Our gospel reading reminds us to be prepared for the unexpected. This reminds me a story. There was a parishioner who called her pastor and said, “I need a little help. My father just won a 30 million dollar lottery. He is 96 years old, has heart trouble and I am concerned if I tell him, he will have a heart attack. Would you mind paying him a visit?” Of course, the pastor agreed. Sitting in the old gentleman’s home, they talked about sports, the weather, and life in general. Finally, the pastor asked the old man, “Suppose you won 30 million dollars. How would that change your life?” “It wouldn’t,” said the man. “I would still have arthritis and still be 96 years old. In fact, if I won 30 million dollars, I would give it to the Church.” That is when the pastor had a heart attack. It is hard to be prepared for things we are not expecting.
Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Keep awake and be ready for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Have you ever considered what it was like in the days of Noah? Earlier this week my wife Diane was watching the movie, “The Impossible.” As I watched parts of it with her, I thought of this Scripture we heard this morning. The movie follows an Australian family that survived the Great Tsunami of 2004. The family was on vacation at a beach resort in Thailand and had arrived a day or so before the event. They were all by one of the pools and as they were relaxing and playing there was a growing rumble, and the ground began to shake and then there was this enormous wave that came crashing through the resort snapping down trees and crushing buildings and engulfing people. All of the sudden their lives were turned upside down. No one in that family was lost but there were many who did die, over 230,000. I suspect the days of Noah also could be compared to what it was in Pompeii right before the mountain Vesuvius blew up. The people were simply going about their day-to-day business. And then the heat wave from the volcano of between 360 to almost 600 degrees hit them. And then finally in the day of Noah we see that the people were eating, drinking, and working when the rains began. And in all three situations the world ended for those people. All of the sudden life as they had known it was over. When we really understand what Jesus was saying here we see that it was actually kind of scary, no, make that terrifying.
This warning Jesus gives his disciples has two parts. The first part has to do with the suddenness of the coming. It will clearly catch people by surprise just like the flood did Noah’s generation. As the volcano did the people of Pompeii and like the tsunami did the people of Indonesia and Thailand. Unlike a person who has terminal sickness and knows that his or her time is limited here on earth, the people in those situations thought that there would be a tomorrow for them. They had planned for a tomorrow. They had planned for next month and for those who had just gotten married, they were planning to have a happy life together for many years. For the children and teens they were expecting to grow old and to get married or to have a career or something. No one was expecting that their lives would end that day. No one was expecting the suddenness of the event.
There is nothing that can be done about the suddenness of the event to which Jesus refers. Jesus doesn’t give us a particular time. We are told in the Psalms that our times are in God’s hands and that he has measured out our days. Thankfully we don’t know when Jesus will return or how long each of us has to live; only God knows. But Jesus does not leave the disciples with simply a helpless feeling of fate. We are not simply to wait with a sense of dread that death is just around the corner. We are not to hang out in a bomb shelter. But neither are we to blithely live our lives as if nothing will ever change. Change is coming. We just don’t know when. Jesus tells us to be ready. Jesus tells us to keep awake.
What does he mean? Does “keep awake” mean that we try to stay up all night and not put on our pajamas? Obviously that is not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is talking about living our lives with the understanding that this life is not the complete book. This is only chapter one. Sometimes I hear people say, I know God has me here for a reason, I just don’t know what that reason is. People sometimes have the idea that God has each of here to do a particular action or for a particular event, like Queen Esther or something, some big momentous deed. And it is true. You are here for a momentous action. And I can tell you I know what it is. I know what the reason is that God has us here and if we are old, why we are still here. And we all can know because Scripture tells us. When we are called to follow Jesus, you and I do not have a physical Jesus to stand next to and walk behind. Our following of Him therefore is to learn from his teachings, from his apostles’ teachings of how we are to live life. This doesn’t mean we are to simply pick up a bunch of rules of do this and don’t do that. No, Jesus didn’t come to simply bring more rules; Jesus came to bring us new life. What we are to learn from Jesus and His apostles is how to become new people. When Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden humanity was corrupted. Humanity has had problems ever since. God put His redemption plan into action through Jesus. It was through this plan God showed us His unbelievable love through Christ on the Cross. And now through faith in him we, you and I are being made new people; we are becoming like humanity was meant to become in the beginning. This is the job Jesus has given us to do. This is why you are here! God has us here to learn to live like Jesus. We are here to show the world around us what a new person, what this new humanity looks like. St. Paul tells us that we are to be stars in a world of darkness. We therefore are to be working at becoming more patient, and kinder, and less easily aggravated. This is our mission! This is our goal. God does not tell us to wait and we will become new people after we are dead. This is how some people think, they think that they will be angels after they die and so they don’t worry about how they act now. This is not ever what the Bible teaches. No, our new life is to begin right now! This is what Jesus means when he says to be ready. We are to be working at becoming these new people. Is it easy, this becoming a new person? No, it is very hard. We have to unlearn how we have been living and how we have been thinking. Our world teaches us that it is not a natural to want to serve others. It is not natural to be forgiving when others have hurt or offended us. It is not natural to want to give our money back to God out of thankfulness. It is not natural to try to be loving and kind to others when others have been acting ugly to us. At least it is not natural to begin with but we need to understand this, it is this type of humanity that we need to become. It is this type of humanity, the loving, the forgiving, the serving and the giving that will be the ones living and ruling with Jesus on the new earth. If we refuse to try to change, if we decide that we really don’t really want to live like that then guess what? We do not belong with Jesus. We don’t belong because we are not really his followers and therefore we will not be ready when he returns.
It is hard to be prepared for things we are not expecting. We will be surprised at the coming of Jesus like everyone else. The difference is we want to be prepared and ready. Out of love for him, we are to be working hard at becoming his new people he through the cross made us able to become. Are we ready; are we prepared? Amen.