Years ago, I was part of a community of pastors and writers who did a project called The Hardest Question. The goal was to read the lectionary text and figure out the hardest question we could ask of it. We had a great run, and lots of fun, but unfortunately the posts aren’t accessible online anymore. I get a good number of emails asking me about my posts, so I’m going to start posting them here. (FYI: I’m not going to edit these at all.! But I hope they’re helpful to those of you who are preaching weekly.)
LET’S ALL GET LEFT BEHIND
Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:36-44
For Year C First Sunday of Advent
When I was a teenager, I saw this video from the 1970’s that depicted the “rapture.” It had all of these nice looking people being neighborly and mowing their lawns and cooking in their kitchens until POOF- all of a sudden, in a flash (and with terrible film editing) one of them was gone. The camera cut to an oven still on, untended, and then to a lawn mower lurching eerily down the lawn without anyone to steer it. This week’s lectionary text is the Scripture passage the video tossed up on the screen at the end, like a literal slam dunk for their point.
This was, I believe, supposed to scare us into being Christians. (Never mind that Jesus wasn’t really into fear-mongering or creepy propaganda. Actual fear sometimes happened in the gospels, but not fear with intent to persuade, like a bad car salesman. But I digress…)
Here’s the problem: I think we’ve been reading this whole thing backwards.
We tend to read this as if the “saved” are the ones who are taken away, and the others are left behind. But that’s not what the text points to at all. In the reference to Noah and the flood, it’s the people who are swept away and taken who are the ones on the “outside.” The ones who stay–the ones on the boat–are those who are saved. We’re all clear that we would rather be the people on the boat, right?
Likewise, in the metaphor of the thief, the thief comes and takes someone away. It’s a kidnapping story, not a Peter Pan-whisking-you-away-to-Neverland story. The hope for those who are ready is that their doors are locked and they stay put, right where they are. It’s like a kidnapping passover. (I wonder if that image was meant to hint at that?)
Bring On The Bridesmaids
If you aren’t yet convinced, keep reading into chapter 25, where we get to the story of the bridesmaids. Again, the ones who weren’t prepared were gone when the bridegroom came. They were gone, and they missed him. The bridesmaids who stayed put were there to greet the bridegroom with lamps burning brightly.
You see the trend, right?
This ought to make perfect sense to us, because Jesus has made it abundantly clear in his life, death and resurrection that the earth is his home. It’s a dual citizenship, certainly. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. But why we always short-shrift the Earth part, I couldn’t say.
The entire Book of Revelation describes Jesus coming to live with us forever, here on Earth. “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (Revelation 21:3).
And in the Apostle’s Creed, we proclaim that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. We do not say he will then turn back around again and go back.
So…can we stop all of this Left Behind nonsense already?
The Hardest Question
Where do we think we’re going, exactly?
Where do we think we’re going, if we are getting taken away whilst mowing our lawns? Why would you want to go somewhere else when Jesus just got here to stay?