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That Day and Hour
Series: Lenten/Eastertide Sermon Series
Leader: The Rev. Dr. William Norman
Scripture: Matthew 24:36–44
Date: May 16th, 2021
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Let us pray. Loving God, the ancient poet said that your Word was a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. We thank you for the Word we have heard in Scripture and pray now that the word we hear through this sermon will continue to shine your light upon the paths ahead of us, so that we may always follow where you lead. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Early in 2020, about sixteen months ago, our son Andrew and his girlfriend Jill announced their engagement and said the wedding would be mid-summer 2021. At that time COVID-19 was a new and dangerous virus that was affecting another part of the world, not Canada; Chris and I were a little surprised that they did not announce that the wedding was happening in six months. But then the pandemic came to Canada and people started getting sick. We all started wearing masks and keeping two metres between us and anyone not in our immediate households; grandparents stopped getting hugs from the grandchildren. A couple of months went by and the Atlantic Bubble was declared. “Well,” I said, “good thing the wedding wasn’t in 2020; but everything will be back to normal long before the summer of 2021.” Who could have predicted this nightmare? Certainly not me. You will not be surprised then when I tell you right off the top that I am not going to suddenly reveal what our text calls the unexpected hour when the Son of Man is coming. In fact the whole point of what Jesus says, as far as I can tell, is that such speculation is at least foolhardy, if not downright unfaithful.

In our text today, the Lord makes at least three significant affirmations. We are going to look at the world's situation, the Lord's completion, and our preparation. Take a look at our text, verse 37— 'For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.' How does the Bible describe those days? The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart (Genesis 6:5, 6).

That sounds like right now, doesn't it? Except, listen to this: 'The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they allow disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children now are tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” This sounds like it could have been written last week, except it comes from Ancient Greece. In using the image of the days of Noah, Jesus could be speaking about now, about 100 years ago or 1,000 years. What then does he mean?

He's talking about the world's situation. There was a time, around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, when you could find lots of people who thought the world, led by Western Europe and the United States, was on a track that would bring us darn near close to perfection. It's just about impossible to find anyone now to speak in such terms. Most of you could fill in the litany of those years—the war to end all wars which didn't, World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, religious extremism, and, in case you missed it, according to the International Journal of Missionary Research, more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. Not exactly perfection.

There are times when Jesus is quite precise. For example, this is how Matthew 24 begins: As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, 'You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down' (Matthew 24:1, 2). About 40 years later those words came true; the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, leaving nothing but what is now called the Wailing or Western Wall.

There are other times when Jesus is less than precise; we might even say vague. I think in our text Jesus is telling us there will never be a time when the world has outgrown its need for God. Again, think back to Noah. That story includes the destruction of the known world through a flood; however, it also includes God's rainbow covenant, that such destruction will never again occur. I think Jesus is telling us that the world's people, bent on following their own counsel rather than responding to the will and purposes of God, will always need God's intervention into the life of the world. Jesus asks us to believe that, knowing that the purposes of God have yet to be perfectly fulfilled.

The work of bringing about the kingdom of God began in Jesus; the completion of that work will also happen through Jesus. Look at verse 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.' Here again is one of those statements of Jesus that we can let slip by without hearing the sharpness attached to it. Now you may think I have gone off on another one of my tangents of speculation, but I need to tell you what an unpleasant image this is.

Jesus is very specific; he speaks about what part of the night the thief was coming. Any guess as to why Jesus would feel the need to distinguish between night and day? Here is the stark reality—the Torah, the Mosaic Law, specified that if a thief was caught breaking in at night he could be killed without any judicial recourse (Exodus 22:2). It is an unpleasant image all around: imagine your family is asleep on a moon-less night. Perhaps you have left an oil lamp burning, but such lamps gave little illumination. You hear a sound, almost certainly someone is trying to break in to your house. Fearing such an intrusion might take place, you have kept a sword by the bed. When the turmoil concludes, your frightened family is traumatized but safe, and the body of the thief has been dragged to the street. Why would Jesus relate such a terrible image to his coming again?

Think this through with me—has the Lord Jesus Christ ever been a disruption in your life? Has the teaching of Christ ever irritated you like a grain of sand or soot blown into your eye? Have you agonized over knowing that you could follow the way of Christ or your own way, but not both? Jesus is going to make his presence known once again in a world that if it could would put him to death once again. Jesus will come once again into our world because the work of God, turning the world to rights, is not yet done and will only be done when every knee bends and every tongue confesses that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10, 11).

What do we who are expecting Christ's return do while we are waiting, what is to be our preparation? Most of us know there is knowledge that is beyond our particular capabilities. For example, when our kids needed help with their math homework, they knew enough to go directly to their mother. I didn't have the first clue where to begin. Did you also know there is knowledge that is not just beyond your capability to understand but that God has reserved for his understanding alone?

What other conclusion could we come to? “But about that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” I am convinced Jesus is telling the truth here: as a fully human person, Jesus did not know the particular day and time of his return. In fact not even heavenly beings are entrusted with such knowledge. Here's my conclusion: we are not to speculate about the timing of God's kingdom.

What are we then to do? Here's what I found interesting in the text. Jesus talks about what ordinary Joe and Josephine were doing in the days of Noah; they were eating and drinking and starting families, all that run of the mill stuff. This appears to be said with a negative tone. Yet, in verse 40 and 41 of our text he talks about two men in the field and two women grinding meal, both about as run of the mill in that world as anyone could imagine. In each case, one of the people just doing their job was found to be ready for the coming Kingdom—this one was taken, this one was taken. In telling this little parable I think Jesus is helping us understand that being ready for the coming Kingdom of God is not so much a matter of what we might call particularly religious obligations but rather a matter of being faithful to God in the midst of what takes place in ordinary life. If I’m right about that, what does this mean for us? What are we then to do? What should our preparation be?

I am confident that I am not the only one who has been asking this question in the past year, “What is it that God might be up to during this challenging and troubling time?” Or, you might ask a similar question, “Is there something God is attempting to teach us as we go through the difficulties of the pandemic?” I thought about these questions and other similar to them as I thought through our text for today. There is that contrast; Jesus tells us to be ready, to be expectant, for nothing less than the consummation of history but says our readiness must be crafted, put together, within the ordinary—eating and drinking, work in the field, grinding at the mill.

I couldn’t help but think about something I was told as a young adolescent. Some of you will remember those days when we Baptists were known more for what we didn’t do than what we did do. Someone was cautioning me about going to a movie theatre: you would never want that to be the place where Jesus found you if he returned during a Saturday matinee. The funny thing is that at one time that was a very ordinary sort of pastime, as ordinary as eating and drinking or grinding at the mill.

The idea that stuck with me about this past year is that if God is attempting to teach me something through these days, it has to do with being God’s person, being ready to welcome God’s Kingdom in the midst of the ordinary. Frankly, there has been nothing going on for the past year and a bit except, if you will pardon me putting it this way, the run of the mill. I wake up in the morning and will often need a few seconds to calculate what day it is; all the days run together. We have had nothing but ordinary. What then have we learned?

Do you remember the early days of restrictions in the spring of 2020? Yes, toilet paper was being hoarded by some, but the real surprise for me was the shortage of flour for baking. Those of you who know me know that I have enjoyed baking muffins and cookies and various other treats for a long time and when it became obvious that I was going to be spending more time at home, I thought I would do a bit more baking. But what was I going to do with all those treats? Share them, of course! There are five or six of our neighbours who are recipients of some home baking every two weeks or so. Now there’s not much that is less ordinary that a half-dozen muffins or a plate of brownies, but this bit of a treat has been welcomed with much gratitude.

Has anything been learned? I hope you will accept this as not being false modesty but a quite realistic self-assessment. I am a very ordinary fellow, never the star in any sport, never the top of my class; I am well-suited then to the living out of ordinary days. The reaction to my neighbours tells me that when normal life returns, I need to continue putting into my life this particular kindness which has been so much appreciated.

The idea of serving God each day in whatever is the run of mill of our lives is picked up by an anonymous poet in an African-American spiritual—

There's a King and Captain high

Who is coming by and by,

And He'll find me hoeing cotton when He comes!

You can hear His legions charging,

In the regions of the sky,

And He'll find me hoeing cotton when He comes!

When He comes! When He comes!

All the dead shall rise in answer to

His drums;

And the fires of His encampment stir

The firmament on high,

And the heavens shall roll asunder when He comes!

There's the Man they thrust aside,

Who was tortured till He died,

And He'll find me hoeing cotton when He comes!

He was hated and rejected,

He was scorned and crucified,

And He'll find me hoeing cotton when He comes!

When He comes! When He comes!

He'll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes;

They'll be shouting out 'Hosannah!'

To the Man that men denied,

And I'll kneel among my cotton when He comes!


As I said at the beginning, prognostication is not for me. I think Jesus tells us it's not for any of us who follow him. I suppose I think of it this way. Jesus is alive, Jesus is part of our world now. I want to live so that when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, my Lord will simply say to me, 'Well done, Bill. You lived before in a way that made me know you would be ready to welcome me now.