Luke 12: 32-40
The season has started again; not just the back to school season, but also Hurricane Season; the time when weathercasters alert us to low pressure systems forming in the Caribbean. As they do, viewers have the luxury of watching the progress, and the track, or the forming storm. Like reading a great mystery novel, the story unfolds each day: will it come toward Florida; to Central Florida; or the East Coast; or specifically, to Daytona Beach? If so, what supplies do we have? What supplies do we need? Even with fair warning about hurricane season, I still join others in line to buy water before a storm. Batteries, flashlights: those things I have. But the water I wait to buy. I go through my hurricane checklist of garbage bags, zip locks, and duct tape. I collect rags or towels in case we find leaks. So seasonally, I have a reminder from weathercasters to prepare for hurricane season. If it were a religion, hurricane season would be the annual revival, when we are urged to check the things we “ought to have done, and take care of the things that still need to be done.” Hurricane season is a good practice.
Tuesday I was driving back from seeing my brother who is trying to recover from a brain bleed. While I was in Virginia, my sisters and I had a conference call about the huge adjustment facing us: moving my mother from Independent Living in St. Louis, (where she no longer qualifies to live due to her increased confusion) to a memory care facility near my sister in Phoenix. Just since April when I visited her, she has slipped that much. All of these issues were going through my head as I was driving south on I-95, mesmerized by constant billboards. Then, one billboard stood out: “Are You Preparing to Meet Jesus?” A phone number was listed below, I suppose, so you could call and get more information! I wouldn’t recommend calling the number, however, because the billboard next to it said: “Are you headed for heaven?” and there were pictures of clouds; “or are you headed for hell?” and there were flames of fire. Today, I want us to think about meeting Jesus. As I explained to the boys and girls, if I were preparing to meet Jesus as a child, my list of what to gather would be different. A blanket for comfort and even for security; Linus from the Peanuts comic strip taught us that. Then I would take a small pillow that reminds me that I’m loved. I’d take a Bible and a paperback songbook of old hymns, and a cellphone and charger. But as adults, what we need to do to prepare for Jesus’ return is different, especially if we see him at our death first, instead of at his return to earth. Here is what Jesus himself said: “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” [Luke 12: 32] If we share our hopes and fears with God, then God will know the ways that things can comfort us. My grandparents, when they were alive, asked me, along with my brothers and sisters, what things of theirs we would enjoy having after they were gone. We said “Don’t talk like that!” but my grandmother said, “No, it would really comfort us to know what you would like.” So we named the items. “Here’s some tape.” She said. “Put your name on it and stick it on the bottom of the pieces you want.” And so we did. Every time I walk by a bookcase and a desk in our home, I think of my grandparents and their gifts when they were alive, still blessing me after their death. As I walked through my sister’s house and brother’s house last week, they too lifted up pieces that they got from my grandparents. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” [ vs. 32] Talk with God in this life, so you can receive tailor-made blessings in the next life. “Sell your possessions and give alms” Jesus said. My parents saved things most of their life, and when it was time to sell their house, we sold or disposed of anything the four siblings didn’t want. I don’t know who got our treasures, but I know treasures keep blessing others who buy books, or keepsakes, or furniture for pennies on the dollar at thrift stores and antique stores. What of our treasures will became someone else’s at our death? All of our “stuff” brought us joy in life; As Jesus said, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Later when we die, treasures are stored in our hearts rather than in our homes. As we prepare to go to the Father’s house, we find new treasures, and make new memories.
Jesus then said: “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning.” Those are old expressions that just mean, “Be ready!” That was always Jesus’ message. Dr. Keith Nickle, former Dean of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, wrote this about those words of Jesus:
“Luke emphasizes keeping vigil for Jesus’ return by sustaining the quality of one’s discipleship rather than by seeking to calculate the most likely moment for his appearance and waiting until then to prepare. Energies expended on computations about the calendar and sequence of end-time events are futile and counterproductive…. Being watchfully alert compels Christian service, conducted in the confident conviction that there is no doubt—he is coming! The only uncertainty is when, and that is not something anyone can find out ahead of time.” (vv. 39-40) [Preaching the Gospel of Luke, Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2000, p. 141]
So Jesus himself told his followers to “Prepare!” It’s a message we often hear at Advent before the birth of Jesus, but the return of Jesus has even bigger ramifications. And there are plenty of us here today who may not live to see his return, but we will meet him upon our death. How will you prepare to move from this life to the next one?
Here are some practical things to do to prepare for that. These are from my experience, and the experiences of other pastors, attorneys, and family members.
1) Have a will. Leaving the distribution of your treasures to chance actually leaves the distribution to the state of Florida. At my request, a church member who is an attorney drew up a one page document telling what happens to your treasures if you have no will. Copies are on the counter in the fellowship hall. If you want some of your treasure to go to the church, or to your children, or to another charity, say so! A will is that document. You can read Jesus words about not focusing on treasures on earth where moths can destroy them, but in modern day, leaving your goods to chance leads to family fights, and months of legal costs. Have conversations now and put decisions on paper. A will is an inexpensive document to create.
2) Have a Health Care Surrogate, a living will that includes organ donation if desired, or fill out a Five Wishes document. Our Body, Mind & Soul programs have gone over those extensively. Sample copies are on the Fellowship Hall bulletin board by the piano. They give legal guidelines during any sudden transition from wellness to sickness you will likely face.
3) Finally, prepare to meet Jesus one day. Just so you know, he will be a brown-skinned Middle-Eastern man. He loves people with brown skin, and black skin, and tan skin and white skin. There will be Christians in Heaven from Mexico, and Russian, and Egypt and Palestine and Korea. There will be people there that you may not choose to meet in your earthly life. What if Jesus is waiting to return, not for our world to become so acrimonious that people give up on it, but for our world to more be neighborly to people of all colors and nationalities, singing about faith, hope, and love? It could be that Jesus is waiting for the kingdoms of our world to become more like the kingdom of Heaven? Could we do our part by loving our neighbors as ourselves? One hymn writer put it this way: “And Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trumpet shall sound, and the Lord shall descend; even so, it is well with my soul.” So may it be.
Let us pray: Dear God of Heaven and Earth: Jesus taught us to pray for the day when your kingdom comes both on earth and in heaven. We do not have control of heaven, but we can control our own actions on earth. Help us to be the leaven for the bread and the light for the world, working to transform the world, rather being transformed by the world. Then Jesus can meet us with joy. In his name we pray. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner August 11, 2019