“At your post, with your assigned task.”
As the years passed without Jesus returning, naturally it was harder to maintain that sense of urgency. The passage we read from Mark’s Gospel — the first of the four Gospel, written perhaps forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection — can be heard as a pep talk to try and inspire Christians to hold onto that sense of expectancy. Mark’s reader is reminded that Jesus said he would return before the present generation passed away.When Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels twenty years later, although it is still assumed that one day Jesus will return in power and glory, the notion that he will return within immediately is no longer present. You get a sense of a community settling in for the long haul.
John’s Gospel may have been written another twenty years later. His Gospel no longer looks forward to the future at all. Jesus is the resurrection and the life right now; what he came to offer can be experienced in the present moment for those who believe.
Over the years, there have been numerous times when Christians have predicted certain dates when they were convinced that Jesus would finally return, and for a time some believers would succeed in restoring that heightened sense of expectation. But the dates came and passed, and still no return of Jesus in the sense in which he had been anticipated.
And so we find ourselves nearly two thousand years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and most of us find it hard to get caught up in that kind of expectation anymore. What, then, might we ask are we to make of the words we heard attributed to Jesus in our Gospel lesson?
There is a sense in which the call us to live with a keen sense of expectancy have always been absolutely on the mark. The time that each one of us has on this earth is quite limited, though a part of us denies this truth. Each one of us is going to die. It may be fifty years from now, or it could be 50 minutes from now, and no one knows for sure. This could be our last day on earth.
The stories we read over the past three weeks from the 25th chapter of Matthew were unifying in hammering this theme. There were the foolish maiden who weren’t ready with oil for their lamps when the bridesgroom finally does come to call them to the party, with a door closing marking the end of their time. There were the three servants given talents of varying sizes to take care of while the master is away; one day the master does return, and there is an accounting of what each has done with what they were given. The story of the sheep and the goats reminds us that a day is coming when our lives will be over and there will be an accounting of what we have done with our lives on earth in terms of living out compassion.
All three drive home the point that time doesn’t going on forever. There will be an end, and we need to live conscious of this fact. Fools live as though their lives go on forever.
This morning we hear Jesus say in Mark’s Gospel say,
“It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task.” He sums up his story by saying, “So, stay at your post, watching.” (paraphrasing by Peterson in The Message) The passage seems to be saying, knowing that our lives will come to an end at an unexpected moment, it is important to consider whether we have been faithful at our own particular post, carrying out our uniquely assigned tasks.
So let’s spend a little time thinking about our particular posts, our uniquely assigned tasks.
One thing we can say for sure is that being faithful at our particular posts means loving the people with whom God has placed us in life: our family and the particular group of friends and associates God has placed in our path. We are compelled by this scripture reading to ask ourselves, Have I loved these people well?
The question opens up lost of questions that are beyond our capacity to answer this morning regarding what does it mean to love. For instance, when does love involve “taking care of someone,” and when does it involve “letting go of someone?” These can be tough things to sort out.
Many of us look back over our lives and feel some sense of failure in regard to the love we have expressed to those with whom we are most intimately connected. Here is where the emphasis Jesus gave to forgiveness becomes so crucial. Given that every relationship includes some degree of failure (no one has loved perfectly) to find peace in the relationships through forgiveness while we still have time becomes crucially important. Henri Nouwen described how when he was hit by a car and nearly died, he felt this great impulse to call to his bedside all the people in his life with whom there was some sense of estrangement, that he might ask their forgiveness, and give his forgiveness, before he passed from this life.
The love that we were placed on this earth to embody isn’t limited to those closest at hand. The coming of Jesus into the world — the light of the world — involves witness to a love that goes beyond the “tribe mentality.” It is a love that includes the stranger — even the enemy. So the question becomes, in our little corner of the universe, our own particular station or post, how have we witnessed to this greater love?
I read a story about couple named John and Dottie Peckham who back in 1979 on a cruise from Mexico to Hawaii, put a note in a wine bottle they had just finished and tossed it into the Pacific Ocean.
Three years and nine thousand miles later, Vietnamese refugee Nguyen Van Hoa leaned down from a tiny, crowded boat and plucked the bottle from the South China Sea–amazed to fine a name and address, a dollar for postage and the promise of a reward. “It gave me hope,” said Hoa who had escaped from a prison camp in Vietnam. Safe in a UN refugee camp in Thailand, Hoa wrote the surprised Peckhams. For two years they corresponded: Hoa married and had a son. In 1985, the Peckham’s agreed to sponsor the emigration of Hoa, now thirty one, and his family. In April of that year, they arrived for an emotional meeting with the Peckhams–and a new life from an old bottle.
Who knows what opportunities to witness to this greater love are presented to us, and we miss them. A major them of Advent is that when Jesus first came into this world, he was missed by most, for he came as a baby born to poor, homeless refugees.
In considering the contours of the particular post at which each of us has been placed, attention must be given to our unique sense of giftedness. We are not all the same. Our gifts vary.
Now gifts are both a blessing and a responsibility. To hide a light under a bushel is to fail to live up to the responsibility of that gift. And so we must ask ourselves, have I used my particular gifts?
In my early fifties, the thought has occurred to be a lot lately that the retirement from my work that always seemed impossibly far off in the distance, isn’t so far off at all. Who knows, maybe I have another 15 years of work as a pastor left within me? When I reached that last Sunday, how will I feel about the work I’ve done, and whether I’ve exercised my gifts in this work.
I have a gift for theater and for the capacity to invite unique perspectives on life through my wacky imagination. As many of you know, I’ve been putting a lot of time in lately on a play I’ve written for the youth which will be produced in late April. Part of what motivated me to do this was the realization that I have this gift and I better put it to use before its too late.
Money itself is an aspect of our particular post where we are called to keep watch. The money we have been given is given to us for more than mere self-indulgence; it is given to us to assist us in the unique service we are called to give. Jesus tells the story of the rich farmer who fills his big barn with all the grain he needs. He asks himself, “What shall I do now?” His conclusion is to build bigger barns, so that he can hold onto his grain. Jesus concludes the little parable by having God break in: “Fool, this night you will die, and what good will the grain stored up in your big barns do you then?”
Your money is given to you by God to care for your daily needs, and for the daily needs of your loved ones. But it is also given that you may bless the world, and witness to the light that has come into the world — that greater love — in Jesus Christ.