Isaiah 2:1-5 & Matthew 24:36-44
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC in North Weymouth
Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
November 27, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about being left behind.
Have you ever felt like you're going to be left behind?
Maybe all of your friends were off to college and you stayed in the area. Or perhaps everyone was getting married and starting a family before you felt ready? Maybe it was even a time when you literally thought you were going to be left somewhere.
I remember as a teenager my sister, Missy and I had to go on a youth retreat with our church, to what was called Winterfest in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Missy, me and about 10 other teenagers and chaperones packed up two dark blue 12 passenger vans. These were the vans with four long rows and I don’t think there were seat belts. We headed off down the highway for a six or seven hour drive from Virginia down to North Carolina and over to Tennessee.
Winterfest was kind of like the Billy Graham Christian Crusades. It was an evangelical, put your hands up in the air, praise God, kind of experience. There were rock bands playing (as my friend says) “love songs to Jesus.” The event was held in a huge arena/convention center. To say I felt uncomfortable and out of my element would be an understatement.
After the weekend concluded, the event was dismissed and everyone headed for the exits. In the chaos I lost my group. I looked around and wandered not knowing where anyone was. I began to panic. Figuring they must have headed back to the hotel where the vans were parked I began to walk in that direction, but I was not completely sure how to get back, “shoot” I was thinking, “am I going to be left in Gatlinburg? Was it a right turn here? Or do I keep going straight? Oh yeah I remember passing that shop…”
I made it back to the vans just as everyone was loading up, and I don't think anyone even noticed that I had been left behind.
Being left behind, that's what the listeners from Matthew are worried about. They are the first century Christians who witnessed Jesus's death and Resurrection and now they are waiting for Jesus to return. The belief is that upon Christ’s return everyone will be judged and those who do not pass judgement will be left behind.
There is a fear of being inadequate. Maybe you can relate? Not being good enough, not qualified, not as bright as your colleagues or classmates. Yet this is judgement of comparison. Where in scripture did we ever hear Jesus compare us to one another? In the Beatitudes that we examined a couple of weeks ago, Jesus said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. (Matthew 5:3-11)
Jesus does not say, Bob is more blessed than Sally. Bob will be saved and Sally will be left behind. No, this is a scripture of Hope, not selection.
This scripture from Matthew is one of reassurance and not so much judgement as a reminder to guide us back into the light of Christ. We have all worried about being inadequate, feeling we could either do more or be better. This passage acknowledges that human feeling.
I heard this story once that goes: A boy and his father were walking through the woods together. They came across a large log, blocking their path. The boy turned to his father and said, “Do you think I can lift this log, Dad?” The father replied, “If you use all your strength, absolutely you can.” The boy rolled up his sleeves, bent his knees, and got his hands under the log. He locked his arms and heaved with every ounce of strength he had. But the log wouldn’t budge. He tried over and over again until at last, exhausted and breathless, he gave up.
He looked at his dad with disappointment and frustration and said, “You told me I could lift it!” His dad smiled and said gently, “I told you, you could lift it if you used all your strength. You didn’t ask me for help.” So the boy asked his dad to help him and together, they lifted the log out of their path.
The moral of the story is that your strength isn’t held by you alone, but also by the people who walk alongside you. Our scripture from Matthew is reminding us of the same thing. That when you feel unequal to the task in front of you, perhaps it is simply because you aren’t using all your strength, or in Christian lingo, we are not asking God for help.
Matthew is reminding the community that just because we don’t know when the end time will be, either for each of us individually or for our community collectively we still need to keep watch. Keep watch, not for burglars or evil doers but rather watch out for our neighbors and brothers and sisters. When we feel inadequate or like we are being left behind in our professions or personal lives we are reminded that we are not alone. We have one another to help us along this journey and most importantly we have Christ.
Our human actions account for something. Christ is already here among us and God is within each of us. The question is, are we concerned about God? A God who is present within our neighbors, strangers, brothers and sisters? Or are we only concerned with ourselves and not being left behind?
Advent is about hope. It is about planting seeds of Hope for others who feel they are left behind. Our passage from Matthew ends with “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:44). “The declaration in this verse is not a threat, but a call; not an alarm, but an opportunity; not a cause for dismay, but a reason for hope.”
Hope, that we can together work to make “this world as it is in heaven.”
Hope, that God is with us through our suffering
Hope, that as a community we can do more good than on our own
Hope, that good will always overcome evil
Hope, that we can overcome our personal insecurities and shortcomings
Hope, that something better still awaits us
I will never forget that feeling, that anxiety of thinking I was going to be left behind, all alone in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. But I wasn’t, and neither will you be left behind, my friends. For we are here with one another and with Christ.
As we begin this Advent season awaiting the birth of Christ, I invite you this week to notice those who are left behind and give them a seed of Hope. As children’s author Morris Gleitzman says, “A little hope can go a long way.”
 Preaching the Revised Common Leactionary, Year A: Advent/Christmas/ Epiphany by Marion Soards, Thomas Dozeman and Kendal McCabe (Abingdon Press 1992) 27.