Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mark 13:24-37

MasterPiece Church

When you drive onto a US military base these days you will usual see a sign within a few yards of the entry telling the current alert condition -- or LERTCON. In a national state of emergency, seven different alert conditions known as LERTCONs can be issued. They consist of five Defense Conditions (DEFCONS) and two Emergency Conditions (EMERGCONs).

All of these together are known as the LERTCONS, which are not to be confused with the REDCONS -- or readiness conditions for the combat units. The military does love alphabet soup -- and they are continually inventing new words.

DEFONS are the most common LERTCONS -- and there are specific protocols for every job based on the current LERTCON.

For example, DEFCON 5 -- This is the condition used to designate normal peacetime military readiness. Keep your eyes open but hang loose. (My paraphrase)

DEFCON 4 -- Things are normal but there is increased intelligence and the heightening of national security measures. Someone has heard something somewhere that something might possibly happen to someone. So keep an eye out. Don't hang loose.

DEFCON 3 -- Things are no longer normal. American forces switch to using classified call signs on the radio. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the military went to DEFCON 3.

DEFCON 2 -- At this level everyone is suppose to be even more ready. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Strategic Air Command went to DEFCON 2.

DEFCON 1 is maximum readinessness. It means that there is an imminent or ongoing attack on US military forces or US territory by a foreign military power.

Five sailors left the base for a night on the town -- and they had a great time drinking and talking and dancing. But when they returned to the base at 3 AM the DEFCON status had been changed. They had gone from DEFCON 4 to DEFCON 3. Something had happened somewhere in the world. Protocol: check in for possible assignment.

Sailor 1 pretended that he didn’t notice the sign. He’d had too much to drink, was too tired, and was in no mood to report to his station. He went back to his room and quickly fell asleep.

Sailor 2 noticed the status update but figured that it was more likely that pranksters were playing with the sign than that the DEFCON had actually changed. After all, crazy things happened throughout the world daily -- and the status never changed. He, too, went to his room and to bed.

Sailor 3 was also a bit skeptical. So he decided that he’d stop by his docked ship on his way back to his room -- just to see if anything might be happening. And wow, the cutter was a buzz with activity. They were loading equipment and no one was standing around.

But he was stopped as he tried to board. He wasn’t in the proper uniform and didn’t have the gear required by protocol. They sent him back to his room to get what was required. But by the time he got back to the ship with the appropriate gear it had already sailed and was halfway out to sea.

While sailor 4 was not completely sober when he saw the DEFCON sign he knew that something big was happening. He always had a sense for that kind of thing.

He got out his phone and started texting -- first to the two guys he knew in the base commander’s office. Both were at their posts -- amazing for the middle of the night -- so he concluded that something big must be happening -- even though they couldn’t give him information.

Then he started texting his family and friends off base. CAN’T SAY WHAT’S HAPPENING -- NATIONAL SECURITY & ALL -- BUT WE’RE NOW @ DEFCON 2.

Of course, they were really still at DEFCON 3 but it’s possible that he mistook the 2 for a 3. So, he figured it would be better to error on the safe side.

He did eventually make it to his post -- but only after updating his Facebook status. Unfortunately, like the previous sailor, the ship sailed without him. He was pretty miffed that they didn’t bother to wait.

When sailor 5 saw the status sign he hustled to his room, grabbed his gear and hurried to his ship. He had the advantage because he’d been the designated driver among the five sailors and so he himself hadn’t been drinking.

He was a bit tired but not at all buzzed. That’s why he was able to move quickly and thoughtfully. He made it onto the ship before it sailed and because the chief was tied up trying to get people to cover for missing sailors, sailor 5 ended up with the important task of standing watch on the quarterdeck.

So, which of the five sailors was promoted two months later and eventually recommended for Officer Candidate School? Which one was tuned into the alert updates? They all saw the DEFCON sign change. But only one really saw it. Only one was really alert to it.

You see, TO BE ALERT IS TO BE ON TASK. And that’s the point that Jesus is making in our Mark 13:24-37 passage this morning.

The text is about coming destruction -- in very apocalyptic language. Apocalyptic language emerged during the era of the prophets and then really developed into a genre of its own during the 300 years between the OT and the NT.

It’s an attempt to be extremely visual in a verbal culture. It usually centered on themes related to judgment and was somewhat comic book in nature. That is, it made use of exaggerated features and images to get the point across. I’d say that it metaphorical -- not in the individual features but in the overall image. As apocalyptic imagery does, the discourse is trying to give an impression -- not precise details.
24 At that time, after the anguish of those days,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.
Jesus is talking about an era of anguish followed by an era of triumph or vindication. He’s not so much giving precise details about the Second Coming as he is saying that it will be a triumphal entry.

“The Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and glory” seems to make use of a figure of speech that emphasizes triumph. Jesus is coming -- but it is not necessary to interpret the passage in such a way that it is literally through the clouds, out of the sky.

It could be literal -- but I think that Jesus’ intention, given the genre or style is to be figurative. There are several passages which use that kind of language -- but they all seem to be drawing from a bank of colorful metaphorical apocalyptic language -- all of which emphasizes that when Jesus returns it will be for vindication.

We create trouble for ourselves and fail to take the text seriously if we try to squeeze it unnaturally into an overly literal framework. We want to do justice to the text and its message.

And Jesus’ message here, as emphasized in Mark’s gospel is STAY ALERT because Jesus is coming back as the triumphal master.

For eample, Jesus says, “take your cues from the fig tree.” Verse 28 --
Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that his return is very near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation [could be rendered era or nation] will not pass from the scene before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear. 
32 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. 33 And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!
This is one of the most popular and at the same time ignored passages among end times buffs.

Harald Camping, who had a great number of followers through his Family Radio network, predicted four times that Jesus was going to return on specific dates -- dates which he calculated using mathematical formulas that he had personally developed and applied to information in the scriptures.
  • May 21, 1988
  • September 6, 1994
  • May 21, 2011
  • October 21, 2011
Of course, he’s not the first to go down that dead end road. Thousands have done so.

In American history. William Miller, a respected farmer, Baptist layman, and Bible student, predicted in 1822 that he was pretty sure that the Second coming (or advent) of Jesus Christ would happen in 1843 -- probably between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. By 1833 his prediction had gone viral and he had followers across the US - and in pockets in Europe.

When Jesus didn’t return by March 21st 1844 a new date was set -- April 18, 1844. Then October 22, 1844.

After that the movement splintered until the Millerites began to emphasize a different "truth" -- that worship should be on the seventh day (Saturday) rather than Sunday. And out of the ashes of the failed predictions about the return of Christ was born the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

This is not intended to be a criticism of the Seventh Day Adventists -- nor even of Harald Camping -- whose most recent teaching is that it is impossible to calculate the date of Christ’s return. Rather I want to point out how easy it is for faithful people -- some of them pretty smart -- to get caught up in the kinds of speculation about which Jesus warns.

You see, it is easy to confuse speculation with alertness. People read all the end times books and go to the lectures and have the discussions. They try to figure out the signs rather than heed them. They’re interested in what is going to happen. But Jesus is interested in keeping people on task. TO BE ALERT IS TO BE ON TASK.

Vs. 33, and this is the CEB, --
Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. 34 It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”
The point is TO BE ALERT IS TO BE ON TASK -- to be about the work which has been entrusted to your care -- the work of the Master.

The good news is that Jesus is coming. The good news is that he comes with vindication. He makes things right -- establishes the justice of the Isaiah 64 passage which we read. And people turn back to God -- to right living and godliness.

And that is the task to which we stay alert. You see, our present is defined by the predicted future.

No, we don’t know all the details and we can’t tell you when the master of the house will return from his trip. We’re not even going to waste time speculating. But we do know that our calling is to stay alert -- to remain on task. Yes, at times we feel exhausted and are tempted to sleep the hours away -- literally or even figuratively.

But even though we’re tired at times, rolling in like exhausted sailors at 3 AM, we can see the signs. We can see that the we’re at LERTCON-1. TO BE ALERT IS TO BE ON TASK.

And this is what the season of Advent is about -- calling us to task -- calling us to stay alert. For Jesus has come and Jesus is coming.

And that’s the good news.

Let’s join together in reading the affirmation of faith, which is based on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (MSG).
We are grateful that Jesus has given us lives of free and open access to God. There's no end to what has happened in us -- it's beyond speech, beyond knowledge. The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in our lives. 
Just think -- we don't need a thing, we've got it all! All God's gifts are right in front of us as we wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep us steady and on task until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got us started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on us. We will never forget that.

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