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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December 1, 2013

Advent 1
Gospel: 24:36-44
1st Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
2nd Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

This scripture has excited the minds of many Christians who have invented the word “rapture” and decided that this scripture combined with a couple of verses from Revelation means that when Christ returns, those people who are good enough will just disappear, as God “raptures” them to heaven. From what I understand it is kind of like beaming someone up in Star Trek. So you see the bumper sticker: “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” A whole series of books and movies have come out of this whole idea of who will be “Left Behind” and what will happen to those people.

I don’t think we need a bunch of fictional books to wonder what it is like to be left behind and what happens when we are left behind. We have it right here. We have widows and widowers, orphans, parents who’ve lost children, those who have had a sibling die. Why do some die, while others are spared? In a typhoon or hurricane, some family members survive and others are swept into the sea. In a car accident, one might die and another survive. In war some make it home and others come home in a casket. And in life some live long healthy lives and others die much too soon. We already know what it is like when some are taken and some are left behind.

My grandparents were married 65 years when my grandpa passed away. My grandma was left behind for another 5 years. She had a really hard time going on without him and spent a lot of time wishing she could be with him. She was waiting expectantly to be reunited with him in the next life.

Grief: What can I say about it that you don’t already know? It is that painful loss. It is that slight relief. It is guilt. It is anger. It is complicated. And the world wants us to move through it and get back to business as usual as quickly as possible, because each loss is a reminder of other griefs and reminds others that sooner or later we all get left behind. That’s very uncomfortable to think about.

Those who have died are already at peace, bathed in God’s glorious light and presence. They live in the reality that Isaiah is talking about in which peace reigns, the focus is on God, and God’s light illuminates everything. Those of us who are left behind are in another reality altogether—the reality of loss and broken hearts and no appetite and depression.
What do the rest of us do while we are left behind? The first thing is to let yourself grieve. You can’t push it away. You can’t avoid it. You just have to go through it. Don’t let anyone tell you to get over it or let you think that a year or two years or even more is too long to grieve. In some ways, we would probably like to move on sooner and put our life back together. But in that loss, part of you is here in this place, on this earth, and part of you is with the person who has died. You become a bridge between heaven and earth—alert and awake to the ways God’s reality is breaking into our reality.

When you lose someone so close to you, that person is always there in your mind. The veil between heaven and earth is very thin. You’ve got a foot in both worlds. Sometimes that person seems so close by. The memories are so vivid. The dreams can be so real.

Grandma wanted to die, so that she could cross that veil, that barrier, and be with grandpa again. But the truth is, heaven is breaking into our world. She didn’t have to go anywhere to experience God’s Kingdom. It was coming to her all along. God’s Kingdom is coming here—that’s why we say, “Thy Kingdom come.” That’s what Isaiah is talking about when he says that God will be established on the highest mountain and all the nations will flow toward it and we’ll all learn God’s ways and walk in God’s paths. That’s what Jesus talks about in the very next chapter of Matthew when he says, “Just as you did this to the least of these my brothers and sisters, fed, clothed, visited, tended, you did it unto me.” Jesus’ reign is extended to the earth when these things happen and we visit or feed or love others.

We’ve got two realities, here. There is the reality we live in with suffering and violence and war and hunger. Then we’ve got God’s reality, a promise of what will be, where there is peace and plenty and acknowledgment of God’s authority and agriculture. It may seem like those are light years away from each other, but God is telling us to look around and see how near they are to each other. They are as close as a glass of water if we would extend that to another person or accept it from them. They are as close as a warm coat, if we would share it with someone or accept it from someone. They are as close as the person sitting next to us if we would take the time to get to know them better.

God is shining a light –the light of the LORD that Isaiah talks about—to show us how near God’s kingdom really is, so that we can be on the lookout for it, in the so-called co-incidences that occur right in front of our eyes, showing us God’s Kingdom, in the eager eyes of a child, in the pleading hands of people who are alone at the holidays, in the beauty of this earth.

These two worlds are very close together, ours and God’s. These newspapers around the room represent our everyday world with all its suffering and celebration, colliding with our spiritual world, God’s reality, that we recognize and celebrate in our church. Today we are going to extend our prayers to include the concerns and values and focus of our world. You are invited to walk around the room and read headlines or stories or ads and pray for people and situations that you see there. You’ve got some pens that you may use. Feel free to underline names or words or phrases that you are holding in prayer or to write prayers in the margins or over the news stories expressing your prayers, your hopes, your communication with God.

What do we do when we are left behind and God’s Kingdom is coming? We’ve got a few choices.

1. Fear: When we hear of wars and rumors of wars we can panic. We can be dreading the thief coming in the night and never get any sleep. We can turn in ourselves and get so afraid of loss that we never open ourselves to another person again.

2. Denial: We can go on with business as usual and turn a blind eye to the those who need help. We can keep on with the world’s value system of building bigger and bigger weapons, using resources that could feed and educate people to kill and destroy.

But God’s light is shining on these paths and we can see that they lead nowhere. They are not God’s path.

So God is shining a light on another path. It is to help tear down that veil between heaven and earth, so that God’s reality becomes our reality, so that the peace that our loved ones already know also reigns here on earth, so that hungry bellies are no longer rumbling, so that people have access to basic needs for their health like mosquito nets and water wells, so that the food that agriculture produces is not wasted but shared and used to bring nutrition and health. When we are left behind, it is our job to make sure others aren’t left behind but that God’s reality is extended from the greatest to the least.

Jesus reminds us that none of us are left behind forever. Jesus came that we all might be claimed into God’s family and know peace and spread peace. We can bridge that divide between heaven and earth, between God’s reality and the world’s reality, between those in eternal life and those of us living this life, when we are awake and watching for those tears in the veil, those places of heaven on earth, and when we participate in bringing more of them to people who need them most.

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