BIBLE READINGS: Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
The bible reading we have just listened to is all about how there is going to be an ending for this world, just as there was a beginning. Christianity is full of endings and beginnings. Today we will incorporate both in the symbolic action of Baptism. Death to sin, an ending and new life in God, a beginning.
A lot of people get caught up with the idea of the end of the world. Remember seeing those pictures of some bloke holding a sign saying - Repent for the end is nigh! There’s this great cartoon showing a man busily painting such a sign with his wife leaning over his shoulder. The sign says “The world ends at noon”, which is crossed out and today is written over the top, and it is crossed out and the husband is writing tonight over the top of the others. The caption at the bottom has the wife saying to him - “Can’t you get anything right!”
The poor bloke was trying to second guess God. The classic example in our century (but you will find similar examples in every century) are the Jehovah’s witnesses, who back in 1914 waited patiently for the return of Jesus Christ. Many had in fact sold up their businesses and homes and went and stood on the hills and faced east waiting. When it didn’t occur as their leaders predicted it would, their leaders reinterpreted how the end of the world was meant to be. We might not realise it but Jesus has come back already and the end of the world is happening all around us according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jesus tells us, on the other hand, that no-one knows except God, when the world will end, when Jesus the Christ will come again. People will continue with their work and lives unable to predict this event. Jesus goes on to say that we need to be ready. He talks about how a householder, if they knew ahead of time would be ready for a thief who was breaking in. Jesus goes on and says you need to be ready too!
So what have we got to do to be ready? There’s a lot of things we could do, but here is a thumbnail sketch offered by Paul to the church.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law. 11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Here Paul reminds us that the end is near, that we need to be ready. He tells us that what we need to do to be ready is to love one another. To love your neighbour as yourself - for love does no harm to its neighbour.
This is good news! If you would be ready for the end, no matter where you are, or what you are doing, practice loving your neighbour. Now that’s not impossible! It doesn’t mean we have to spend the rest of our lives inside a church. We don’t have to dress differently or do strange and odd things. We are told to love our neighbour.
Love is a soft sort of soppy word, and could maybe better described by its actions. Caring about people, helping people who need a hand. Not lying or cheating or stealing or committing adultery as all these activities hurt your neighbour.
All these things are what we do when we show love for our neighbour. And who is our neighbour? The bloke you work beside, the woman across the fence, your mates at the pub, these are your neighbours. It would be easy if Jesus left it at that, but he broadens the definition of neighbour. Neighbours in Jesus’ eyes are those you consider your enemies. Those whom you despise and think of as hopeless cases. Our neighbours therefore are the strangers as well as out friends. Refugees, migrants from China, India or Tasmania; the aboriginal peoples; any who act strangely, unpredictably, or seem weird.
This makes love something that takes real guts and a lot of courage. Sticking up for someone everyone else is tearing apart and putting down is not for wimps.
But even though it is hard, it is good news, for love like that is achievable - it is not some airy-fairy goal that we can never reach. Jesus showed us the way of love when he laid down his life for us to save us from ourselves, our selfishness, our guilt and failure. The Bible tells us that the greatest love a person can have is to lay down their life for a friend.
Jesus tells us that if we would be prepared for the end of the world and take part in the start of the new, that he promises to help us. If we would love as he loved us, he will give us the guts and the courage to show love that can change our lives, our relationships and our world.