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1st Weekend of Advent (A/RCL) Nov. 26 & 27: "The Importance of Getting a Round Tuit"

First Weekend of Advent (A/RCL): The Importance of Getting a Round Tuit

Matthew 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14

November 26-27, 2016

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

I love kitchen gadgets. Does anybody know what this one is?  [Hold up round plastic disc.]  It’s a jar opener.  My Dad had one labeled “Round Tuit.”  The friend who gave it to him to it said, “Lee, you’re always saying, ‘I’ll do it when I get around to it.  Now you have a round tuit.  No more excuses!’” 

What’s on your To Do list with a due date of: “When I Get Around to It”?  Putting off some projects doesn’t make much of a difference:

·         Organizing the garage 

·         Putting vacation photos into an album

·         Cleaning out the closet

·         Trying out that new holiday cookie recipe

Procrastinating on other things can have big consequences, medical, financial or legal:

·         Skipping a mammogram

·         Missing the April 15 tax deadline or omitting estimated tax payments

·         Allowing car registration to lapse

·         Failure to renew your driver’s license or passport

            The perils of procrastinating come up in the lesson from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans and our Gospel this first weekend in Advent.  There’s a related story I found about three tempters-in-training having to present a lesson plan to the master tempter, Satan himself (kind of like Wormwood reporting to Screwtape  in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters).  The wannabe devils have to share what they’re going to do to lead their humans astray.  The first one says, “I’ll convince him there is no God.”  Satan says, “That won’t work.  You can’t fool him because humans know there is a God.”  (The increasing number of people who actually don’t believe there is a God is the topic for another sermon….)  The second one says, “I’ll convince my human there is no hell.”  Satan again says, “That won’t work.  You can’t fool him because humans already know there is a hell.”  The third one says, “I’ll tell her there’s no hurry.”  And Satan says, “Bingo!  Whisper in her ear that she’s got all the time in the world to make her life right, to make it match God’s expectations.  Sure, there are priorities she should change, some things she should stop doing, other things she should start doing, but what’s the rush?  ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, you’re always a day away!’”

            The Celebrate intro to today’s Gospel says:

Jesus describes his second coming as a sudden, unexpected event that will bring salvation or judgment upon people caught up in the usual affairs of daily life.  He urges people to be alert and expectant.

Here’s The Message paraphrase of today’s snippet from the Letter to the Romans, which sends the same message as the Gospel:

…[M]ake sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-to-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God.  The night is about over, dawn is about to break.  Be up and awake to what God is doing!  God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed.  We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight.  Get out of bed and get dressed!  Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute.  Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!  (Romans 13:11-14)

The Lord isn’t accepting any “When I get around to it!” excuses! 

            When I preach at the funeral of someone who died unexpectedly, my message usually touches upon the reality that life sometimes ends abruptly and that we should live our lives accordingly.  That’s both similar to and different from the message of the bug-eyed preacher in the movie Pollyanna who thunders from the pulpit, “Death comes suddenly!”  He’s using a “scared straight” tactic to get his listeners to toe the line.  I don’t think the goal of either Jesus in today’s Gospel or Paul in today’s epistle is frightening us to death.  Instead they’re serving as an alarm clock, giving a wake-up call, like the poet who wrote:

I Shall Not Pass This Way Again

by Anonymous

Through this toilsome world, alas!

Once and only once I pass,

If a kindness I may show,

If a good deed I may do

To a suffering fellow man,

Let me do it while I can.

No delay, for it is plain

I shall not pass this way again.

            There is a warning, a caution in the poem, in Paul’s letter, in Jesus’ parable:  tomorrow is not guaranteed.   God-willing, my life will belong, but there is no doubt at all that my life isfinite.   It’s easy to get swept up in today’s business, today’s commitments, today’s trials, today’s pleasures.  But I mustn’t allow myself to be so enmeshed in time that I forget eternity.  I mustn’t allow my expectations of myself, my boss’s expectations, my family’s expectations, my co-workers’ or teammates’ expectations, supersede God’s expectations of me.

            Some day we’ll be called to account for “the dash,” as it’s been called, the pregnant hyphen between the date of our birth and the date of our death.   After we’re gone, what will be the judgment rendered by those who knew us best?  To whom or what will they say we gave our ultimate allegiance?  What will they name as our priorities?  Whose interests will they say we “served”? 

And from a God’s eye view: will the judgment be that we were nearsighted, sadly myopic, aware only of the time and place we found ourselves mired in the moment?  Will the judgment be that we were tethered in time -- or that we were aware of eternity?

Once we have a “round tuit” there are no more excuses for procrastinating smiley.  Loving, active engagement with the world, not settling for sitting back, sitting on our hands when faced with the world’s need, is our best way to “wait faithfully” for the Lord’s return to us or for our return to Him.  “No time like the present,” my dad would say.  No time but the present to “be up and awake to what God is doing! …  [To] dress [ourselves] in Christ, and be up and about!”  By God’s grace may we fill “the dash” with love of God and neighbor.  Amen

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham