What Does It Mean To Keep Awake?

Sermon: Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle, WA
November 27, 2011, First Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Mark 13:24–37

The Coming of the Son of Man
24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory.27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he* is near, at the very gates.30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.33Beware, keep alert;* for you do not know when the time will come.34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

 These verses are some of the most difficult found in the Gospel of Mark. It’s not just the fact this it is apocalyptic in nature, but it is stuffed with meaning, which may or may not have meaning for us in the 21st century.   It is also an odd start to Advent, no angels, no shepherds, just a warning, crazy stuff huh. So, we are going to have to wade through the imagery and history to find what is meaningful for us today.  I wish I had more than 10 minutes or so because there is so much in this scripture and it’s really interesting, but I’m sure you don’t so I will be brief.

The fact of the matter is Jesus isn’t talking about the second coming at all here because He almost immediately says that no one will know when that will happen, not even him!  Mark is writing to a community that needs to flee the Jewish revolt, which began in 66-65 of the Common Era and resulted in the destruction of the temple in 70 of the Common Era.  So much of the imagery Jesus speaks here is related to Jesus’ own prophecy of that event, which came true.  Mark is telling his community that this war isn’t theirs, it’s not the beginning of the end, so Mark’s community needs to “get out of Dodge” before they become enmeshed in the destruction.   What is important to recognize is Jesus is fine without knowing,  it is useless to speculate about the second and Jesus knew God has ensured that history, his and ours, was headed somewhere, we have to be patient and let it unfold.  And, that is the first clue to finding meaning in this scripture; patience.

Let’s take another look, in Mark 13:30-31 Jesus says “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Now that surely sounds like the second coming.  Well let’s think about that for a moment, if Mark is warning his community to leave Jerusalem,  telling them that the war wasn’t their war, nor the Messiah’s war, does it not make sense that what Mark is saying is this war will end before they do, Jerusalem may pass away but the words and deeds of Jesus won’t.     Again Mark, through Jesus’ words, is telling his community to be patient.  How do we know that, well in verse 32 Jesus says “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the son, only the Father.”  Well if no one knows, not even Jesus or the angels, and the lack of that knowledge doesn’t bother Jesus then we need to stop worrying about the whens and start living the way we are intended.   All we have to do is “be alert,” when the time is right, it will happen.   But what does it mean to be alert?

So what are we to do while we wait, oh ever so patiently, well Jesus has an answer for that as well in verse 34, Jesus always has an answer, well nearly always, sometimes Jesus lets us figure it out.  So here’s the story.  Your employer goes on an extended vacation and he tells you and your fellow workers that each of you have your tasks to complete while he, or she, is gone.  The employer doesn’t expect you to wonder when he or she will return, or to cut short your work days, or take a vacation yourself, the employer expects you to do your job and fulfill your contract.  The employer tells you that she doesn’t know when she will return, so you need to keep awake and do your job or otherwise you will be caught short when she does return.  And that is the second clue to what this scripture means to us, we have a task that needs to be completed before the coming of the Master.

So how do the clues of waiting and working fit us in this season of Advent?  Well first of all we aren’t supposed to sit in our rocking chairs and wait for the day to come,  whether that be Christmas Day or the Second coming.  We Christians have a mission to complete; our waiting is supposed to be active waiting not passive.  Jesus makes that clear when he says “each has his work.”   So just what are we supposed to do; well be a faithful witness and in Mark’s day, and ours, that points to social justice.  We need to be aware of the social justice issues of our day,  which by the way aren’t that different from when Mark’s Gospel was written.   How do I know that, well all I have to do,  and you too,  is LOOK at what Jesus DID, not so much what he said, for Mark, nor Matthew or Luke for that matter, does not record many of Jesus’ words but nearly every page has Jesus doing something.  Jesus heals the sick, chases out demons, feeds the hungry, and offers comfort where comfort is needed. He plays with children and shares his table with those the so-called righteous of his day lock out of their homes.  In other words he made a difference in his world and Jesus calls us to make a difference in our world. While we wait for the day the Kingdom of God is fully expressed WE are to do the best we can to prepare for it.  We are to keep AWAKE and not let the Master find us sleeping in our Lazyboy chairs with the remote in our laps.   We are to continue the ministry Jesus and his Disciples started, opening the doors of compassion, love, mercy and justice for those who have no voice in this world.

It’s not our place to speculate when the Master will return; it is our task to do the work of the Master while we wait for the Kingdom to be fulfilled. God has assured us that history is going places; Jesus was content with letting God take control, so we too must do the same.  Tomorrow will come, of that we have no doubt, and today is all we need to be concerned about.  Do you remember the old television show Mission Impossible?  Well just like the voice on the tape this is your assignment.  “This is your mission if you choose to accept it, take care of the poor, the hungry, the widow, and the stranger amongst you.  Have compassion for the voiceless, offer mercy to all, and let justice and kindness guide you as you walk with God.  This sermon will self destruct in 15 seconds.”

©Ruth Jewell, November 27, 2011

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father: we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

November 27th is the first Sunday in Advent, and Advent means waiting. Now that we have stuffed ourselves on good food, and reveled in the company of family and friends we will have to wait for that magical moment when we remember the Birth of Jesus.    I have often wondered what God felt at the moment when woman and man were created.  I have watched potters and I know there are many false starts and mistakes, did God have that problem.  After a long day of trying maybe God got tired and put aside the project until that magic moment.

The Potter’s Wheel

God placed the lump of clay
Onto the wheel, and said
“What will I make today?”

Slowly the wheel turns
Picking up speed
God’s hands surround the cool slippery mass.

Slowly a shape takes place,
Maybe a vessel, for holding light ….
Water …  Air … Fire …?

Something to hold love?
Something to hold compassion?
I’m tired, it will wait until tomorrow.

Ruth Jewell, ©November 12, 2011



The leaves have faded
From gold to dry dusty brown.

The wind blows cold and drear
Chilling me to the bone.

How long my Lord
Will I sit in the shadow of your anger?

Will I ever see the light of dawn,
warm on the horizon?

Forgive me, Holy Spirit,
For I fear losing your warm presence.

I pray for the day
When you will come and hold me again.

Ruth Jewell, ©November 12, 2011

A Story of Openings

I was preparing to leave for class when I suddenly remembered I had the homily for the 8:30 am Morning Prayers, and I hadn’t written anything yet.  As I stood in my office, panic setting in, I grabbed my notebook, and a book on the interpretation of scripture and ran out the door.  I am fortunate, blessed even, in that I ride a bus from my home to the University of Seattle and that was all the time I had to write the homily, a 30 minute ride, but somehow a door opened for me as I rode in that day.  Here is what I offered November 8th at Morning Prayers.


Matthew 15:21-28
The Canaanite Woman’s Faith

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the
children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

This is a story opening doors not a story of how rude Jesus could be.  We can compare Matthew to the other three Gospels and Paul all we want but Matthew could care less about the other four writer’s audiences.  Matthew is talking to, writing to, a Jewish community and one more than likely in crisis.  And, because of the makeup of his community (we could say his social analysis) we need to ask what door he is opening.

In Matthew’s community the salvation Jesus offered came first and foremost to the Jew, but something is happening in this community that causes him (or her, we don’t know the author of this Gospel), in this story, to open the door to the Gentiles.  We do not know what that was, we can speculate but that is all it would be.  What I find interesting is how the cracked door may speak to us, today, in the 21st century.

So we have this woman doubly, maybe triply, taboo for Jesus, a Rabbi, to speak to in public.  Rabbis didn’t speak to women, most certainly not to Gentile a woman and probably not to a married woman. But this woman, a Gentile, approaches in an attitude of prayer and Jesus relents, telling her she
has “great faith.”  “Snick,” the door of salvation just opened to the “other.”

Two thousand years have passed since Matthew wrote those words and in all those years many still haven’t opened wide the door to the other.  Matthew is telling us today, just as he told his community that faith without action, without social justice is an unfulfilled faith. We all have individuals we would avoid, after all Jesus was avoiding the religious authorities by going into Gentile territory.  But Matthew was telling his community, and us, that Jesus and God have a plan for the “others” in our lives, just as God has one for us.

How much will it take to open wide the door?  How much will it take to let the
others in not just into our presence, but into our hearts?

Ruth Jewell, ©November 8, 2011

A Variation on the Lord’s Prayer

Abiding Spirit, surrounding us in love,
Honored be your name.
Your Kingdom grows in all Creation
Sacred is the work of the earth,
As earths children reach for the universe.
Fill us with the bread of your word,
And forgive the errors of our ways,
Just as we forgive the errors
Of those around us.
Guard the path we walk,
And keep those who would do us harm
far from our travels.
We praise the Kingdom of your Universe
Filled with the power of your love in all our
Yesterdays, todays and tomorrows,
Now and forever more.

By Ruth Jewell,
©November 4, 2011

I awoke about 2 am this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Running through my mind was this variation of the Lord’s Prayer.  I had to get up and write it down in order to return to sleep.  As I read it now I recognize some of the issues I have with the traditional language and the feeling that I need a closer connection with creation.  The words of the prayer are genderless and non-human specific and that is becoming increasingly important to the way I view God and the universe.

Humans are just one of the many species living in God’s Kingdom and we are dependent on the life-giving graces of all who make up Creation.  The damage we humans have done to creation on planet earth is life threatening to all who live here and we seem to ignore the seriousness of what we have done, and doing. If we have truly been given the special charge to care for this earth we are spectacular failures.  If the children of earth are to survive we must change our ways and begin to value the lives of all who share this beautiful blue world we live on.

I also said the language was genderless and non-human specific and that too is important to me.  My image of God is genderless: neither male nor female, neither human nor non-human.  I don’t have enough information to say what God might look like nor do I need any in order to believe that God exists.  All I have to do is look around me and I see the expression of God in everything and everyone I see, hear, and touch.  I am blessed to be able to hold my grandchild in my arms and see an expression of God in her beautiful face.  I am blessed to be held by my husband and feel an expression of God’s embrace.  I am blessed to be comforted by the animals that live and travel life’s road with me and known that God speaks love and compassion through them.  God isn’t separated from my life, God surrounds me.  Just as Saint Patrick states so well:  God before me, God behind me, God to the left of me, God to the right of me, God below me, God above me, God within me.

I realize I haven’t supplied any answers, or given and suggestions as to how we should or should not behave.  This is simply my belief in a God that abides everywhere, I offer it as a gift of who I am.