In the Waiting Room   Luke 21:5-38

Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable people are when nothing is going on? The great pianist Rachmaninoff tells of giving a piano recital when he was very young. He began with a Beethoven sonata that had several long rests in it.

During one of those long rests, a motherly lady leaned forward, patted him on the shoulder, and said kindly: “Honey, play us something you know.”  There is an awkwardness in silence, in waiting.

Do you remember those long, painful periods of silence while riding together in the car? We are not very good at handling silence. It’s awkward, confusing. We are not very good at waiting.

A man was in a restaurant. A waiter was passing by. “Excuse me,” said the man, “but how long have you been working here?”  “About a year,” replied the waiter.  The man said wearily, “In that case it couldn’t have been you that took my order.”  Waiting is no fun.

Over the next month children will become restless with expectation and excitement waiting on the coming of Christmas. So it is with the people of God. The Old Testament concludes with the people of Israel waiting on a coming Messiah. The New Testament concludes with the followers of Jesus awaiting his return. We have been waiting now for more than 2,000 years.

Waiting for the return of the Messiah. Much of the New Testament is devoted to the second coming of Christ. We dare not ignore those important Biblical teachings. Nevertheless, there are some clear Biblical principles for those who wait.

The first is to be patient. Jesus was as explicit as he could be no one knows the hour or even the day when the Son of Man shall return. He will come as a thief in the night. There are two dangers in trying to rush God, however.

The first is that in constantly looking toward the sky we will ignore the responsibilities we have here and now.

You may know the story about the little boy who had returned from his first two weeks at summer camp. He showed his mother two badges that he had won: one for making improvements in swimming, the other for naming the most birds on a nature hike.

There was a blue ribbon in his pocket signifying a third prize, and his mother asked him about that. “Aw,” he said, “I got that thing for having the neatest packed bag when we were ready to come home.”

“I’m proud of you,” his mother said.  “No big deal,” he said. “I never unpacked it in the first place.”

If we are constantly looking for God to right the world’s wrongs some day in a great cataclysmic conclusion to life on this earth, we may never “unpack our bag” and realize that it is here and now where God has placed us.  Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.

The second danger is that we shall be taken in by false messiahs and there are many.

We need not even deal with such self-deluded creatures Sung Yung Moon, or Jim Jones or even mass

murderer Charles Manson.   Be patient. No one knows the day or the hour of Christ’s coming. It has been 2,000 years since Christ came into the world. God has his own timetable. It may be today or it may be another 2,000 years. Let no one mislead you. Be patient.

The second admonition is to be faithful.

Some of you remember the ancient epic poem by Homer called the Odyssey. It is the story of Odysseus who traveled the world pursuing many adventures. Meanwhile back home his beautiful wife Penelope was being pursued by various suitors trying to take advantage of Odysseus’ twenty-year absence. In order to keep these suitors at bay, Penelope announced that when she finished weaving a particular garment, she would choose among these persistent suitors. There was something these suitors did not know, however. Each night Penelope undid the stitches that she put in during the daytime, and so she remained faithful to Odysseus until he returned.

That is our call to be faithful. While we wait for Christ’s return, we are his body in the world, called to do his work. The church has been serving the world in Christ’s name for two thousand years. Now is not the time to let up.

We hear criticism of the church. We are not perfect. Some of what we do is very mundane.

A pastor once said, “I sometimes fear going into heaven to stand before the Master with his nail-pierced hands. When he asks, ‘What have you suffered?’ all that I will be able to show him is a paper cut from folding the bulletin.”

Well, proof reading and folding bulletins is important. Greeting and ushering is important.  Serving as a member of the Altar Guild is important.  Being and Officer or and Elder is important.  Cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the church or cutting the lawn is important.  Teaching in our preschool or the young in our congregation is important.  Visiting the shut ins or taking meals to someone is important.  Worshipping and supporting the congregation faithfully is important.  Regardless what you are here doing our if it is done to glorify God as we await the coming of our Lord it is important, and don’t let anyone tell you it is not. 

Be faithful. Remember Albert Einstein’s words after the Second World War: “As a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities were immediately silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities were silenced in a few short weeks. Only the church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it, because the church alone has had the courage to stand for intellectual truth, and moral freedom. I am forced to confess that what I once despised, now I praise unreservedly.”  We are Christ’s body in the world today. Be patient. Be faithful.

But one thing more: be prepared. Be prepared for Christ’s coming. Be prepared if he should come today; be prepared if he should tarry another thousand years or more. Be prepared at any cost, for we simply do not know what tomorrow may bring. Nothing is more unpredictable than the future. If there is one lesson from history, it is that.

There is still so much we don’t know about all the things that matter most, and predictions can only be based on current knowledge. Who could have predicted the wars that ravaged our planet in the twentieth century? Who could have predicted the scourge of terrorism in our own time?  With all of the latest super computers, economists cannot even predict with certainty what our dollar will be worth next year.

We don’t know what the future may bring. We may be here another million years. On the other hand, today may be our last day on earth. Jesus tells us to trust God and to wait. Don’t worry about what tomorrow may bring. At the same time prepare yourself emotionally, mentally, spiritually for whatever may come.

This may be the time. Or it may not. It is certainly the time to take stock of our lives to see if we are prepared for an unknowable future. Live each moment as if it were your last moment. The good that you would do, do now.  Make you apologies, square yourself with those you may have offended as you may not have tomorrow to do so.  The commitment you would make, make now.

John Ruskin an English Philosopher and Author of the 19th Century once put it: “Let every dawn of morning be to you as the beginning of life, and every setting sun be to you as its close; then let every one of these short lives leave its sure record of some kindly thing done for others, some goodly strength or knowledge gained for yourself.”