Sermon
December 2, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Matthew 24:36-44 "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the
angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,
39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so
too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will
be left.
42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is
coming.
43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of
the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not
have let his house be broken into.
44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an
unexpected hour.
(NRSV)

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Sermon: Right On Time!

The other day I happened to pull up behind a large van at a stop light, and
on the back bumper was a sticker which read: "In case of the rapture this
car will be unmanned."

I'd like to take an informal survey and ask everyone who is familiar with
the idea of "The Rapture" to raise their hands.

The Rapture is a point of belief that is central to some Christian groups
but almost unheard of in others.  It takes a single paragraph from Paul's
letter to the Thessalonians and develops it as the pivotal point around
which all the biblical images of the end of time are organized.  Here's the
paragraph

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about
those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no
hope.14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so,
through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.15 For this we
declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left
until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have
died.16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's
call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the
dead in Christ will rise first.17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will
be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air;
and so we will be with the Lord forever.18 Therefore encourage one another
with these words.

The idea of the Rapture is that suddenly, without warning, at the end of
time, the saints of Christ will be plucked up from the earth and drawn up
into heaven and where they will meet in the sky.  They might be at home,
they might be at work, they might be in the car.  Hence the bumper sticker
that said: "In case of the rapture this car will be unmanned."

I don't know if anyone here likes the old time gospel music, but if you do
you may have heard of Blind Willie Johnson, a guitarist and singer who lived
from 1901 to 1947 - or at least you've heard some of his gospel songs.  Many
artists have recorded Johnson's songs, like Peter, Paul & Mary, Ry Cooder,
Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan, who put a Johnson composition about the Rapture
on his first album:

Well, in my time of dyin', don't want nobody to moan
All I want for you to do is take my body home
Well, meet me, Jesus, meet me, meet me in the middle of the air
If these wings should fail me, Lord, won't you meet me with another pair
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
 Jesus goin' make my dyin' bed

So through story and song, the Rapture did make its way out of the church
and into the culture, where it forms part of a mosaic of images that people
carry in their mind's eye about death, judgment, heaven, hell, and the end
times.

Now I bring this up today because this Sunday marks the beginning of the
season of Advent, and Advent is a season with a double theme.  One theme is
remembering the birth of Christ and looking back to the longing of the
Hebrew people for the coming of a Savior.  And so we sing a song like:
O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

That is the looking back focus of Advent.  But there is also a looking
forward focus, and the theme of the future focus is the second coming of
Christ at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.

Now The Rapture is one part of a big picture in the future focus of Advent.
It happens to be one of the more exciting and comforting parts - if you're
not left behind, of course. I'm not planning to go into great detail about
all the teachings of end times, the Last Days, Armageddon and Apocalypse.
Quite a bit of it involves different interpretations of the book of
Revelation, and frankly I think much of the time spent on this topic falls
under the category of missing the forest for the trees.

If you want more detailed information you can go onto the Internet and look
up the "Rapture Ready" website.  There's a section there called: Your Final,
Final, Final Warning . This Time We're Serious, and another called: Oops, I
Guess I Wasn't Ready, What to Do If You Miss the Rapture.  It's all at
www.raptureme.com.

But looking at the big picture, what do we see?  We see a faith that is
forward looking and understands itself as living "between the times" - that
is, between the past and the future - the past of the Christmas story where
God comes in the flesh and offers the world forgiveness and peace, and the
future when God makes all things new and the troubles of this present age
are overcome and the powers of darkness are dispelled by the power of the
light.

This future greets us in the present moment.  We all go through many endings
in our lives - obviously our lives end, but before that there are many end
times as well.  We leave home, we change jobs, we loose touch with friends,
parents die, and all things must pass, sometimes in the blink of an eye.  We
know many end times.  And in those times, the hope that God gives for the
future can be a powerful healer in the here and now.

What is true of Advent is also true of a communion service.  The message is
not exclusively about the past.  It's not simply a remembrance and a
memorial.  There is also a focus on the future - the celebration of
communion as a sign of hope that God is with us now and that when the time
is right we will all be together again at God's great welcome table in the
kingdom that has no end.

When communion is primarily experienced as a looking back, then the mood is
somber and serious.  We're remembering a death, and a terrible death at
that.  But the emotions of a future-focused communion can be quite
different.  At this table we can feast on the joy of resurrection and
celebrate a communion that says - Lift up your heads!  Wow!  Think of what
God will do for you!  God will come to save, trouble will soon be over!

If in the looking back we sing a song like, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, what
song might we sing if we are looking to the future?  I have a favorite and
again it's an old time Gospel tune.  A woman named Dorothy Love Coates wrote
it.  She had a group called the Original Gospel Harmonettes of Birmingham,
Alabama.  It's called "He's Right On Time" and the words are:

You can't hurry my Lord,
No, no, no, you've just got to wait.
You've got to trust in God and give him time
No matter how long it might take.
He's a God you just can't hurry, but he'll be there, don't you worry -
I say he may not come when you want him, but he's right on time.


I'd sing it for you, but I'm saving my voice for the Christmas Concert.
Luckily, I have a recording by Mahalia Jackson, so let us listen for a
minute and prepare our hearts to feast on the joy of a future full of God's
presence and power, when we meet on that heavenly shore, and all that has
been lost is found, and all who have died have come alive once more in the
kingdom that has no end.

We celebrate an open communion.  This sacrament is for all who wish to know
the presence of Christ and to share in joy and hope of God's people.

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