Where’d he go?
Well, for many Christians for whom the rapture
and the return of Christ is central to faith,
for these Christians the story of Christ can be told in two acts:
Act 1 is the drama told in the Gospels –
The Greatest Story ever told, the story of Jesus of Nazareth:
his birth, ministry,
suffering, death, resurrection,
and concluding with his ascension to heaven;
at which point Jesus exits stage right, so to speak,
about 2000 years ago.
Then there’s an intermission. A long intermission.
A godless intermission of Christ’s absence, some of these folks will tell you.
According to them, we are currently living in that intermission.
Act 2 will commence at some point in the future.
When the curtain eventually rises,
Jesus enters stage right, and returns to earth
to judge the living and the dead, and to inaugurate his Kingdom.
Folks who believe in this rendition of the End Times
will often speak of wars and suffering,
of darkness and torment,
of the rising of the anti-Christ,
they’ll even write books and sell bumper stickers
telling of cars and airplanes being thrown off course,
because “the elect” have been taken into heaven.
There seems to be in this two act play of Christ,
frankly, a “Christ has left the building” quality to all this,
and it’s like we’re waiting, bic lighters aflame, for him to return to play an encore.
Is that what we’re about?
Well, as you can likely tell by my tone, I find much of this version of events to be disturbing.
This Left Behind theology is a theology to which I do not subscribe,
for some reasons I’ve already shared, and some I’ll share in just a minute.
But there is one element of this whole tale that resonates with our Lutheran practice and belief.
And that is the aspect of waiting.
Yes, I’m a big fan of talking about the waiting we Christians have to do –
waiting was the theme of my sermon on All Saints Sunday,
and waiting is the theme of this whole Advent season,
waiting that is marked, in part, by the lighting of candles,
one at a time, over four weeks.
Yes, we Christians are living in an interim age, an intermission,
a time between God’s revelation in Christ
and his promised return in the Kingdom to come.
Our age is, so to speak, book-ended by these radical and unique acts of God’s presence.
Our worship services this season are filled with words of waiting:
Come Lord Jesus! we pray at the lighting of the Advent Wreath.
We await you, we’ll pray in the prayers of the church in just a few moments.
O’ come Emmanuel, our banners cry out.
And after communion, Pastor Mike will lead us in a prayer to the God for whom we wait.
Waiting for Christ. We are a waiting people.
So let’s wait for Christ. (silence)
Waiting. (look around, tap toe)
(look at watch) Waiting. (silence, get antsy)
Have you ever sat in a room for a while, waiting?
Perhaps at the airport waiting for a plane,
or train station waiting for your friend’s train to arrive,
or your living room waiting for your date to pick you up?
I know when I’m waiting in a room, I start antsy, I start fidgeting, and then I walk around,
looking at things, anything, ordinary thing,
objects I’ve seen a thousand times,
just to keep myself from extreme boredom.
So, while we’re waiting for Christ to return, let’s take a look around. (Step down from pulpit)
Up here we have a lovely table,
probably very different from the kind that Jesus sat at when he took bread and wine,
shared it with his closest friends, and said
“This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you.”
Yet at this table these words are remembered and repeated,
and by Jesus’ promise he comes to this meal
he comes to be the meal of faith that nurtures our lives.
Christ is here, dear friends,
in the meal we share, in the communion we celebrate.
Wait a minute!
I thought we were waiting for him, that we were living in an intermission?
Well, while we’re still waiting, let’s keep looking around.
Back here we have a lovely little bowl of water, the baptismal font.
Again, this bowl of water is pretty different than the river Jesus was baptized in,
and even pretty different than the rivers and containers early Christians used for baptism.
But at this bowl of water words that Jesus gave his disciples in the Great Commission are shared,
a free gift of God’s love and grace is given
a gift that incorporates people into the Body of Christ.
The Body of Christ? Here? But I thought we were waiting for Christ to come?
Yes, and that brings me to our next piece of furniture. The pews.
It is in these pews that the congregation gathers,
and when two or more gather in Christ’s name, he is there among them, among us.
Christ is here, in these pews, in this collection of people drawn together in Christ’s name.
You, the congregation, are the body of Christ,
which is why, during worship at the seminary chapel,
the emeritus professor of liturgy always reverenced, with a deep bow,
both the altar and the congregation
at the beginning and end of worship,
out of respect for both the table where the Lord’s Supper is shared,
and in reverence to the presence of Christ in the people gathered.
God’s not just there (point to altar) or there (point to font),
but God is here, too.
Christ was here/is here/will be here.
That he was here is easy – it’s the event that got the church started.
2000 years ago. It’s in the Bible. Read it.
That he will be here again, is something that all Christians believe and look forward to,
even if we do not agree on most of the details.
But Christ is here now, as well.
In the meal, in the waters of baptism,
in the words of new life that we hear in the readings and sermon,
in this gathering, in the pews, in the chit-chat over coffee,
in the learning of Sunday School and the fellowship of wreath-making . . .
Christ is here.
We await his coming in glory, yet we celebrate and honor his presence here and now.
Our theme song is not one of “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.”
We’re are not a people who are here today, but itching to be gone tomorrow.
Rather, we know that God is doing something good in this place and in this world
because God is here and promises to be with us.
Yes, ours is a faith that looks most importantly to God’s presence in the present,
rather than hold vigil for the future.
Martin Luther, when asked what he would do if he learned that the world would end tomorrow,
said that he would plant a tree.
In all of the 53 volumes of Luther’s Works,
he makes not one single reference to today’s End Times Gospel reading.
For him and for our Lutheran tradition,
the End Times are less interesting than the present time,
God’s future activity less intriguing than God’s current activity.
And so we Christians look to the future at times, of course,
for God’s promises are unfolding both in the present and in the age to come,
but we never look to the future at the expense of recognizing what God is doing
in our lives, in the church, in the world today.
Keep awake, dear friends, for Christ is coming to you –
right here, right now.
** START “RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW” [by Jesus Jones, from their 1991 album, Doubt] @ 2:04 AT LOW VOLUME
ADVANCE TO NEXT SLIDE “RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW”
** MOVE TO FULL VOLUME BY 2:09ish THRU END OF SONG, APPROX. 3:06