Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44
There are several things that tend to annoy me. Annoy may be a strong word to use but there are certain things that I just don’t understand the reason behind people’s thought. The number one thing that annoys me while I work outside of the church is the fear that people have when upper level managers come to visit. When I was working in car rental my city manager would be calling around to every location, if not visiting the location, to make sure everything was in order. She would keep a running feed to our stores letting us know where the managers where at all times to let us know when or if they were going to stop in our location. Much of it was a good thing; it is nice to know if someone is going to visit so the location manager would be in the office. But some of the tasks that were given to make sure the visit ran smoothly were annoying. This happens in many places of business, I would venture to say that it happens in every organization that has any hierarchy at all. When the upper managers visit there is a trickle down to the locations to make sure everything is in order.
What annoys me about the visits is not that a manager is visiting but the fear and chaos prompted by the visit. I remember helping a location prepare for a visit I had to run reports for several months previous because of one reason they did not do the work. I was sent to this location for one reason the city manager knew that I had the work done and our location was prepared for the visit at any moment. Our location had reports beyond the requirements gathers and could tell the upper management at any given moment which of our customers gave the most business, we could show them a graph to track the trends in our business, and every vehicle that we had available to rent was cleaned and ready to go at any moment. When the upper management visited our location we had discussed strategy in increasing sales in a constructive way, because we could look quickly and easily at what the trends where. At the other location, the one I had to help prepare, they could not do this as efficiently as a whole, because only one person knew the numbers and knew the trends, and there was nothing more than that person’s memory to prove the trends.
You may think that I am bragging but in all honesty the office I had to assist was the top rental location in the city and ours was one of the lowest, so when the economy slowed the location I worked at was closed and we were moved to different areas to work. What I highlight though is that we knew what was going on, we knew our business, and we were aware of what was on the horizon. Other locations did not have that knowledge because they were unprepared and many people lost their jobs because of it.
This fear of a visit is basically the theme behind the passage that was read today. A random visit at a time no one knows. This passage can strike fear into the hearts of many or it can be a great comfort to others. The difference is the level of preparation involved. The question is how do you react?
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Day and hour, these terms mean different things today than they meant to a culture so long ago. Our culture is much more precise than many cultures around the globe, and as we look back through history the precision of time was not nearly as important. When ancient cultures us the term we translate as day can mean many different things it can mean the literal time between sunrise and sunset, it can mean the reign of a king, or any other undetermined amount of time. Context is always important. In this case what we interpret as meaning day is not a 24-hour period of time, but an open ended, undetermined period or an era.
Hour, like day, has a loaded meaning. When someone says hour today we think a 60-minute period of time. In Jesus’ culture the word we translate as hour could mean moment. So no one knows the era or moment of the coming. I want to stress that again, no one knows. Not the managers, preachers, priest, or popes, no one knows the era or precise moment of anything dealing with God’s timetable except the Father.
This should mean something to us. Jesus speaks of a time but no one knows exactly when that time is. It is undetermined in our temporal perspective. It is important but what is more important is what is going on now. If you do not and cannot know of this time that Jesus speaks then that should not be the focus our attention.
There is another word that jumps out at me when I read through this passage, taken. “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Taken, this word has several meanings but the word used in this portion of scripture could mean to take with, take charge of, to receive, or to accept. So let us think of this passage from that perspective, “one will be taken with, take charge of, receive, or accept, and one will not” One is given responsibility where one is not, one is chosen for a task and one is not. I would like us to contemplate on this passage using the idea of being given a task and having an undetermined amount of time to do that task.
I want us to consider this passage in that way for a reason. If this passage only looks forward to the second advent of Jesus then he is telling us that we do not and cannot know when that is going to be, but there is still a task that we need to be working on while that undetermined amount of time transpires. We have work to do, and we will not know when the boss will be paying us a visit.
Jesus illustrates his point by speaking of the days of Noah. No one knew when the flood would hit, for that matter no one knew what a flood really was. It was only when the Noah was sealed in the ark that reality began to set in. All along people just continued to do what they always did, totally unconcerned with the crazy man building a boat on dry land. They would walk by ask questions, laugh, and go on their way all the while Noah continued to work. He worked every day for years. We do not know exactly how many years it took Noah to build this great boat, all we know is that it was less than 120 years. Imagine going over one hundred years without seeing the final product of your labor, no one knows the time, yet there is a task and work to be done.
Let us say for 100 years Noah was building the ark, during that time things were still going on all around him. He still had to live his life, his family still needed to cared for, but he continued focused on the task not neglecting God or his family. Never knowing exactly when the day would come, only knowing that it would. He did not know if he was working hard enough or fast enough, all he knew was that he was given a task and he was going to complete it. Noah worked away and everyone around him was going about eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage while Noah continued to work. He knew that that time would come and he pressed on. Those around him knew that he was given a task for a reason, yet were unconcerned. One was taken and one was left.
Noah stayed focused for 100 years on the same task to build an ark, he did not move from that task. He knew it was what needed done, and because of that he did not change course. Jesus has given us a task as well. We do not know exactly how long we have to complete that task, but we must press on toward that goal. Our part in that task may be different than someone else’s, one is taken and one is left, but that should not distract us from the task we ourselves have been given. This reminds me of one of the queries in the Faith and Practice of our Yearly Meeting:
Do you earnestly seek to maintain a life in fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you practice the daily reading of the Scriptures in your families, giving time for waiting upon the Lord? Are you watchful not to be unduly absorbed by temporal affairs? Are you careful to avoid all places and amusements inconsistent with a Christian character?
I was recently asked about what being unduly absorbed by temporal affairs meant. That is a difficult question to answer. We could look at the word temporal and consider this as being the dimension of time, relating to the material world, or the opposition of the spiritual realm. I think either definition could be used in answering the question, because at the heart of the query it speaks of our relationship with God. Are we getting distracted from God due to our schedule? Are we distracted because of our finances or lifestyle? Are we being distracted from our task?
I ask you to meditate on this passage with a focus on tasks to be completed over an undetermined amount of time instead of focusing on something easier like the second coming of Jesus, because often in our current culture we can be distracted from the tasks God has given us by focusing on the time. We want Jesus to make his second advent soon, because we are tired of working on our ark. But Jesus is telling us don’t get distracted, but to continue working. Continue to do what we have been called to do. If we do not continue, we will be left and the task God gave us will be given to someone else.
God is calling us to go make disciples in all the earth, saturating them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. To do this task we must stay focused on God, we also must be able to speak to the people we are called to minister to. To accomplish our task we must study our culture, while not becoming unduly absorbed or saturated by temporal affairs. We must gain knowledge and wisdom in both the spiritual and secular arena of life, but maintain a balance and stay focused on the true task we are designed to complete. We maintain that balance by making it our custom to worship, taking time to withdraw to pray, and to serve to those around us.
No one knows the day or hour. One is taken the other is left. These can be words striking fear into our hearts or they can be words of encouragement directing us to continue to stay focused. God has given each one of us an opportunity to use what he has given us to serve the people he is calling to Him, we each must step up and receive and accept that task. As we enter this time of open worship I want us to really consider if we are truly prepared for a visit from God? Are we focused on the task He has given us or are we being unduly absorbed by temporal affairs? Are we living a balanced life with God or are we caught off guard and unprepared? No one knows the day or hour, no one knows the era or moment, so let us be ready and be a people that will always be found loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.