"PAROUSIA" - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-27
A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
From Sunday, December 3, 2017
Texts: I Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-27
The other day I was on MacArthur Ave in Lakeside, in the northside, meeting two minister colleagues for lunch. Just about to enter the restaurant, a woman walked up and spoke to us as we stood on the sidewalk. With a gentle smile on her face and all sincerity, she said, “Christ the Savior is coming. I really believe this. It’s going to be soon.”
She was clearly NOT talking about Christmas and the birth of Jesus in the manger. She was talking about the Second Coming – the return of Christ into the world.
My preacher colleagues and I stood there with a bit of awkwardness. This kind of comment goes a little beyond southern pleasantries. Then all of us said something similar: “Well, that would be great.” . . .or “we can look forward to that.” . . . or “we hope so too.” The woman smiled in response and walked on down the street.
Presbyterians do not talk much about the Second Coming of Christ. We might even wonder if it will really happen, or how it will happen! So just what do we believe about the Second Coming? It has been more than 2000 years since we have been anticipating Christ’s return. How important is it anyway?
Listen to the Scripture passage for today – words from Jesus:
24“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light, 25and 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.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The sun turning dark, the moon losing its light, clouds, stars falling, the heavens shaking – this is language and activity that want to alert us to the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus says in this passage that he will return with great power and send out his angels to gather the elect from across the earth. When you see these things happening, you will know the Christ has returned and the end is near.
We may readily dismiss this idea of the clouds, and heavens shaking, or the sun and moon losing light. That is apocalyptic language and imagery about the end times that is not often on our lips. So what about the Second Coming? Is it going to happen? How should we think about these things?
For sure, there may be some things happening in these particular days that make us wonder if the end is near –
- Alabama just might elect a Democrat next week to the Senate – that may be a sign that the end is near;
- People are actually beginning to believe victims of sexual harassment – that may be a sign that the end is near;
- The possibility of a nuclear war with North Korea certainly raises our fears about the end times coming near;
- So many hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and floods may make us wonder if the end is near.
Even Jesus says we cannot know the time and ways that the world will end.
But in all the gospels, Jesus urges us to think about these things – Last Things- the end of all things. And the first Sunday of Advent, usually gives us this interesting and perplexing subject.
The Word of the week – as you can see in the sermon title – is PAROUSIA. PAROUSIA is a Greek term that means “arrival,” the “coming” of Christ – as in the Second Coming – Christ’s return to rule and judge the earth, which is what our passage is about.
According to our theological and Biblical tradition, when the PAROUSIA happens – the Second Coming – the world will transition from what it is now to the fullness of God’s reign.
When the PAROUSIA occurs, the Kingdom of God, which is inaugurated in Jesus with his preaching, teaching, loving, healing, will cover ALL things in totality. As the old hymn puts it, when the PAROUSIA finally comes – when Jesus returns - “the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”
So that is why we can say to the woman on MacArthur, we look forward to it. The final judgment – the Second Coming – is actually, for us Presbyterians, GOOD NEWS. It is GOOD NEWS because it means Christ comes to put things right, to bring justice and peace everywhere. I know that I long for that.
The PAROUSIA is something to anticipate because it means we do not need to take revenge, we do not need to try to do it all ourselves. God comes and redeems the world. Evil and sin are ended finally and excluded from God’s kingdom. Life moves fully toward glory, into glory, becoming all that God intends it to become. Human life and human history have a definitive and transformative ending in God! Life is not an endless cycle without meaning. All the things that beat us down and gives us disease, discouragement, despair – heartache and loss, cancer and challenging circumstances, pain and perplexity – are wiped away. The PAROUSIA – the Second Coming - will mean all things are enfolded into God’s redemptive purposes, for wholeness and life, finally and forever.
In a conversation with one of you this week, we talked about how we used to worry that communism was going to take over the world. Communism is not what we worry about now. It looks like greed is taking over the world. It seems that those in power continue to advocate – not for the less fortunate who have no voice and very little influence – but for the wealthy, the shrinking percentage of people who are very rich. This is not what God intends. God cares about justice; God intends to put things right; Jesus reaches out to the forgotten, the weak, those with the greatest needs. We long for the Second Coming to bring about justice and hope for everyone.
Or as I have said before, it can look like and feel like cancer and disease are taking over life. This is not what God intends. God intends for wholeness and hope everywhere. The PAROUSIA is promised and coming to put an end to every tear, to offer SHALOM to every hurt, and bring redemption to every brokenness.
Or as it can often feel, terror and fear can seem to take over life. This is not what God plans for God’s beloved world. God comes to make things right, to establish peace among the peoples, to shine light into every dark place. The promised and coming PAROUSIA – Christ present to fully rule – will transform and give hope to all. This is how things will end – with Christ standing upon the earth and all evil and death, pain and hurt, warfare and violence falling away. This is what we affirm – “he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
But, . . .
It has been over 2000 years since we have been watching and waiting and hoping for the PAROUSIA. That is a long time to be vigilant. It is easy to get discouraged, easy to become doubtful about Christ’s return, easy to fall into despair.
Jesus knew about this too. So he says, “Beware, keep alert, . . .for you do not know when the master will return. . . Keep awake.“ He says it over and over.
Here is the point: just as life begins with God, all life ends with God – God comes to reign and rule, to make all things right. God comes to establish justice, to bring the fullness of peace, hope and love. That is the promise of Scripture. And since that is true, we live with only one goal – seeking to serve God and God’s purposes. Keep awake – stay engaged – do not lag in zeal, stay full of the Spirit – the world and all things belong to God.
That means we have to advocate for what God cares most about – justice, food for the hungry, light for the darkness, healthcare for those who are hurting. We cannot sit back when greed seems to be gaining ground.
Blessed are the poor, Jesus says – they need our sincere care and help.
Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus says – this is what we are called to be about. We cannot remain dormant when the world inches closer to nuclear war. We are called to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God with all the things that seem to be working against God’s purposes and plans.
Keep awake, stay engaged – A tax plan that mostly helps the super rich can’t be what God wants for us. More policies that leave more people in trouble – this can’t be what God wants for us.
The PAROUSIA – the Second Coming – is part of God’s plan. In the meantime, we stay awake, stay engaged, stay on task at serving God.
There is a story that comes from way back in 1780, in Connecticut. In that year, the House of Representatives was in session on a bright day in May. But then something happened that nobody expected. Right in the middle of the debate, there was an eclipse of the sun; everything turned to darkness. Some legislators thought it was the Second Coming – when the sun would be darkened. So the place filled with confusion. People wanted to adjourn to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
But the speaker of the House had a different idea. He was a Christian believer, and he rose to the occasion with good logic and good faith. We are all upset by the darkness, he said, and some of us are afraid. But the “Day of the Lord is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. And if the Lord is indeed coming, I, for one, choose to be found doing my duty. Let’s bring in the candles so we can continue our work.” And so they were! (See C. Plantainga, Jr, “In the Interim,” p. 1270f, Christian Century, Dec 6, 2000)
As we wait for and watch for the PAROUSIA – the Second Coming of Christ – it is such good news. Christ comes to redeem all things. But in the meantime, we have work to do. Let’s keep the faith, keep working for God’s purposes, and keep serving with all we have and all we are. Alleluia. AMEN
Prayer of Commitment: O Come, O come, Emmanuel, and move us and the world toward your full reign of Christ our Lord. And make us instruments of your peace and justice. Amen
Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on December 3, 2017. This is a rough manuscript.