The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
August 7, 2022
Two months after the 2004 terrorist attack in Madrid, Spain, an attack that killed almost 200 people and wounded 1800 others, American law enforcement was still all hands on deck to protect the US from an attack like that or like the one on 9/11, three years before.
So, when a train conductor found an electronic transmitter in the commuter rail yard of Philadelphia’s massive 30th St. transit station, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI swarmed the area. Investigators determined that the transmitter was a motion detector designed to send a signal to a nearby receiver. Tension mounted.
Finally, a train mechanic stepped forward to admit the transmitter was his. Was he a terrorist, or a disgruntled employee out for revenge? No, just a lazy man working the graveyard shift and liking to nap on the job. He’d installed the motion detector to warn him when his supervisor was approaching, so he could jump and look busy before the boss showed up!
As Jesus informed His disciples about His imminent death, He promised He’d be back – at His resurrection, at the end of the age and at different points in the period in-between. By the Holy Spirit Jesus might show up at any time to pay a personal visit.
Some Christians respond to the possibility of an unexpected visit from Jesus like that train mechanic. They try to pick up warning alarms of His approach so they can jump up from their spiritual slumber and look busy in the nick of time. But can one prepare to rightly receive Jesus in a flash?
Jesus taught that, like a thief in the night or like a master with an unpredictable schedule, He’d show up “at an unexpected hour”. To be ready for something that might happen at any moment requires being ready at every moment! To be ready every moment requires becoming a certain kind of person. And becoming the kind of person who can receive Jesus well and fully is the work, not of a last minute, but of the length of one’s days.
In teaching His disciples to prepare for a surprise visit, Jesus told two parables. The first compares Jesus Himself to a man returning from a wedding trip of uncertain duration; and compares Jesus’ faithful disciples to servants ever ready to open the door as soon as their master knocks and serve him as soon as he kicks off His shoes. To welcome Him right away, such servants must, in a day when the typical attire of a big robe could trip a person up, “be IsHis dressed for action”; and must, in a day when electricity did not yet exist, have their oil-burning lamps “lit”. The second parable compares Jesus to a sneaky “thief”; and Jesus’ disciples, to “the owner of the house” practicing unceasing vigilance.
If we are to be wise owners of the house in which we live, and faithful servants of the ultimate owner of our house, we must be ready to rightly receive Jesus any time, any place. That demands our remaining alert, watchful, faithful to our responsibilities and set to take appropriate immediate action.
John Croyle, an All-American defensive end on the 1973 Alabama national championship team, played for the legendary coach, Bear Bryant. Croyle says he’ll always remember one pre-game speech in particular. Locking eyes with each player in turn, Bryant said, “In this game, there are going to be four or five plays that will determine its outcome – four or five plays that will swing the momentum toward us, or away from us. I don’t know which plays these will be. You don’t know which plays these will be. All you can do is go out there and give all you have on each and every play. If you’re doing that on one of those crucial plays…that play may swing things in our direction. And if we always rise to the occasion on such plays, we’re going to leave here a winner.”
Each of our lives is made up of a series of moments. Maybe four or five of them will be transformative, forever changing who we are and what we achieve. But, since we rarely know when those “game-changing” moments will come, we must always give our best to avail of a possible surprise from God. The only thing we know about such moments is that Jesus will be at the center of every one of them, even if we don’t realize it at the time.
To stay prepared for an unexpected moment of grace is to expect it at some time or another, to always keep an eye peeled for it, to maintain a commitment to drop everything else for it and, while we wait for it, to keep at what He’s given us to do every moment.
To stay prepared like this demands steadfast, enduring perseverance. To wait to prepare until the moment arrives is to prepare too late. To prepare on time is to prepare before it’s time to be prepared. We have to train ourselves spiritually and ethically, long and hard, to be able to capitalize on the gracious surprises of God.
A century ago, Roald Amundson became the first person to lead a successful expedition to the South Pole. He had that moment of glory because over decades he’d dedicated countless ordinary moments to preparing himself for that extraordinary moment. He relentlessly trained his body to endure harsh weather and to build the strength to surmount hostile conditions. He lived among the Eskimos to avail of their ancient wisdom for dealing with polar conditions and to instill in himself by long practice their habitual methods for surviving and thriving in seemingly inhuman temperatures.
The lesson is: we must train today to make the most of the Lord’s visit tomorrow, whenever He chooses to make it. We must prepare with intensity, again and again, so that we won’t be caught unawares and unable to take full advantage of a blessed surprise from God.
So let us now seek the Lord with intensity, again and again, by practicing the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, Bible study, meditation and works of justice and mercy, so that, when we find ourselves before Him as never before, we can receive every gift of our unexpected hour of grace.