Good Naps & Dangerous Naps

Mark 13:24-37
24“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Advent1 / 11-27-11 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Children’s Time: Do you like sunflower seeds? We usually buy them already out of the shell; but some people like to eat them like this (show bag of sunflower seeds in shell). What if we wanted to grow our own sunflowers and get new seeds? What would we do? Yes, we’d plant one in the dirt. I just so happen to have a little pot of soil here. Let’s put it in there. What should we do now? Well, we could water it, make sure it gets plenty of sun. Will it grow right away? No, so it won’t do much good to just sit here all day, will it? But we can’t forget it, either, can we? So, what can we do? Check it each day. When Jesus told his followers to “keep awake” for his return some day, he didn’t mean they couldn’t EVER go to sleep. Just that they should check every day, like this seed, for when the time was right. Let’s pray and ask God for that kind of patience to be ready for when Jesus comes again someday.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Anyone who knows me knows I never saw a nap I didn’t like. I could climb into the hammock at a moment’s notice and drift off to sleep. There’s something about the gentle, rocking motion that just lulls me in a warm cocoon of safety and security. Maybe it reminds me of being carried in my own mother’s womb those nine months, gently rocking here and there as she went about her daily chores.

So, I’m coming out in defense of the nap. There’s nothing wrong with a little shuteye now and then. When Jesus warns his disciples about “keeping awake” it’s because they have forgotten God altogether – or convinced themselves that the master really won’t come back on their watch.

All throughout scripture there are cautionary tales involving sleep: the
~The disciples fell asleep in the Garden at Gethsemane when they were supposed to by guarding Jesus the night he was arrested.
~The Great Samson’s hair was cut off while he slept, by the conniving Delilah, causing him to lose his super strength.
~And the young man, Eutychus, fell asleep listening to a sermon by Paul. He was sitting in the window and fell to his death because Paul preached too long! Read Acts chapter 20 to see how that sermon ended!

But there are also many encouraging stories of sleep:
~The boy Samuel was called by God in his sleep, three times! (He thought it was Eli calling him.)
~Jesus fell asleep in the boat, during a storm. Apparently, there was nothing to worry about, as he quickly calmed the sea.
~A little girl was raised from the dead, because in Jesus’ words: “She was only sleeping.”
~And, in today’s lesson, the servants are warned not to fall asleep and be caught off guard by the master. There is no telling when he might return.

It all sounds so simple. Plant a seed. Check it each day. Take care of things while I’m away. I’ll be back. It implies that we’re only here to do God’s will. Trouble is: we forget that and make ourselves out to be the boss.

In our first lesson from Isaiah, we hear of a person who is caught between their devotion to God and their own sins: “You were angry, we sinned… all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth… our iniquities, like the wind, take us away… there is no one who calls on your name…”

How easy it is to be swept up in our own sin… to be caught in old patterns and habits… to forget our place in the master’s household. These are the dangerous kinds of naps – the kinds that cause us to forget who we are – and whose we are. It’s as if we’re being swept away by our own worst enemy: ourselves.

But how does this passage end? Isaiah plants this flag of faith dead center into the sinful slumber of his people: “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

By faith we are able to keep watch each day for the fig tree putting out leaves. Jesus reminds them: “This is how you’ll know summer is near…” When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near…

So, what do the buds look like today that might be shooting out, telling of Christ’s coming?

The call to those young parents, just beginning to teach their children how to “walk in the faith” waiting and watching for those “teachable moments.”
The call to the single person whose career opportunities are about to change – and how will she use that newfound clout to wake and watch for Jesus in it all?
The call to the empty nesters, searching for meaning and their purpose in life, with a desire to do God’s will.
The call to that 60 or 70 year-old who wonders what God is up to in their life as a grandparent or as a member of the church?

Two new shoots that are budding forth even as we speak at Holy Cross, are 1) a renewed commitment to evangelism and mission, through the hiring of Lynea Geinert; and 2) a renewal of our music ministries, through the gifts springing forth in Steve Peters.

All of these shoots and buds will need our attention – some watching, some waiting, some tending to and some harvesting when the time is right.

As Advent people, we don’t despair in the midst of change and tribulation. The gospel lesson began with a day of darkness: “The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven.” But the people of God are not without hope.

British theologian, Lesslie Newbigin, described the struggle this way. He said, “How can we, who are still in the middle of the cosmic story, know what the point of the story is, or whether it has any point at all? Only if the author of the story has let us in on the secret while we are still in the middle. There can be no other possibility.” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, © 1989 p. 91)

Because we know how our story ends, we can live with hope and purpose here and now and be ready when the master returns.

You are the church – the body of Christ – the one last hope for the world. Let us take courage and work while it is day, never forgetting to check on that seed at least once a day. Let us pray: O God, we give you thanks for watching over us in our trials, shaping us like a potter with the clay. Keep us from dangerous naps and awaken us to your light, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds together as one in Christ, Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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