“What Are You Waiting for?”
Jeremiah 33.14-16 & Luke 21.25-36
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
27 November 2022 (Advent I)
You have not heard me preach a lot about the Second Coming or the end times, because neither is a particularly large part of our theology. But that was not true for many of our earliest forebears in the faith, who thought it was coming right around the corner.
The earliest followers of the Way of Jesus, most of whom worshiped with Jewish communities, had some sense of apocalyptic literature from The Book of Daniel (where we hear that mysterious moniker, “The Son of Man”) and from sections of the major prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah. And the words from Luke’s Gospel, likely written at the end of the first century, 50 or 60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, point toward the Second Coming.
Jesus’ followers soon realized that his execution was not God’s final word, that there had to be a next chapter unfolding with the empty tomb and post-resurrection experiences. Jesus had come proclaiming the kingdom of God: a new world in which life would be organized the way God intended, rather than the way normal path of civilization and the resulting Empire ruled things.
Many Jews in the first century anticipated the coming of the Messiah as a military leader who would restore Jewish home rule in the homeland and eject the occupying Romans. They didn’t get the Messiah they were expecting, instead they got a subversive sage who proclaimed an alternative to the violence, greed, and injustice that were normal in that civilization. I wish I could go back and sing a few lines of the Stones’ song to them: “You can’t always get what you want…You can’t always get what you want…But if you try sometimes, you just might find…You get what you need.” They wanted a generalissimo and instead they got nonviolent Jesus, which is actually what the world needed.
Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky.” Doesn’t that sound a bit like what is happening today? We know all about epidemics! And climate change is upon us. We have distressed the earth and it is resulting in rising sea levels and all kinds of chaos that it is difficult to foresee.
Wouldn’t it be great if God would just do a big clean-up and let us start over in a world where we cared for Creation and for each other? That’s the underlying message of the tale of Noah and the great flood, and I’m not so sure how great that would be for us. Or God could send Jesus back for “The Kingdom of God, Part Two” (for those who didn’t get it the first time). That is what Luke describes when he writes, “When you see these things taking place, you know the Kingdom of God is near.” For first-century Jews, religious and national crisis was writ large by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD by the army of Rome.
There was expectation among Jesus’ earliest followers that something radical was going to happen to clean up the injustice of Empire.
Christians have waited for more than 2,000 years for the Second Coming. Was it just that the timing was off when Luke writes, “this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened?” Maybe. Advent is all about waiting, but, my friends, 2,000 is a very long wait.
I don’t think their timing was off. But I think they missed something that Jesus said while he was still teaching and preaching in the Galilee. It’s a radical little nugget of truth that is so volatile (kind of like, say, a mustard seed) that it isn’t even included in the Revised Common Lectionary.
I don’t think the early Christians’ timing was poor. I think that some of their eyes were closed, and their ears stopped up. They missed it! The Kingdom was right there in front of them all along. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they could have gone home to the Kingdom of God anytime they wished, and they didn’t even have to click the heels of their ruby slippers. They just had to live into it, even under the boot of Roman oppression.
Here is what they missed, which we find earlier in Luke’s gospel. “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed [like earthquakes, epidemics, or changes in the sky]; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
The Kingdom of God is among you. Have Christians been waiting for something that has been available to them for 2,000 years? We have been shown the wisdom and the way to live out the kingdom or kin-dom or realm of God. We’ve had this knowledge for two millennia, so why are we not willing to live into it? What do you think: why haven’t Christians, why haven’t WE, lived into the Kingdom of God and created the Beloved Community? I think I know at least one answer. Being a part of God’s Kingdom is costly. It requires self-giving love. It requires putting the needs of the community above the needs of the self. And as Jesus shows time and again, it can even mean putting the needs of the new family in Christ ahead of the needs of one’s biological family.
Advent is a season of waiting, of longing for a world that is closer to what the God of justice and peace intends for us and for all of creation.
The earliest Christians were waiting the Second Coming, yet that may not be a big part of your faith journey. Isn’t it time we paid more attention to the “First Coming,” rather than waiting around for the Second? For a few thousand years, emperors and bishops, priests, and pastors have often considered the message of Jesus too hot to handle. If Jesus is Lord, doesn’t that imply that Caesar is not? If we pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God, where does that leave our patriotism? If we live out self-giving love, where does that leave the market economy on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?
In 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity. A short 12 years later, in 325, he called the Council of Nicaea to institutionalize and unify the doctrine of the church, and the creed that emerged from that council says only this about the life and teachings of Jesus: He “became incarnate and became man, and suffered, and rose again on the third day.” There is no mention of the kingdom of God. No reference to the Beatitudes or to what Jesus did. Nothing about the message of parables. Nothing about love. The church, which had been counter-cultural, became the establishment instead of becoming a movement. That is what happens when Empire melds with and supersedes religion. And it fuels Christian Nationalism in our country today.
So, what are we waiting for? The Second Coming? The Rapture? I suspect that none of you are waiting for those things to happen. Are we waiting for somebody else to “do” faith for us? Do we wait for “somebody else” to step up and step in when we share ministry and mission in this place? We are the movement!
The Kingdom of is among us, here and now and still unfolding! Even though we may never see the reign of God in its fullness, I deeply appreciate the way our congregation acts for justice, peace, and inclusion and engages in acts of compassion with one another. That gives me tremendous hope. At Plymouth, we do our best (however imperfectly) to keep Jesus at the forefront, rather than Caesar or doctrine, dogma, or ancient creed. In the final analysis, love wins. During this Advent season, may each of us deepen our journey as followers of Jesus. And may every heart prepare him room. Amen.
© 2022 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Luke 17.20
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
I’m going to let you in on a secret…when we offer silent prayers, the shortcoming I confess most is impatience. I wonder if God gets tired to hearing “Lord, help me to be more patient” from the occupant of that chair behind me. I am not someone who is great at waiting, anticipating, and knowing that things will fall into place in due course. And maybe you’re like that, too.
Our consumer culture is based on faster technology and immediate results, and short-term profitability. Immediate isn’t always better…think about how communications and diplomatic relations might improve if someone in the West Wing took the president’s Twitter account and said that any messaging had to come through consultation with the cabinet or communications office of the White House. Immediate isn’t always better. Sometime delayed gratification yields greater rewards.
Back in the last millennium, when I was working with Apple as a communications consultant, there was a huge shift in corporate culture when Fidelity Investments became a major stockholder in Apple, and they wanted to show positive earnings each and every quarter, which meant that Apple was more risk averse and didn’t take as many chances. When Steve Jobs came back as CEO, Apple shifted their vision to risk short-term profits for longer-term gains. The long-game has worked out pretty well for Apple. And as Christians, we play a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g game.
The other message our culture sends us is that “it’s all about me.” Look at the first-person pronouns in trade names of apps: MyHealthConnection, MySwimPro, MyFitnessPal, MyRAC, iPhone…and those are just what’s on my smartphone! It’s all about me and my needs and wants. If you want to do an experiment, see how many apps start with “my” and how many start with “our.” You’ll see my point.
So, you and I find ourselves on this first Sunday of Advent in a culture that says fast is good and immediate is better and that it’s all about me, my needs, my wants. And we find ourselves in a spiritual tradition that says emphatically that it’s not all about me — it’s about all of us — and it’s a tradition that especially during Advent relies on waiting, anticipating, longing, yearning for a promised future and a change in God’s world.
Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting Theodore Parker, said, “The arc of history bends toward justice.” But, dear God, does that arc bend slowly!
The text from Jeremiah comes from a period when many of the best and brightest of Judea were taken captive and exiled in Babylon. Jeremiah, though, stayed in Jerusalem, but eventually fled to Egypt. The Babylonian exile is a story about refugees, immigrants, and exiles, and a prophet who declares that things will get better. (I know that sounds totally unfamiliar…) Jeremiah conveys the words of God in declaring, “The days are surely coming, says, YHWH, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah is adamant; there are no “mights” or “maybes” in his prophecy…the days are surely coming!
The characteristics of this new ruler from the lineage of King David will be justice and righteousness, which are nearly synonymous. That rootedness in the Davidic line must have seemed like dreamy wishful thinking to some of the Israelites, perhaps like the vision of the kingdom or realm of God seems unattainable to some of us.
You and I find ourselves in a nation that seems quite different that it did even five years ago: a nation in which truth gets branded as false news, in which journalists are labeled as traitors, in which demagogues abroad are seen as friends and our closest allies are treated as enemies, in which federal immigration agents have shot tear gas across the border at refugees and children. This is not the America many of us know and love. And the death of President George H.W. Bush on Friday underscores the contrast. We yearn at the core of our being for something different than what we currently have.
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord,” when we will get a new branch of the Davidic line, who will be a voice for justice and shalom. That new branch stems from the root -– radix in Latin, from which we get the English word, “radical” –- that stem is Jesus…that’s why Matthew’s gospel has that enormous unpronounceable genealogy of Jesus –- to show that he has descended from David. Jesus came to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, a realm of righteousness and shalom, an alternative reign to the empires of this world. That is a radical notion.
Sometimes, you hear me use a phrase, “the kingdom of God, here and now and still unfolding.” The kingdom we pray for twice in the Lord’s Prayer was initiated by Jesus and was central to his teachings and his presence with us today, even though that kingdom is not there in its completeness. The kingdom is still unfolding.
I grow impatient for the coming of the fulfillment of the reign of God. I see too much injustice, too little peace in the world. Too much greed, to little generosity in the world. Too much violence, too little love in the world.
I spent a night last week at a Jesuit retreat center near Denver to have some quiet time to reflect and write about Advent, and I found the words of a wonderful Jesuit who died in the 1950s, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and it helps me to balance my sense of urgency with these words of wisdom:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something new.
And yet it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stability --
And that it may take a very long time.
Really meaningful, isn’t it? Yeah, well, Teilhard was a paleontologist, and using his timeframe, Jeremiah’s prophecy seemed like it was just yesterday and Jesus was born this morning. Impatient people like me have a lot to learn from paleontology.
I yearn deeply, I long for, a day when families no longer have to sleep in churches, because everyone has a home; when teens no longer sleep out on the front lawn of Plymouth in the winter, because there is no homelessness to make people aware of. And in the meantime, those hosts and cold teenagers give me hope.
What do you yearn for, long for most deeply this Advent? What do you long for to come about in God’s world and with your help? I invite you to reflect on that in the time you spend in prayer this week: What are your deepest longings?
The kingdom coming requires our faith to know “it is surely coming.” It requires our full participation…every one of us…it requires our hands, our voices, our prayers, and our imaginations. We need to be able to envision a new world order that Jesus proclaimed is we are to be co-creators for the new realm, a kingdom radically rooted in Jeremiah, in Isaiah, in Jesus, in God, and in you.
As we begin walking through Advent together, I leave you with these words of longing and waiting from UCC minister and theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr:
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime;
therefore, we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good
makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore we must be saved by love.
May it be so. Amen.
© 2018 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.