By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
let us live honorablyRomans 13:13
Whenever we go to a wedding or a funeral, there is nearly always a guest book. Guests write their names in the book, and perhaps a brief message of support, and this provides a lasting memory of all those who came from near and far. Our church has a guest book too. When we have guests, we encourage them to sign the guest book, telling us what town or what state they are from, so that we can celebrate how God brought us together in this present moment. Perhaps we have crossed paths for only a moment, or perhaps we have crossed paths for only the first of many times. Guest books celebrate the occasion of being brought together. Any occasion where friends and family are brought together into one place is a reason to celebrate. That moment can be used for ministry, for encouragement, and reconciliation. It can be used to strengthen one another. Our work can pay the bills. But the people in our lives is why we are here. We minister to everyone we meet. We minister to our guests, and we minister to those we see all the time. Anyone who seeks to help another seek God is a minister in Christ.
If every encounter is an opportunity to minister, should we not always be joyful when someone comes into our lives? Is there ever a time when you are not joyful? You are working in your cubicle trying to cram together a presentation that is in just over an hour. Suddenly an unexpected guest comes and wants to talk to you. “Not now,” you grimace as you smile and greet the person, hoping it is a quick interaction. Have you ever done this? Or, it is twenty minutes until break time, and you know that a conversation with this fellow can consume half of your break. Or, the telephone rings and you say to yourself, “This better be quick, the Ohio State game is on in ten minutes!” There are certain times that we are just not in the mood for talking to someone else. What about the times when you have responded graciously? What are some good things that have come from that visit? For me, some of the unexpected visits, such as when someone comes over to the church, known or unknown, are some of the most rewarding moments of my day. I try to remind myself that it is okay if the to-do list is not quite finished to the best of my ability yet. God will guide this conversation and God will guide the moments to come, even if this conversation makes me less prepared for something. What are some of the good forms of an unexpected visit? When you show up to visit someone in a nursing home, you are often unexpected, but the resident is thrilled to see you. At a restaurant I have witnessed numerous chance encounters with people who know each other, and they are thrilled to have that unexpected visit with each other. When we begin to see other people in our lives as opportunities to minister, and not distractions to our schedules, we are beginning to love more like God. Does God set times with us, or make us make an appointment? Did Jesus refuse to tend to those who tugged on his robes, when he was on the way to see someone else? We are often God’s unexpected visitor, and God loves it. God loves it when we make time for God, and God loves it even more so when we make time for God that was not first planned into our day.
Matthew 24 warns us to be prepared for an unexpected visit. The writer of the gospel warns us: “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (24:42). This is a forewarning of the unexpected visit of the Son of Man for which we are unprepared. We are in the advent of the coming of the King, in some future day that is, as yet, unknown. We are looking forward to the glorious return of peace on earth and good will toward all people. As we begin the Christmas season, when everyone is putting up their decorations and light to shine through the early darkness of the evenings, it almost seems possible for a moment. We can forget about the violence of the world for just a moment, or, if not that, we can look past it into a new hope for just a moment. We look forward to the time when justice will prevail, when all things will be made right. But we still do not know when that day will be.
Because we do not know what day that will be, the author of the gospel warns us that we have to be ready now. We have to do what we can now to be ready for the unexpected visit. We should expect a visit any time. That means that we should keep the dishes washed at our homes. We should always keep things tidy, in case an unexpected visitor shows up. In other words, we need to keep our lives tidy. As we join in this advent of hope, as we hope for the better world yet to come, which we try to hope in with the magic of Christmastime every year, we need to live in the light of the Lord. As we wait for salvation and peace in hope, let us live honorably. Let us live lives that are honorable to the Lord. Let us live lives that leave a legacy for God’s glory. Let us live lives that God would be proud of us for living. If the Master comes earlier than we expected, we want to be found working. We want to be found seeking ways to know the Lord better. We want to be found helping others to know the Lord better. We want to be found doing something that is honorable to God. We may use the opportunities for ministry that God gives us instead of pushing them aside. We might not grumble when God sends us a change of plans; instead, may be embrace what God is using us for in this moment of our lives. As we embrace who we are in God, we find more hope in God. When we know God more deeply, we can more quickly affirm to ourselves and to one another that God is faithful, God is just, and God has a plan for the world that can offer us hope.
As we talk about unexpected visits, this is not an invitation to go showing up to people’s houses unannounced. People will still want to be given some time to get those dishes washed or that laundry folded. But Jesus will not need that preparation work done first. All Jesus wants is for our hearts to be washed clean and to be folded neatly, carefully in tune with the Lord. Jesus does not care what our lives look like on the outside, but what we look like on the inside. I may not have every dish washed, every floor mopped, and every item of clothing clean at the end of the day. But I want to end my days knowing that I did the best that I could for the Lord that day. Can you do that? Can you end your day asking yourself the question, “Have I done all I could do for the Lord today?”
There is a song that we sing in Scouts which is called Scout Vespers. It goes something like this: “Softly falls the light of day as our campfire fades away. Silently each scout should ask, “Have I done my daily task? Have I kept my honor bright? Can I guiltless sleep tonight? Have I done and have I dared everything to be prepared?” Have I done all I could to be prepared? Have I lived my day honorably? Have I done all I could for the Lord today?
When you ask yourself these questions, you hold yourself accountable. And still more, you enable yourself to have more hope. You have more hope because you are knowing the Lord more deeply through your actions. The deeper we know the Lord, the more confidence we have in the Lord. And confidence gives us hope for reconciliation, for a better future, and for a peaceful future.
When someone has a vision, I believe that it is said when the hope in a vision becoming a reality is lost, then all hope is lost. We never want to reach that moment. We want to hold onto the vision. We want to hold on to the vision that the prophet Isaiah provided the people of Israel, even before the exile. He looked beyond the exile; he looked beyond the worst part that was still yet to come. Even when we know that there is a lot of trial and tribulation ahead of us, we can hold onto the vision that Isaiah proclaims so boldly: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of mountains, people shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:2, 4-5). O house of Christ, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Let us live honorably. Let us give every honor to God. For in God is our hope and our salvation! May all honor and glory be to God! Thanks be to God! Amen.
2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
122:1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
122:2 Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
122:3 Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.
122:4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
122:5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.
122:6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.
122:7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”
122:8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”
122:9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.
13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;
13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;
13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.
13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
24:36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,
24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.