December 1, 2019

Waiting for Ejection


Text: Matthew 24:36-44

Then there will be two in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. These verses always remind me of a bumper sticker I’ve seen a few times:

Warning: if rapture happens car will be left driverless.

My father-in-law always likes to point out Jesus never says whether it’s better to be the one taken or the one left behind. We’ve just convinced ourselves it’s better to be the one taken – to be instantly relieved of the burdens of this world. A Christian comedian once joked about sending his kids outside to jump on the trampoline. Rapture practice he called it. “Pick me! Pick me! Get me out of here! Take me home! I don’t care if my driverless car careens into oncoming traffic and causes a mega pile-up. All the good people will be gone. Pick me! Pick me!

But wait, why is Jesus talking about driverless cars anyway? How’d we get from a cute baby in the manger, some feel good healing stories and comforting commands not to worry to this conversation about the end of the world as we know it? Well, the disciples started it by having the gall to admire the architecture of the Jerusalem temple.

“Isn’t it pretty?” one of the disciples asked. “Well, its all going to fall down,” Jesus replied. Then someone asked when. And someone else asked how. And a third asked why. And an hour later Jesus was still talking about a world in chaos, wars, rebellions, false prophets, refugees, intense persecutions and yes, the temple falling down – all events the first readers of Matthew would have experienced in Jerusalem during their lifetimes. All events the world continues to experience on an almost daily basis.

After these things come to pass, Jesus says, I will return. As for the day, the hour, nobody – not even I – knows. It will happen when it happens, so be ready.

A song I remember from my teenage Christian rock days went something like this:
All of my friends are aliens and strangers
Travelers here living with danger
Pilgrims just passing through… waiting to get home.

Waiting to get home. Waiting while sending the kids out to practice being raptured on the trampoline. Waiting because the world we live in, with its hurt, hate and corruption, with its poverty, injustice and trauma, is a foreign place, an alien place, a godless place. A place where we’re tested and tried, which we endure until we receive the golden ticket to God’s perfect world.

As the night lengthens Jesus shifts the topic from driverless cars to how we should be driving. Four parables follow Jesus comments regarding his return. In the first a servant waits dutifully for her master while her fellow servant uses the master’s absence as an opportunity to commit injustice, violence and evil. In the second wise bridesmaids come prepared for a long wait for the bridegroom while foolish ones miss the wedding feast due to their lack of preparation. In the third, three servants receive a share of their masters’ estate; two continue using their shares in their master’s business while the third buries it. In the fourth the wait is over, Jesus has returned, and he judges his disciples on how they treated their neighbors who were hungry, thirsty, outcast, naked, sick, or in prison.

Perhaps instead of sending our kids out to practice being raptured on the trampoline we should be rooting them in the biblical values necessary for a long and fruitful life on earth. If, as the song suggests, we are aliens and strangers, then we should take the prophet Jeremiah’s advice to the exiles on Babylon: “build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat what they produce, marry and give in marriage, have children and raise them well, seek the welfare of the place where you are.”

But Jesus’ vision seems much more earth bound. He’s not urging his disciples to hang in there until a magical moment when they get to fly away. He’s urging his disciples to wait with patience and take care of his work, his ministry, his people, his creation until he comes back. In the parables the wicked servant gets ejected from the car because she beats her fellow slaves and becomes a drunkard; the foolish bridesmaids get ejected from the car because they are unprepared; the third servant gets ejected from the car because he hunkers down afraid to continue his masters’ work; and those who fail to feed, offer drinks, welcome, clothe, nurse or bring justice find themselves condemned to eternal punishment.

It’s tempting to look around us at “all those people…” throw up our hands, claim the world’s beyond salvation, cling to our own golden ticket to the pearly gates, and wait for either death or rapture, whichever comes first. But Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it. He didn’t start a movement and declare a kingdom simply to have his followers say “its too hard, Jesus couldn’t have meant us to have to deal with all this, lets just hunker down and wait it out.” He came to teach us how to wait, to inspire us to wait well, to encourage us to wait as he waited, using all the resources at our disposal, all the divine teaching, all the divine love, all the divine salvation, to continue what he started. We will be judged not by what we claim to believe but ultimately by how we wait.

Jesus is coming. We know neither the day nor the hour. But we know we have a choice. We can choose to stand tall, point to the world around us, and declare to Jesus: “look how we responded to our salvation. Look how we helped this person, that person, this community, that community, experience life as you desire, a life free from the hate and fear, free from the violence and false labels, free from the corruption, the injustice and their parent, greed.”

Or we can risk getting ejected from the car.