The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 27, 2022
Imagine a family living in a modest but decent house that meets their needs. The pipes, however, are aging and often leaking. A couple of walls are leaning in; the floors are looking worn; the stove and frig are getting more unreliable.
One day grandfather visits them and announces, “I have money I yearn to spend on you! So the next time I come around, I’m going to renovate and upgrade this entire place. You’ll have better appliances, wiring, siding, roofing, everything!” Then he turns around, walks out with a bright smile and promises, “See you again soon!”
Once he leaves, the family huddles around the kitchen table, chattering about their new dream home and how different their lives will be in it. “Yeah!” exclaims the youngest child, “and can’t we start living like that now?” “Dummy!” replies the oldest boy. “Since grandfather is going to set everything right real soon, I say we live it up, party-hearty and not worry if we trash the place.” A dreamy daughter says, “I say we write poems and paint pictures about how it’s going to be.” The tired-looking father says, “I’m never going to fix a thing around here again. If something breaks, it stays broken. I’m done with repairs. As long as the roof doesn’t collapse, I’m not lifting a finger.” The mother has been listening and finally breaks in: “It will be wonderful to get a brand new home; but, before we get it, we have to start living like we’re going to live in it or we won’t be able to make the most of it when we have it. If we trash this house now, we’ll just learn how to trash a house and pretty quick we’ll trash the new one. If we only dream about the new place and don’t work on making this old one the best we can, it won’t be in the best state for grandfather to make it the best He can. In fact, there might not be much of it left to renovate. Besides, since we don’t know how long it will be before grandfather returns, we might, if we let this place go to the dogs, get sick or depressed from living in a dump, and that might disable us from enjoying the new place as much as we could. No,” she concludes, “We need to live now like we’re going to then, so we can make the most of the new place when it’s finally here.”
Before Jesus left this world at the end of His first visit, He promised to return and renovate it from top to bottom. Naturally, His followers, upon hearing that, wanted to know how long they’d have to wait for that great day. But Jesus shook His head, and said in effect, “I don’t know. All I know is that we’ll know soon enough. So have it on your mind every moment that it’s just about to happen, though perhaps at an hour you’d least expect – and then you’ll be sure to be ready whenever it happens.”
The task of Jesus’ followers is not to figure out the When of His return to rule the earth in righteousness but to live out the What of His righteousness: love, justice and wholeness for all. The task of us who want to please Jesus is to is demonstrate His tomorrow in our today, to embody the values by which He will renovate our old broken-down world.
His return will come as an expected surprise, as an anticipated joy whose scheduled arrival we can’t guess. Yet, though it’ll surprise us, He doesn’t want to catch us being bad, but being good, enacting His righteousness.
Since His return might occur at any moment, at every moment we’d do well to be about His business, to pursue His purposes with persistence and vigilance…even in days that seem as ordinary as those prior to Noah’s flood when people did what they’d always done – eating and drinking and marrying – without a clue that judgment was just around the corner door…and even in days that seem as ordinary as those in which our actions look no different from others’, like a man plowing a field next to another or a woman grinding grain next to another.
Whatever the day or hour, our main concern should be to live out Christ’s righteousness and to watch out for the inner enemies of righteousness such as our own preoccupation with our pleasures and comforts or our own cold indifference to the plight of the poor – so that no enemy like that will break into the house of our soul and, like a thief in the night, rob us of what we hold most dear.
Being ready for Christ’s return is akin to being ready for our death, which is just as likely to be an expected surprise.
Best-selling novelist John Grisham tells of how one of his best friends from college died a couple of years after the two of them graduated from Mississippi State. Over lunch the friend told John that he had only a few months left to live due to a virulent cancer discovered too late. John asked him, “What do you do when you realize you are about to die?” He replied, “It’s real simple. You get right with God, and spend as much time with those you love as you can. Then you settle up with everyone else.” Then he added, “You know, really, you ought to live every day like you have only a few more days to live.”
How ought we to live when we realize that the world we know has only a few more days to live? We get right with God, show those closest to us how much we love them, and do what we can to get things right for everyone else. We become so heavenly mind that we’re of immense earthly good to others. We become like the Christians Notre Dame Professor Todd Whitmore met when he lived among the displaced Acholi people housed in refugee camps in northern Uganda. No one sacrificed as much to serve the Acholi as those Christians who greatly counted on Christ’s return. No one gave of themselves so generously and steadfastly as those Christians who staked their greatest hopes on His coming. No one worked for the Acholi as much in helpful, practical and liberating ways as those Christians who were anything but the delusional and unstable people such Christians are often parodied to be.
Jesus Christ promised to come again to set all things right. Let us stay ready for that expected surprise by living out the righteousness by which He will reign over His new world!