Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent 1A Sermon: Subversives for Christ

Lectionary (Year A begins): Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-4

A clergy-friend of mine grew up as a preacher’s kid in the rural south. He was the older of two boys and his father was the pastor of a large Pentecostal church. His mother was a stay-at-home Mom who was the organist at his father’s church and taught Sunday school.

One day, my friend’s little brother, who was about 8 years old, came home from school and his mother wasn’t there. Since this had never happened before, he became frightened. What he didn’t know was that car trouble had caused his mother to be late returning from the grocery store. But this was before cell phones and voice mail.

When his mother finally arrived home, she found her 8-year old son curled up on the floor, sobbing. He thought the rapture had come and his family had been taken up to heaven, but he’d been left behind to suffer the tribulation alone.

How many of you have heard of “the rapture”? (The preacher observes how many hands are raised) How many of you have read the “Left Behind” book series? (The preacher again observes how many hands are raised)

Let me be clear: the rapture is a doctrine not supported by the Episcopal Church. “The rapture” was a teaching developed by John Nelson Darby, a 19th century Irish lawyer who became an Anglican preacher, then later started the Plymouth Brethren. Darby is considered the founder of dispensationalism, a theological approach described as “an oddity of Church history.”

This approach breaks Scripture down into compartments or "dispensations” which mark the end of the world. The dispensations begin, according to Darby, with the rapture, the moment when all faithful believers are taken up to heaven all at once. This will happen so suddenly, they say, that in a flash, all that will be left of those ‘raptured up to heaven’ will be a pile of their empty clothes and the shocked looks on the faces of the people who watched it happen.

The unfaithful and believers who lived in sin will be left behind to suffer unspeakable horrors during the next dispensation: the Great Tribulation – a period of seven years of chaos and persecution. After that (the next dispensation) will be the battle of Armageddon, and after that (the next dispensation) – will be a thousand years (a millennium) of justice and righteousness on the earth.

Following that will be the (the final dispensation): the Last Judgment when Christ will send anyone who has ever lived either to eternal bliss or eternal damnation. This, they believe, will bring to a close the story of human history begun in the Garden of Eden.

Another famous dispensationalist was Cyrus I Scofied, who authored the Scofied Bible, often called the handbook of fundamentalism. Published in 1909, Scofield’s Bible is still much used in the church today. It was published just before the start of WWI, and became popular as people tried to cope with what looked to them like the end of the world happening all around them.

Although dispsensational millenialists tend to focus primarily on the Book of Revelation, today’s Gospel from Matthew is a favorite of dispensational millennialists because they believe that in it Jesus prophesies the rapture.

So let’s look at our Gospel reading and see. It begins with a statement by Jesus that no one, not even Jesus himself, knows when the Day of the Lord will be. So the Scofield Bible and all of those supermarket tabloids that predict a date for the end of the world, find no support in Scripture.

Next Jesus references the story of Noah found in the book of Genesis saying, 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. People were doing what they usually did, eating drinking, and marrying, until the day Noah entered the ark, 3 …they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, [Jesus said] so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. So, according to Jesus, those left behind after the flood were… Noah and his family – who were chosen by God to stay on the earth in order to restore it.

So far, Scripture shows us that the doctrine of the rapture has it backwards. Those left behind in the story of Noah, did not suffer tribulation - they lived in a covenanted relationship with God – a covenant promising mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.

Back to the Gospel: Jesus continues, 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Please note that the word ‘behind’ in is not in the Scriptural text – not in the Greek and not in the English. The text also does not indicate which one might be a bad outcome and which one might be good.

Jesus, however, does give us the context for understanding this – the story of Noah. Remember, then that in that story, the ones taken off the face of the earth were not the faithful ones. The faithful ones were “left behind” (as it were). The understanding that is faithful to our Scripture, then, is that being left on the earth is not a punishment, but a call from God to be partners in the work of the reconciliation and restoration of the world.

Back to the Gospel: Jesus continues, Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. It isn’t clear whether this refers to our personal end (our death) or our collective end (the end of the world as we know it).

But it doesn’t matter. The point is, wake up! Don’t waste the gift of life by proceeding through it as if in a slumber. Open your eyes – pay attention! Get up and get going! There is much to do in the ‘already but not yet’ world in which we live – and we have been chosen to do it! There are people suffering right in front of us and around the world. There are people hungry for food, for friendship, and for God!

The Episcopal Church has asked us to remember that Wednesday, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day. Whole communities of people in Africa and other 3rd world countries are being decimated by this dsease. Children born of infected mothers have no access to the medicines that can treat them and many are left orphaned to die alone of the disease that took their parents from them.

There is much to do.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus was a subversive. He healed the sick, connected with the excluded, and loved even those who executed him. In our earthly ministries, we are subversives for Christ. We are here on this earth as a people chosen by God, chosen to be partners in the plan of salvation.

In the bulletin insert from TEC, we read (on the back page): “We are subversive. We seek to bring the love of Christ into the secular world because we believe that ultimately the world will be restored to God. In the meantime, we work and pray to transform what is into what shall be.”

But being a subversive for Christ takes preparation – intentional, prayerful, continuing preparation. That is our purpose and our goal during the season of Advent – to prepare ourselves so that we can bring the love of Christ into the secular world (I would prefer to call it the slumbering world) to prepare ourselves to be partners with God in the work that transforms what is into what shall be.

All around us the cultural Christmas season has kicked into high gear. Christmas carols are playing in stores and restaurants, holiday decorations and lights are up all over town. I would guess that there are probably some among us who are already bracing for the stress, the depression, and the fatigue this holiday season brings… not to mention the debt.

For Christians, however, it isn’t Christmas yet. It’s Advent – a time of watchful waiting. Being subversive means living our identity as Christians in the midst of a culture that rushes through the waiting and heads right for the prize. And what is the prize? ...Christmas presents! It’s all about us.

Look - it’s OK to prepare for a joyous Christmas morning filled with present-opening, but we can’t overlook the importance of practicing Advent. It’s important, in fact, it’s subversive to quietly leave the chaos of the cultural approach to this season and prepare our souls, so that the amazing event we await – our prize: the birth of the Savior – can have its transforming effect on us, and through us, the world.

To encourage this, Redeemer is offering special Advent services on Thursday evenings: Taizé, Evensong, and Lessons & Carols. Come and worship with us, and bring a friend.

Let’s be subversives for Christ and practice Advent together. Let’s make time to prepare ourselves to be partners with God in the work that transforms what is into what shall be.


Anonymous said...


How can the “rapture” be “imminent”? Acts 3:21 says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven (He is now there with the Father) “until the times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. Since Jesus must personally participate in the rapture, and since He can’t even leave heaven before the tribulation ends, the rapture therefore cannot take place before the end of the trib! Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening (Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who would be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the posttrib end of “death” (15:54). (Will death be ended before or during the trib? Of course not! And vs. 54 is also tied to Isa. 25:8 which is Israel's posttrib resurrection!) If anyone wonders how long pretrib rapturism has been taught, he or she can Google “Pretrib Rapture Diehards.” Many are unaware that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 this "rapture" was stretched forward and turned into a separate coming of Christ. To further strengthen their novel view, which the mass of evangelical scholars rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the “rapture” ["gathering"] in 2:1 can happen – the height of desperation!). Other Google articles throwing light on long-covered-up facts about the 180-year-old pretrib rapture view include “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “X-Raying Margaret,” "Edward Irving is Unnerving," “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” "Walvoord Melts Ice," “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” "Pretrib Rapture Secrecy," “Deceiving and Being Deceived,” and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" – all by the author of the bestselling book “The Rapture Plot” which is available at Armageddon Books online. Just my two cents’ worth.

Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer said...

I maintain the position I put forth in my sermon. The doctrine of the rapture is misguided and unsupported by Scripture. Thank you for your comment.